Offseason Offers the Sabres a Path to Improve in Goal

As the season heads into its final month, one of the biggest holes on Buffalo’s roster for the offseason is in net.

The Sabres are currently set to the summer with no goaltenders under contract and a lot of questions over what the future in the crease looks like. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is a restricted free agent and is the only sure thing the Sabres have in terms of playing games in either Buffalo or Rochester in 2022-23. Beyond that, it’s a crapshoot.

Buffalo will need to acquire a minimum of two goaltenders this summer. One to play the lion’s share of the games in Buffalo and the other to share time in Rochester (ideally with one of Buffalo’s promising young collegiate prospects).

Any assumption that Luukkonen should be stepping in as Buffalo’s starter for the 22-23 season is premature to me. Luukkonen has played only 13 NHL games between two seasons and he suffered an injury in each of those runs. Even taking into account the poor play in front of him in Rochester, his resume isn’t that of a goalie who is ready to step into an NHL starter’s job. I think it would be far more appropriate for Luukonen to play somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-to-35 games behind a steadier veteran presence.

Bringing Craig Anderson back has been a popular refrain as he’s offered a reliable option since returning from injury. There’s a reason the Sabres odds against Winnipeg tonight are only +140 at Betway and not much steeper. There’s also a reason that the over/under of 6.5 for tonight’s game is a good bet of late. Anderson has been a big reason the Sabres vibes have been so good. However, his numbers this year are still quite average. He’s sporting a -5 goals saved above expected and his .901 save percentage falls in line with the downward trend of his last few full seasons in Ottawa.

Consider as well, he is 41 years old and missed a significant portion of the season to injury. Does he fit the profile of a goalie who can help the Sabres take the next step?

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The Instigator Podcast 10.30 – Sabres Heater Keeps the Good Vibes Rolling

The Sabres pushed their point streak to six games and improved to 8-3-2 in the month of March. We discuss how the continued success of the team could potentially cloud the longer term needs when it comes to making sure the Sabres take the next step in their rebuild. Namely, we discuss the discourse around Craig Anderson and where the team would be had he been healthy for the entire year.

Also on the show is a discussion over the new Buffalo Bills stadium deal and highlights from the NHL GM meetings.

The Instigator Podcast 10.29 – Quiet Trade Deadline for the Sabres

Kevyn Adams stood pat at this year’s trade deadline, only moving out Robert Hagg on Sunday. We talk about what the lack of action means for the team as they prepare for the stretch run, how they might fit key youngsters into the lineup and whether or not Adams made the right call by not making additional moves.

We also touch on moves from around the league. Who we felt were the big winners of this year’s deadline and even discuss that wacky Evgenii Dadonov deal.

Two in the Mailbox: Deadline Special

In honor of the NHL Trade Deadline, it’s time once again to take a few reader questions.  

I’m looking forward to Monday’s deadline as I think the Sabres are poised to move at least two or three players off the roster. And there’s potential for even more moves both out and in. Unless Kevyn Adams makes zero moves on Moday, it will be hard to say it was an underwhelming deadline.

As we touched on this week’s podcast, I’m hopeful that Adams will bring in a player who will be in Buffalo not just for the final weeks of the season, but well into the future. A younger player, ideally with term, who could add to the growing confidence over what Adams and the Sabres are trying to build. That’s easier said than done, but it wouldn’t be the first time the organization brought in a notable piece for the future at the deadline. Here’s hoping the next one comes on Monday.

Before we get to the questions, we should celebrate the beauty of the Armchair GM submissions on CapFriendly. It’s been far too long since we shared any of these, so let’s make up for lost time with some Very Bad Trades.

A few thoughts here. First, Kaapo Kahkonen has had a decent season for the Wild but he hasn’t yet risen to the level of a number one goalie. Marcus Foligno has also carved out a very valuable role in Minnesota, so the idea that just Casey Mittelstadt (whose has been very underwhelming when not injured) could fetch you both of these players is silly. Yet, that deal is trumped by the following offer of the Arizona Coyotes offering a first and a third for Victor Olofsson and recent healthy scratch, Anders Bjork. I’m not sure how to arrive at that particular valuation, but it seems…inaccurate. Olofsson ought to have some value this summer (or at the deadline) but Bjork’s value will have cratered and while the Coyotes do need players on contracts, they also desperately need draft capital.

Sure, I guess. There are other players in the NHL though. We don’t always have to do Pat Kane.

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On to the questions.

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Projecting a Hypothetical Post-Deadline Roster

Once again, the Sabres will be sellers at the deadline. While they aren’t overflowing with pending UFAs or highly sought after talent, there will be a few faces missing from Buffalo’s lineup after Monday.

It’s hard to say exactly how many of Buffalo’s trade chips will find their way out the door, but I’ll be surprised if Kevyn Adams doesn’t make at least one or two moves. The Sabres have nine unrestricted free agents who could arguably be available via trade. But the more realistic number is five, maybe six players who are truly available. That list includes Craig Anderson, Cody Eakin, Robert Hagg, Vinny Hinostroza, Colin Miller and possibly Will Butcher. That doesn’t mean all of those players will be on the move, but they each have a profile of a deadline rental.

