In part two of my three-part series, I look at the Sabres goaltending plan going forward. The goaltending position might be the biggest question mark entering the offseason. The Sabres appear to have no definitive plan at the position for next season. Buffalo will likely need to look outside the organization to fill their need in the crease
Already in House
The Sabres enter the offseason with only one NHL goalie under contract. This goalie however, never played a game for the Sabres. The player I’m referring to is Chad Johnson. Johnson was acquired by the Sabres at the trade deadline as part of the Michal Neuvirth trade with the New York Islanders. The 28-year-old was supposed to compete with AndresLindback for the starting role down the stretch. Unfortunately for Johnson he suffered what would end up being a season ending foot injury on the last shot of practice prior to his first scheduled start. Talk about tough luck. Johnson has one more season remaining on his deal and as of now will compete for the starting role next season for the Sabres. Johnson has played 5 seasons in the NHL with
the Rangers, Coyotes, Bruins, and Islanders. He has a career 2.41 GAA and a .914 save percentage as a career backup. Johnson will use this opportunity to try to earn his first starting role.
In the system the Sabres do have 22-year-old Andrey Makarov. The Russian goaltender took a step backward this season struggling in Rochester of the AHL. He was however able to earn one start during the season with Sabres against the Islanders. He was impressive in this one game and I was disappointed he wasn’t given another opportunity. Makarov always seems to play better at the NHL level than he does at the AHL. The promising goaltender will likely end up in Rochester again next season, but will make a push to earn a roster spot with the Sabres.
Further down the road the Sabres have prospects Linus Ullmark and Cal Petersen. Ullmark looked to be the future of the Sabres in the crease. He was playing well in the Swedish Elite league and was ready to make his North American debut next season. Unfortunately for Ullmark and the Sabres, the 6’4 Swede suffered a pretty serious hip injury. Ullmark will likely miss the beginning of next season which will push his development back.
Petersen on the other hand will spend another season in the NCAA with Notre Dame. The 2013 fifth round pick was impressive in his freshman season, including an NCAA record 87 save performance in a 5 OT game against Massachusetts. Petersen is also a few years away from making any significant impact with the Sabres.
Free Agency Options
The free agent market isn’t packed with starting goaltenders this offseason. The Sabres could target a big name like Antti Niemi. I think Niemi will likely be looking to find a fit where he can win right away as he’s likely signing his last NHL contract.
The Sabres could look into a few former members of the team in Jhonas Enroth, Andres Lindback, and Michal Neuvirth. I don’t think the chances of Enroth making a return to Buffalo are high. Buffalo GM Tim Murray likes goalies who have size and at 5’11, Enroth doesn’t fit that model.
Lindback and Neuvirth could be intriguing. Lindback had a career revival of sorts in Buffalo. He came to Buffalo as part of the
Enroth trade with the Dallas Stars and was sporting a 3.71 GAA with a .875 save percentage at the time. Once Lindback arrived in Buffalo he turned everything around. In 16 games, the Swede put up a 2.76 GAA with a .924 save percentage. He has excellent size which is a key attribute for Murray as I previously mentioned.
Neuvirth thrived in Buffalo under the guide of goaltending coach Arturs Irbe. Neuvirth did struggle with Islanders registering a .881 save percentage compared to the .918 he put up in Buffalo. Neuvirth will be looking to sign with a club that will give him the opportunity to earn a starting role. Buffalo may be open to bringing him back for another shot at with the team.
Not many starting options are available in free agency beyond Niemi, Enroth, Lindback and Neuvirth.
Buffalo could decide to look at the trade market to fill their goaltending void. A lot of young potential could be on the block this offseason. This would be the route I would choose to go to find a starting goaltender. My first target would be current Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson. I’ve personally been a huge fan of Gibson and he has a lot of potential as a starting goaltender. The Ducks seem to be set with Freddie Andersen as their goalie of the future. At only 25-years-old Andersen can run the ship in southern California for the foreseeable future. The Ducks may not be willing to give up Gibson yet and it could be expensive to
pry him out of Anaheim. The Sabres would be wise to check with Anaheim at the end of the season to see if they have any desire to listen to offers on Gibson.
Other options through the trade market include Cam Talbot, Martin Jones, and Robin Lehner. Talbot came into the spotlight during the season stepping in for Henrik Lundqvist. Talbot was excellent and was able to keep the Rangers on the winning track. The Rangers could look to cash in on Talbot’s high value this offseason.
Martin Jones is a restricted free agent for the Kings. Los Angeles is in some cap trouble and could be willing to deal the 25-year-old. The Sabres could always present an offer sheet to Jones, but the most GM’s are not willing to use that option. The offer sheet is an unwritten rule between most NHL General Managers.
Robin Lehner was once seen as the future of the Ottawa Senators at goaltending. However with the emergence of Andrew Hammond, the strong playoffs of Craig Anderson, and the signing of former Boston University goaltender Matt O’Connor; Lehner could be on the move out of Ottawa. Murray of course has a connection to Ottawa and has a lot of knowledge on Lehner’s potential.
The Sabres have a lot of options to explore to fill their vacant goaltending position. It’ll be very intriguing to see what route Murray decides to explore and pull the trigger on.