Let’s just say for the sake of argument that the Buffalo Sabres are able to find a trading partner before the trade deadline for Ryan Miller that nets them some sort of reasonable return. If the team somehow is able to trade the face of the franchise, in what is not a goaltending sellers’ market, what happens to the starting net minder position? Jhonas Enroth will no doubt be left with the best chance to man the pipes for Buffalo but the question remains: is he ready to do so?
Miller And His Contract Situation
The first issue Enroth faces before becoming the number one could be the mighty dollar. One of the problems (and there are many) that the Sabres are facing is that with the salary cap floor going up next season, they are in danger of not being at the minimum. So what that could mean is that they are more inclined to offer Miller a Henrik Lundqvist-type contract in efforts to reach the floor rather then spend money needlessly, a-la. Jeff Finger (remember when the Maple Leafs gave him a ton of money? He is currently a free agent). So one possible situation standing in Enroth’s way is that the Sabres resign Miller to a long-term contract worth a lot of money, which would result in Enroth getting fewer opportunities in goal.
The other possible problem that Enroth faces is what if the Sabres bring a goalie back? Last season the team gained goalie Matt Hackett from the Minnesota Wild in the Jason Pominville trade but what if they had to take back another goalie in a potential Miller deal? One of the strongest rumours out there right now is Miller to St. Louis. It would make sense, as it would be a place where Miller would have a chance to win. But with Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott and Jake Allen all in the Blues’ mix, one would have to think that one of those goalies would be coming back and Enroth would go into a competition with him.
NHL Career So Far
The biggest problem that Enroth has during his time in the NHL to this point is his lack of work. Only in the American Hockey League has he ever played more than 40 games. Even when he was playing in Sweden, in their top division, he only played a high of 27 games so one of the big questions surrounding Enroth is can he handle a full NHL workload? To date, the most games he has played in one NHL season is just 26 a far cry from the requirement of a number one goalie.
When he has played in the NHL he has put up decent numbers. He has 21 wins in 53 games, a goals against average of 2.72 and a save percentage of .914. All of which are very good numbers considering he has played behind Miller and on recent struggling teams.
So thus far the argument can be made based on lack of NHL experience and number one experience that Enroth is not ready to become a first-string goalie in the league. Well that all changes when you consider his international record because that is where he has excelled.
In 2013, the Sabres were outside of the playoff picture. Lundqvist, and the Rangers were the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, which meant Enroth was given the opportunity to start for Team Sweden at the IIHF World Championships. He excelled at the opportunity and even earned First-Team All Star honours, as the team became the first since 1986 to win on home ice. In addition it snapped a 27-year drought for the Swedes at the event.
To follow that up, Enroth was named to team Sweden for the 2014 Olympic team in Sochi, Russia. While he will be behind Lundqvist at the Olympics, it is still a great honour for Enroth and something the Sabres must consider as a valuable experience.
The fact of the matter is we wont know if Enroth is ready to be a number one goalie until he gets the chance. The Sabres will most likely do what ever it takes to keep Miller in between the pipes. But if, for whatever reason, they are forced to deal him, it is only fair that they give Enroth the opportunity to carry the ball. He has shown on the international scale that he can be the man and carry his team to a championship so now it is just a matter of can he handle the bulk of an NHL schedule. Only time will tell, but the Sabres should give him the opportunity if they do move Miller because in the end at least they will know what they have in Enroth.