Players with term or RFA status could also be shipped out, but aside from some whispers about Victor Olofsson’s availability, it doesn’t sound like there would be any imminent moves from the non-UFAs on Buffalo’s roster.

What’s interesting is that while Adams could easily trade away five players on Monday, Buffalo’s roster might not look all that different. The injury bug that ran through Buffalo’s roster shifted the lineup to the point that the Sabres are only now sending players back to Rochester, with Mark Jankowski returned on Wednesday. So, while Hagg and Miller could both gone on Monday, Hagg is the only one of the two with a roster spot that would need to be filled. With Anders Bjork a healthy scratch and Zemgus Girgensons ready to return, the same could be said of Cody Eakin and Vinny Hinostroza.

I think the initial reaction to the Sabres potentially shipping out three or more players would mean a distinct impact to their competitiveness. But things might look pretty similar to how they look now. Right now, the Sabres are +200 underdogs against the Oilers at Betway. Not the greatest odds, but I don’t think you’ll be seeing much longer odds for the club once their work at the deadline is complete.

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Sabres Cap Space Offers Unique Opportunity to Broker Deadline Deals

With less than a week to go to the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, one of the most common talking points has been how the lack of salary cap space has kept early negotiations to a minimum.

The Sabres head to the deadline with a handful of pending UFAs who will make decent bargain rentals for contending teams. But the real value Buffalo has at the deadline is their salary cap space.

As of this writing, CapFriendly shows the Sabres with over $55 million in space, the most in the NHL by $10 million. CapFriendly projects them to end the year with $13 million in space. That puts the Sabres in a perfect position to leverage that cap space to acquire useful assets at the deadline, something that Kevyn Adams recently said he hopes to do.

Buffalo isn’t the only team with space to broker a deal and the rumor mill doesn’t indicate that Monday will chock full of deals. Taking advantage of their cap space may be easier said than done, but there should be at least a handful of big contracts moving which would allow the Sabres to serve as a broker.

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The Instigator Podcast 10.28 – Good Vibes and Sabres Trade Targets

We are bathing in the good vibes surrounding the Sabres this week as we discuss how things have seemingly started to gel for the team and its young core. We discuss the impressive win over the Maple Leafs in the Heritage Classic, touch on the impressive impact that the likes of Alex Tuch and Jeff Skinner have on the club and look ahead to next week’s deadline.

Our deadline discussion focuses on players the Sabres could attempt to target as acquisitions at the deadline, in hopes of finding another key piece to help build this new core around.

The Instigator Podcast 10.27 – Laying Out the Sabres Deadline Options

The trade deadline is two weeks away and we spend this week’s episode discussing where Buffalo’s pending UFAs could go and how the Sabres can leverage this year’s deadline into even more draft capital for the club. We also touch on Kevyn Adams’ public statements about the Sabres ability to weaponize their cap space at the deadline.

Also on the show is a quick chat about the returns of Sam Reinhart, Jack Eichel and Sunday’s Heritage Classic.

NCAA Rooting Guide for Sabres Reinforcements

The last few months haven’t been kind to the Sabres. Injuries have plagued the roster as losses keep stacking up. They’re flirting with winning only 10 of their last 50 games and another lost season has fans wondering when the reinforcements might arrive.

Unlike previous seasons, the Sabres prospect pipeline is a bit richer these days. Meaning there’s more than just one or two prospects worth looking forward to seeing. Jack Quinn was just returned to Rochester after recovering from injury. He joins JJ Peterka, who is steaming along at a point per game pace and Ukko Pekka Luukkonen, who is working back from an injury of his own. Mattias Samuelsson and Peyton Krebs are already in Buffalo and there’s an opportunity for Ryan Johnson, Devon Levi and Owen Power to arrive once their respective NCAA seasons wrap up.

Some of Buffalo’s Buffalo’s CHL prospects could even see action in Rochester on ATOs when their seasons end.

There ought to be space on the Sabres roster for some of those prospects to fill out after the trade deadline. There could be upwards of four-to-six openings depending on how many deals the Sabres swing and who they move on from. Thanks to the later start to the NHL season, NCAA prospects can play in far more games than they would under normal circumstances, which is a great sign for the ability of Johnson, Levi and Power to impact the Sabres lineup.

Exactly when those three could arrive is still up in the air. A few well-placed losses could get the trio to Buffalo sooner, which is what this rooting guide is for.

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The Instigator Podcast 10.26 – Sabres Laying Groundwork for Re-Engagement

The hockey world has reacted to the war in Ukraine, as Russia and Belarus have been suspended from international play by the IIHF and the 2023 World Junior Championships have been removed from Russia as well. Additional hockey-related sanctions have been placed on the two countries and we discuss the fallout that will come from the actions taken by both sides, from a hockey perspective. We also discuss the new initiatives being take by the Sabres in an effort to re-engage with their season ticket holders and fanbase as a whole. With a new VP of Ticketing, steps are being taken to open new avenues to connect with the fanbase and get butts back in the seats.