Despite Early Movement, Sabres Aren’t Shut Out of Goalie Market (yet)

As the wheels got turning on the goalie market at the draft, the Sabres have yet to complete a move to round out their crease for the coming season. It’s a subject that’s caused some consternation throughout the fanbase, though I’m not sure theirs is cause for concern just yet.

There are still a few notable names left on the list I laid out last week. Of those remaining options, a few are truly viable targets for the Sabres to pursue in the coming days. Most notably, Eric Comrie and whoever may be available via trade from the Sharks. In the meantime, I think it’s important to consider that the goalie market isn’t completely shuttered because Alex Georgiev and Vitek Vanacek got traded. Combing through the league, you can quickly find another tier of goalies who could almost certainly be had via trade given their respective team’s outlook in net.

Antti Raanta (or Frederik Andersen)

The Hurricanes top two netminders dealt with a spate of injuries at the worst possible time last year. Andersen was forced to miss the playoffs and Raanta appeared hobbled at times himself as the postseason wore on. What’s interesting about the Hurricanes situation in net is that they have Pyotr Kochetkov waiting in the wings after arriving from Russia last year. Kochetkov posted a sparking .921 SV% in the AHL last year and at 23, could be ready to step into an NHL role.

If the Hurricanes are content with promoting Kochetkov, one of their incumbents could come available. I’d presume Raanta is the more likely option of the two as Andersen, when healthy, is the steadier option as a starter. Andersen also carried a modified no trade clause. However, Andersen’s $4.5m cap hit could give the Hurricanes some valuable additional cap space if they wish to go big game hunting. Raanta feels like the better fit though. He has a healthy cap number for a backup ($2m) and pairing Kochetkov with a veteran like Andersen wouldn’t put Carolina at risk of any sort of serious setback in net. What the Hurricanes would be asking for Raanta is tough to clock. His injury history is well documented and if Carolina’s desire is to shave a bit of cap and promote their rising prospect, perhaps the ask comes down. But this isn’t a Matt Murray or Petr Mrazek-style cap dump either. So the Sabres would need to come to the table with something of value.

Lukas Dostal

Dostal’s availability is centered entirely around John Gibson and Anaheim’s long-term plans with him. If they’re committed to keeping him as a centerpiece as they retool, there is going to be room to negotiate for the other goalies in their system. Primarily Anthony Stolarz and Dostal.

For the Sabres purposes, I think Dostal makes a lot more sense. Stolarz fits the desire for a stop-gap better, but Dostal has the background to offer the Sabres more long-term benefit. It’s something that hasn’t been discussed too much given Buffalo’s apparent desire to keep the path clear for Devon Levi and Erik Portillo. Dostal is only 22, so the fear that his presence could affect the ability to sign Levi and/or Portillo could be a factor. But Dostal can step into NHL action tomorrow. He’s played good hockey in the minors and is poised for the next step. Both of Buffalo’s NCAA prospects will need at least one year in the minors before any sort of serious NHL time would be considered. With both going back to college this season, that means the fall of 2024 at the earliest for those two. That puts Dostal in line to play meaningful minutes for the Sabres from day one and beyond. He could even serve as a partner for one of Buffalo’s prospects once they’re ready for the jump to the NHL. Acquisition cost for Dostal will be higher than a more established backup. But the benefit is there to acquire a goalie who can help today and for the coming seasons while the rest of Buffalo’s prospects (in net and beyond) grow.

Linus Ullmark

I think the options for the Bruins to move on from Ullmark all but disappeared when Tuukka Rask pulled out of his comeback attempt last season. However, he’s still on a fairly pricey contract and the Bruins could be preparing to hand the keys to Jeremy Swayman. With Boston looking at one final run with Patrice Bergeron (and a reunion with David Krejci), Ullmarks cap could give them some valuable flexibility as they try for one last run.

If we’re being honest, Ullmark sort of fits Buffalo’s needs perfectly. He’s a capable starter who will give them quality minutes. He’s a great locker room guy and ought to pair well with Craig Anderson in a timeshare. His contract isn’t prohibitive in cost or length and there’s not much risk that he will experience any sort of continued growth that could derail future plans in net. I have my doubts that the Bruins are in a position to ship him out, but I wouldn’t completely rule it out.  

