Sabres Are Rolling the Dice on Eric Comrie

Despite being expected to have a busy offseason, the Buffalo Sabres were surprisingly quiet when NHL Free Agency opened on July 13 and didn’t make much of a splash. The Sabres currently possess over $19 million in salary cap space but made just two signings of note, inking defenseman Ilya Lyubuskin and goaltender Eric Comrie to two-year deals each.

Lyubushkin’s signing makes sense, as it fills the void left by Mark Pysyk, who signed with the Detroit Red Wings. Comrie, on the other hand, is much more surprising. Since being drafted in 2013, the goaltender has had a difficult time establishing himself and has spent the last nine seasons bouncing back and forth between the NHL and the AHL.

Given who the Sabres currently have in their goaltending ranks, it’s a safe assumption that Comrie could be the team’s starting goaltender come the fall. But does this bode well for the team? And what does it mean for the other netminders in Buffalo?

Comrie Is Talented but Unproven

Comrie, whose older half-brother Mike was involved in the infamous Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators brawl of 2007, was drafted 59th overall in the 2013 draft by the Winnipeg Jets. After concluding four seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans, he joined the professional ranks in 2014 with Winnipeg’s then-AHL affiliate, the St. John’s Ice Caps, before that team relocated to Winnipeg and became the Manitoba Moose. After three seasons in the AHL, he received his first NHL call-up and made his debut on April 6, 2017, defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Unfortunately for him, the emergence of future Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck virtually eliminated any chances he had of becoming the Jets’ number one goaltender, which is perhaps why he was waived ahead of the 2019-20 season. That proved to be the beginning of an odyssey for the Edmonton native.

Eric Comrie Winnipeg Jets
Comrie was waived and later reclaimed by the Jets on two separate occasions (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers).

The Arizona Coyotes claimed Comrie, but he never appeared in a game for them, instead being sent to their AHL affiliate, the Tucson Road Runners, before being traded to the Detroit Red Wings later that season. However, the Red Wings waived him after just three appearances, and he was reclaimed by the Jets, who sent him back to the Moose. Prior to the COVID-shortened 2021 season, the Jets waived him once again, with the New Jersey Devils claiming him, but he’d be re-waived after just one appearance and reclaimed by the Jets for a second time.

Comrie finally found some stability for the 2021-22 campaign, as the Jets made him their backup goaltender behind Hellebuyck. In 19 games, he posted a 10-5-1 record with a 2.58 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. Despite the small sample size, the numbers impressed the Sabres enough to give him a two-year, $3.6 million contract, and he’ll likely become a starting goaltender for the first time come October.

However, the Sabres are also making a major roll of the dice on Comrie by doing so. The 27-year-old has always seemed to possess the talent to have success in the NHL but has never impressed a team enough to keep him around for a sustained period. In parts of six NHL seasons, he has just 28 total appearances, going 13-10-1 with a 3.06 GAA and .905 SV%. He impressed last season, but it remains to be seen if he can handle the responsibilities of being a number one goaltender.

What Does This Mean for Luukkonen?

Comrie’s signing is intriguing for Buffalo in the sense of what it will mean for the team’s top goaltending prospect, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (UPL). Fans have spent the past few years wondering when (or even if) the Sabres will bring him up full-time. After spending parts of the past four seasons with AHL Rochester, the 23-year-old appears to be NHL-ready, but the Sabres have continually held off on promoting him permanently, and he’s been limited to brief call-up stints in each of the past two seasons. To be fair, his run with the team this past year may have lasted longer had it not ended prematurely due to injury, but it appears that the Sabres are hesitant to bring the Finn into the limelight.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen Buffalo Sabres
Comrie’s presence in Buffalo could mean that fans will have to continue to wait to see Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images).

Could that be an indicator that the Sabres have decided that he’s not their guy? Or is he still the guy going forward, and Comrie is just a table-setter/potential tandem partner? The argument could be made for both, and it is quite possible that the team simply wants UPL to have the time to develop at his own speed, which is what allowed Ryan Miller to become a franchise goaltender. But it’s tough to predict either way, however, seeing as the Sabres also re-signed both Craig Anderson and Malcolm Subban.

Sabres Face Uncertain Situation in Net

This fall, the Sabres have four candidates that could possibly be fighting for the team’s top two goaltending spots. With Luukkonen seemingly heading for yet another campaign in Rochester, Anderson is all but guaranteed to occupy one of them as it’s highly unlikely the 41-year-old will end up in the minors. The one-year deal that Subban agreed to is two-way, so it’s possible that he could either be the team’s third-string or find himself with the Americans.

Related: Sabres’ Top-6 Is Getting Crowded

At this point, Comrie is the clear-cut favorite to get the start for the Sabres’ season opener against Ottawa on Oct. 13, and the team will see if the chance they took was wise. If it backfires, Anderson could be thrust back into the number one role. Despite his age, the league’s oldest goaltender performed very well last season, but can he realistically be expected to carry the team once again?

His struggles with finding a permanent NHL home aside, Comrie has always been a promising talent, and he’ll now have his chance to prove he’s worthy of a team’s top spot. With the Sabres looking to take a further step forward this season and potentially even contend for a playoff spot, they’ll need their new goaltender to come up big. Fans in Western New York and Southern Ontario will be hoping that the gamble comes out in their favor.

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