Sabres Can Upgrade Their Goaltending with Mackenzie Blackwood

The Buffalo Sabres are currently riding a five-game win streak, and are sitting just outside of a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. As their season has progressed, they have struggled to find true stability at the goaltending position and it is time they start exploring outside options. They currently have three goalies on the roster in Eric Comrie, Craig Anderson, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (UPL) but each of them have issues that are hindering the Sabres’ playoff chances; Comrie has not shown that he can be consistent as a starter, UPL has not proven that he can cut it as an NHL goalie yet, and Anderson has Father Time closely watching him.

The Sabres have the talent on their roster to be a playoff team, but they are being held back by their goaltending. If they want to take a step towards legitimacy, then they should make a move for New Jersey Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood. The Devils have a reliable starter in Vitek Vanecek, and Blackwood is too good to be relegated to a backup role, so he is definitely expendable to them. He is currently in the final year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent (RFA) when it concludes, so he has plenty of value to bring to both teams.

Blackwood Has Shown Flashes of Greatness

In his short NHL career, Blackwood has played a total of 140 games and compiled a record of 60-54-16 while playing for a generally depleted and underwhelming Devils team. His best season was in 2019-20 when he had 22 wins, a 2.77 goals-against average (GAA), and a .915 save percentage (SV%). He has never been a part of a team that is designed to support him defensively, so he is used to fending for himself most nights. As the Sabres continue to fix their defensive issues, he would be the perfect backstop to take on the bulk of the workload.

Mackenzie Blackwood New Jersey Devils
Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

He is still young at the ripe age of 26, and his biggest problem has been injuries over the last few years. His numbers this season are below his usual average due to his recovery from an injury sustained earlier in the year, so he has some work to do in order to get back to his old self. The Sabres would be smart to make a move for him early in January before his asking price goes up by playing for a very good Devils team.

Sabres’ Offer For Blackwood Will Be Tough

Should the Sabres decide to make this move, it would give them a logjam at the goalie position. Anderson is still playing well, so he would not be going anywhere, UPL could be sent back down to the Rochester Americans, but Comrie would be the odd man out. If a deal is struck between the two teams, Comrie would likely need to be sent back in the other direction to balance both depth charts. Luckily, his contract only has one more year on it after this season, and it is for a meagre $1.8-million cap hit. He has no modifications in his contract that would hinder the Sabres from being able to trade him, and if need be, they could even retain half of his salary to get the job done.

Eric Comrie Buffalo Sabres
Eric Comrie, Buffalo Sabres (Photo by Joshua Bessex/Getty Images)

The trade itself would still need to have some substance to it due to Blackwood’s RFA status, so beyond adding Comrie to the package, the Sabres could offer up a prospect of minor value along with an early-round pick to acquire him. If the Devils would instead want another roster player in return, the Sabres have a handful of options that could work. Should an offer be made, it could look something like one of the following:

  • Sabres trade Vinnie Hinostroza, Comrie, and a second-round pick (2023) for Blackwood
  • Sabres trade Ryan Johnson, Comrie, and a fourth-round pick (2023) for Blackwood
  • Sabres trade Prokhor Poltapov, Comrie, and a second-round pick (2023 from Vegas) for Blackwood

All three of these offers provide a combination of future talent and depth chart balance. Hinostroza has been rotated in and out of the Sabres’ lineup a lot this season, but he does deserve to be in far more than he should be taken out. His talents are being wasted in the press box, and he would do very well for an offensively-inclined Devils team.

Johnson is one of the Sabres’ top defensive prospects, but he is still unsigned and they may not be able to retain him. They can still move his rights, and with the direction the Devils are trending in, there should be no reason to believe Johnson would not want to sign his first contract with them.

Poltapov is a former second-round pick in 2021 and has some very good offensive skill. He plays a power-forward game and wears down opponents, so he would be a valuable asset to the Devils in just a couple of years when he comes over from Russia.

Blackwood Gives Sabres Stability in Goal

The Sabres have a solid pipeline of goaltending prospects, so their future looks very bright between the pipes. The problem with goaltenders is that none of them are a sure thing. They tend to take a long time to develop, and the learning curve from junior level to pro, or college level to pro is so high, that there is no guarantee that any of their young goalies will become a legitimate starter. By acquiring Blackwood, the Sabres would have a serviceable starting goaltender for right now and the near future.

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Anderson will likely retire at the end of this season, and UPL will be playing full-time in Buffalo by 2023-24, so having Blackwood take the reins as things transition would benefit them greatly. The Sabres’ top goalie prospects Erik Portillo, Devon Levi, and Topias Leinonen are all three or more years from being NHL players, so they need to find a solution to their goalie problem sooner than later if they wish to consistently compete for the playoffs. Blackwood is the perfect option for them since they can acquire him using expendable pieces, and they can lock him up to suit their future plans accordingly.