Ilya Samsonov

On paper, the Caps plan to not tender Samsonov was to avoid a steep arbitration award while still working towards a new deal. I’d assume negotiations have been cordial but at noon Wednesday he becomes an unrestricted free agent and there’s nothing stopping another team from swooping in with a strong offer.

Now, I don’t see the fit here with Samsonov quite like I do with another young goalie like Dostal. Samsonov is a few years older than Dostal, for what that’s worth. But the real issue for me has been his struggles to fully establish himself as an NHL goalie. There was also that off-ice injury before the return for the COVID bubble which makes me wonder if you’d have to watch over him more closely than others on the market. I anticipate that any team considering signing him would need to come with a fairly substantial offer to lure him from Washington. I question his North American resume thus far and whether or not he’d even listen to an offer on a shorter, one-to-three year term. He’s someone to consider on a three-year deal, maybe a million or two lower than what Detroit gave Ville Husso. It would be a decent bridge deal, though I question if he’d give the Sabres what they need.

Dan Vladar and Dustin Wolf

With four years left on Jacob Markstrom’s contract, Calgary’s crease is locked up for the foreseeable future. Dustin Wolf put up phenomenal numbers in his first professional season and will be pushing for an NHL job soon. He’s still waivers exempt, so the Flames may not be backed into a corner just yet, but that time is coming. What happens if he outplays Vladar in camp? Is he already the favorite for the backup role today?

Now, Wolf is probably untouchable at this point. Even with Markstrom signed beyond the end of Wolf’s entry level deal. But he’s the future. Vladar however, is in a bit of limbo at 24 years old. He’s never gotten a real look at starter’s time and he is an RFA next summer. I think he’s a terrific trade target for the Sabres and he carries very little risk. His numbers aren’t going to wow you but I doubt the ask from Calgary would be astronomical as he was acquired for a third round pick last summer. Worst case scenario, he doesn’t show the chops to be a starter and the Sabres walk away from him next summer. Best case is that he grabs the job and the Sabres have a 24-year old goalie to lean on as the bring along the rest of the pipeline.  

Cam Talbot

There was a bit of drama around the draft as Bill Guerin didn’t mince words when speaking to reporters about his conversation with Talbot’s agent. Whether or not there is any real acrimony between Talbot and the team is unknown. Either way, the Wild gave Marc-Andre Fleury a two-year extension and Jesper Wallstedt is in the pipeline. I don’t see much of a future for Talbot, a UFA in 2023 and the Wild would almost certainly be happy to shed his salary in order to make an addition elsewhere on the roster.

I’d still expect the Wild to ask for a healthy return for Talbot as they don’t have to trade him and he is still a capable NHL goaltender. But he would be an excellent fit for the Sabres and offer the Wild some needed cap relief if a deal could be struck.  

Update: About 5 seconds after this post went up, Talbot was moved to the Senators in exchange for young goaltender Filip Gustavsson. The comparable return for the Sabres would have been Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, an offer I’m sure they’d be hesitant to make for what amounts to a rental acquisition. I’m not sure what a package of picks would have needed to be to equal that ask from the Wild. I’d assume a second rounder and perhaps a mid-round selection as a sweetener would have been in the neighborhood. I’ll leave it to you to decide if either of those packages (picks or UPL) would have been worth it for the Sabres to offer for Talbot.

The goalie market didn’t exactly set up perfectly for the Sabres as the top names were always going to be longshots. There was next to no middle class of goalies in free agency which pointed to the need to make a trade. I don’t think the attempt to acquire Matt Murray is a perfect representation of how aggressive the Sabres care to be in the trade market, though it’s not without value in this conversation. It strikes me that perhaps the most important trait in anyone they target will be contract term. I don’t think they want to block any prospects unless a true number one (see, Connor Hellebuyck) comes along. So keep an eye on Eric Comrie, James Reimer and Adin Hill. It feels like those are the best overall fits for the Sabres right now with Cam Talbot and Dan Vladar as two names that haven’t been discussed enough but would also fit their needs quite well. We’ll see what Wednesday brings us as an early signing could end any remaining speculation to their plans.

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