The Buffalo Sabres goaltending situation has been one of the biggest, if not the biggest, topics of conversation surrounding the team this offseason. The team was failed by their goaltending for a large part of the 2021-22 season, with Craig Anderson and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen providing the lone bright spots. The Sabres have a ton of cap space to spend, and if they choose to, they can go after the big fish goaltenders hitting the market like Darcy Kuemper, Jack Campbell or even Marc-Andre Fleury.
Due to the young goaltenders they have in their prospect pipeline like Luukkonen, Devon Levi and Erik Portillo, the most likely avenue Buffalo will take is finding short-term stability at the position. Enter Braden Holtby. He not only gained experience mentoring young goaltenders in his last two NHL stops, but he also won the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals in 2018. He would add a championship pedigree and stability to an area the Sabres have severely lacked in recent years.
Holtby Shared the Crease with Young Goaltenders the Last Two Seasons
When Holtby left the Capitals after the 2019-20 season, he joined the Vancouver Canucks, another team with a young, up-and-coming goaltender in Thatcher Demko. While Holtby was limited to just 21 games that season, he provided valuable experience to the position. Demko took over as the main starter for the Canucks that season, but Holtby was there as an option they could turn to if he was either having an off night or needed to be rested for a game or two. He also served in a mentorship role for Demko, something young goaltenders need when embarking on their NHL careers. Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre tweeted that when Holtby was signed he immediately asked for Demko’s phone number.
While having a mentor for their young goaltenders is certainly a priority, Buffalo also needs to see results in the crease. Holby’s stats from his year in Vancouver were certainly underwhelming, but that season and his 2019-20 season appear to be more outliers than anything. They were his only two NHL seasons with a save percentage (SV%) below .900, and his career average is .913. Those two seasons were also his only ones with a goals-against average (GAA) above 3.00, with his career average sitting at 2.59. The concern for subpar play is also alleviated when considering the bounce-back year he had with the Dallas Stars last season.
Although it was a small sample size once again, Holtby actually played in three more games for the Stars than he did for the Canucks the season prior. In his 24 games, he posted a 10-10-1 record with a .913 SV% and a 2.78 GAA. Those stats were significantly better than anything posted by the Sabres goaltenders last season, although it is not an easy comparison to make when considering they were a playoff team and the Sabres struggled for most of the season.
The Stars also had a young goaltender for Holtby to mentor in Jake Oettinger. After gaining experience working with and sharing a crease with Demko in Vancouver, he was signed to play a similar role in Dallas. It culminated in Oettinger having a breakout season, with Holtby pitching in and providing relief when needed before getting injured.
Signing Holtby Allows the Sabres to Bring Back Craig Anderson
While the status of Anderson remains up in the air, if the 41-year-old goaltender would like to return to the Sabres, they should be open to it as well. All indications point to Luukkonen being in Buffalo to start the season and he will likely be given every opportunity to grab hold of the starting job. If they were to sign Holtby, they would be leaning on two goaltenders coming off injury-shortened seasons. Anderson was hampered by a few injuries last season, but he would be a great goaltender to have as insurance if Holtby or Luukkonen go down for an extended period of time.
Anderson’s impact goes beyond what he does on the ice. He was a tremendous influence on a young Sabres team last season and having him back in the room and around the team can only be a positive for the organization. If he is not playing games, he can almost serve as a bonus goaltender coach, providing mentorship and a calming presence to not just Luukkonen but Holtby as well.
Holtby would provide the ideal bridge for the Sabres while they wait to see which, if any, of their young goaltenders will take the reigns to be their starter for years to come. He will be 33 years old when next season gets underway so they will likely be able to stick with their recent plan of not giving up too many years of term with their contracts. And with him being in the latter part of his career, he will likely not be looking for a contract that will break the bank. Having those three goaltenders in the fold would give the Sabres the stability and dependability they need to take the step toward competing for a playoff spot for the first time in more than a decade.
Zach Rohde is a Buffalo Sabres Contributor for THW. Growing up in the Buffalo area during the late 2000s, the Sabres success fueled his passion for hockey. He has written about the Sabres for another site in Buffalo previously, and covered Buffalo Sports for a brief time as a freelance sports assistant for Spectrum News Buffalo before moving to a full time position in general news. Twitter: @ZachRohde