Buffalo’s Goalie Conundrum: Who’s Gonna Save Us?

Sad to see you go, Matty.  Good luck in the future.  Photo from twointhebox.com

Sad to see you go, Matty. Good luck in the future. Photo from twointhebox.com

Two games left. We just have to lose one of them. While we sit and wait for this wretched season to end, we seem to be focused so intently on the prize – the veritable light at the end of the tunnel – that we’ve overlooked several key aspects of a winning hockey team. There is no doubt that McDavid is a generational player, and Jack Eichel is a game changer, for sure; but what about the back end? No one can really believe that our team, which is the worst puck possession team in decades, will flip a switch and spend most of our time in the offensive zone. Even if that somehow magically does happen, the goaltender becomes even more important – can he remain sharp and focused when facing fewer shots? The draft lotter is a week away, but we’ve pretty much already decided on the outcome of that. The question that no one is really asking is, “Who will be stopping the puck?”

That is a fantastic question. Our starting goaltender, Anders Lindback, is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this

Lindback had a couple of decent games, but was unimpressive.  Photo from foxsports.com

Lindback had a couple of decent games, but was unimpressive. Photo from foxsports.com

season. Our backup, the injured Chad Johnson, is a UFA next season. Our AHL starter, Matt Hackett, will be gone this summer, and his backup, Andrey Makarov, is only signed through next year. None of these players has demonstrated a skill set that would classify them as above average – in fact, career stats for each goalie listed indicate they are sub-par NHL goalies. So now what?

Thankfully, Buffalo has some talent in the pipeline. Unfortunately, most of these goalies are a few years off of their NHL stardom. Perhaps the most talked about prospect is 2013 draft pick Cal Peterson. Peterson spent his winter between the pipes for Notre Dame in the NCAA, making quite an impression. Peterson didn’t exactly stack the wins when he was stacking the pads, but he did keep a lot of pucks out of the net. He posted a .919 save percentage in 33 games, including a record-setting 87 saves in a 5-overtime loss on March 7th.  Scouting reports say that Peterson is not projected to be a starting goalie in the NHL, but a couple more seasons in college may have them changing their minds.

Can't wait to see Ullmark in Blue and Gold.  Photo from sverigesradio.se

Can’t wait to see Ullmark in Blue and Gold. Photo from sverigesradio.se

Throughout the season, the goaltending situations seemed to be in constant flux. Even down the stretch, most fans expected to see a lot more of Hackett in order to lock him up for next year, but he played in only a couple of games and it appeared his knee injury is still affecting him. In all of this time, one fan (me) was waiting to hear that the team had made the trans-Atlantic call to Sweden’s Modo and requested the services of Linus Ullmark. I had the opportunity to catch Ullmark in the Blue and Gold game last summer, and I was impressed with his play. At the time, I predicted he’d stay in the US, and I was disappointed when he returned to Sweden for the season. It was probably for the better, with Ullmark being young and raw, but I think he’ll play stateside this fall. He may spend a lot of time in Rochester, but I expect him to make his mark as the team develops into a real contender.

Cal Peterson is a couple years off. Linus Ullmark is at least one season away from NHL play. Both have the ability to make a difference, but neither will be doing it next season, so Buffalo is going to have to mine the free agent market to see if they can snag a starter for next year. The list of goaltending free agents is long, for sure, but it is largely unimpressive. The most illustrious name, perhaps, is San Jose’s Antti Niemi. Niemi is a few years removed from his best

I think Neuvirth will be doing a lot more of this for us next year.  Photo from cbssports.com

I think Neuvirth will be doing a lot more of this for us next year. Photo from cbssports.com

season in 2012-2013, but his stats are at least middle-of-the-pack for the last two seasons, posting a .914 save percentage and a 2.49 goals against average in the two seasons since. Another name that jumps off of the page is Cam Talbot, who currently backs up Henrik Lundqvist upstate for the Rangers. He played excellently when Lundqvist went down with an injury this past season, and he may command a nice chunk of change on the open market. Buffalo is not afraid of spending that money, but I think the Rangers make a strong move to keep Talbot on the ice at MSG. There is one name on the list that we’ve heard a lot of here in Buffalo, and that is Michal Neuvirth. Sabres’ GM Tim Murray generally plays things pretty close to the vest, but he has been clear about two things this season: he wants McDavid, and he likes Neuvirth. There is a sentimental value with Michal – he was the first goalie Murray went after during the trade deadline in 2014. He has come out and said that he wants to have been right about Neuvirth, and that Neuvirth deserves some starting time. He may have dealt Michal at the deadline, but that was a power move, and he did the same with Sabres’ alternate captain Matt Moulson – Murray dealt him at the deadline, only to resign him in the offseason. I am confident that we will re-sign Neuvirth and he’ll get his chance to start for this newly invigorated Buffalo team.

This bittersweet season is finally coming to an end. It may be the first time in a long time that both Buffalo teams have the national media’s attention in the offseason – the Bills are making weekly headlines, and the Sabres could definitely do the same. There will be lively debates on patios all around the city this summer, and I can’t wait to knock a few back and take part in as many as possible. I raise my glass to you, Buffalo. We made it through this season, united by our goal, and we’re so very close to the light at the end of the tunnel. I look forward to spending some time with you on the other side.

Cheers, from all of us, to all of you.

Cheers, from all of us, to all of you.

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2 Comments on “Buffalo’s Goalie Conundrum: Who’s Gonna Save Us?”

  1. erikwollschlager April 10, 2015 at 1:51 pm #

    Reblogged this on ewollschlager and commented:

    Who will start in net for us next season?

  2. djshnooks April 10, 2015 at 5:04 pm #

    I’d be willing to bet none of these guys are the goalie next year. Ottawa has Hammond to make a decision on, with Anderson and Lehner already there…Murray helped to get all three of them.

    There’s also a rumor he will sign Martin Jones to an offer sheet for a 3rd round pick…which is nothing for a starting goalie.

    Peterson will be in college at least 2 more seasons, Ullmark needs at least 2 seasons in the AHL. Matt O’Connor is a wild card for backup duties for the Sabres, if they get him.

    Also Ben Bishop could be traded to open to net got Vasilevskiy and open up cap space for all the young RFA’s they will have…and everyone knows how much Murray loves Bishop.

    Neuvirth was a throw in on a trade, the same way Lindback was…neither of them are the goalie Tim Murray wants.

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