Ranking the Greatest Masks in Sabres History

For a club with nearly 50 years of history, the Sabres sometimes lack a laundry list of alumni at certain positions. Goaltender is one of these, where the Sabres have seen quite a bit of longevity and their fair share of star power compared to their league brethren.

This longevity has bred quite a few hare-brained debates regarding starters at the position but also leaves the team with a smaller pool of alumni than other teams can claim when it comes to trivial things such as ranking goalie helmet designs. With the Sabres at the center of their fair share of negative articles, it seems like a good a time as any to share my favorite Sabres goal mask designs as a way to distract, even for a short while, from a season that’s as dreary as anyone can remember.

I’ve put together what I feel are the ten best masks in Sabres history with a few honorable mentions filtered in when appropriate. Each ranking was based on a single mask a goalie wore as a Sabre (except when multiple masks were considered) and the overall paint job was considered. Bonus points for minute details common on modern masks didn’t factor in since that created the potential for excluding older masks.

Like any good listicle, I’ll go in order from ten to one, so if you’re impatient just scroll to the bottom. Disagreements and debate are welcome, be sure to share them in the comments section or via Twitter. Continue reading

Murray active in second deadline season

The 2014-15 trade deadline was much different for Tim Murray than the 2013-14 deadline when he was just a few months into his new job.

Entering last year’s deadline, Murray was tasked with finding a home for pending UFA goaltender Ryan Miller, pending UFA Steve Ott along with other pieces. Most notably, Matt Moulson, who was also set to enter free agency. deadline

Last year’s deadline saw Murray make four separate deals and acquire a total of six players and four draft picks. He also claimed Cory Conacher on waivers on deadline day. Murray was not facing the same steep challenge at this year’s deadline. He did not have a franchise talent like Miller to deal, while sporting three pending UFAs who held varying levels of average value. The deadline closed with the Sabres having made four trades (again) while acquiring a goaltender, a prospect and four picks.

You certainly can’t give Murray a strong grade for this year’s deadline alone. None of the four deals he made were blockbusters and he wasn’t dealing from a position of power like in 2014. However, looking at the big picture, Murray has positioned himself very well to take the next big step in the rebuild of the Sabres franchise. Continue reading

Murray made the wise choice in moving early on Enroth

Tim Murray sent a shockwave through the league in executing a seven-player deal to acquire Evander Kane earlier today and kept his phone hot later in the day as he capped his trading frenzy by sending Jhonas Enroth to Dallas.

Enroth has been far and away the best goaltender on the Buffalo roster this season, there is no debating that. He’s managed to post respectable numbers despite playing on a historically terrible puck possession and defensive club. He also is set to become a free agent this summer and represented one of the many tradable assets on Buffalo’s roster.

Despite Enroth’s strong play (at times) and the relatively weak play of Michal Neuvirth, it was hard to fathom trading one of the few players who had been performing well this season. However, Tim Murray did the right thing for the direction of the rebuild by moving Enroth for a third round pick and Anders Lindback.

For all intents and purposes, Lindback is simply a throw in for this deal. Trading him gets him out of Dallas and keeps their depth chart intact. He also allows the Sabres to maintain the status quo as it pertains to their goaltending depth chart in Buffalo and Rochester. I’m sure Lindback will see a few games in a Sabres sweater this year, but the majority of Buffalo’s 27 games will belong to Neuvirth.

The only real value in this deal is the 2016 third round pick the Sabres acquired. With the condition focused on Enroth winning at least four playoff games, it seems safe to assume that this will indeed remain a third round pick. Even with the condition included in this trade, I would have been very surprised to see Murray get anything more than a third for Enroth. Continue reading

Uncertain contracts leaves Murray with decisions to make in the crease

It’s likely that the goalie of the future for the Buffalo Sabres hasn’t yet pulled on the uniform for a NHL game. That player may be in the organization already, but there’s a good chance that Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth don’t ultimately factor into Tim Murray’s future plans.

Both Neuvirth and Enroth entered the season on the last year of their contract with unrestricted free agency looming in the offseason and unless he gets into five games this season, Matt Hackett will join them in unrestricted free agency.

While Hackett’s situation is murky at best, the Sabres could conceivably lose three of the eight goaltenders they have in the system, of which six are currently under contract. That leaves Murray with an odd predicament as the deadline and offseason approach.

Not only does Murray need to determine which goaltender, between Enroth and Neuvirth, he wants to commit more time to along with evaluating Hackett and Lieuwen, the latter will enter restricted free agency this summer.

Tim Murray will most definitely be a seller at the deadline, this much we know. There’s a chance that he may move some assets early, but given the team’s performance, it would appear that he needs to wait to try and leverage as much from a bad roster as possible. Buffalo’s historically bad performance this season has been devastating for their goaltender’s stat lines. Both Enroth and Neuvirth have been victims of Buffalo’s historically bad systematic play in the defensive zone and the pair have typically swapped spots as the team’s statistical leader when their counterpart is between the pipes.

Where it gets interesting is the decision making process for Murray. Does he trade the better of the two, knowing that he will likely be searching for a goalie of the future elsewhere while maximizing return? Or does he choose to keep the player who is performing at a higher level despite the ability to get more in a trade? If his deals last year are any indication, it will be the player that maximizes his value. Continue reading

Sabres should improve but still won’t contend in 2014-15

Things are going to be better for the Sabres this year. Mainly because things can’t get much worse than they were last year.

Buffalo finished last in the NHL by a country mile. The Sabres were 14 points back of the 29th place Florida Panthers, the same Florida Panthers who also finished 29th in goals for in 2013-14 (39 goals better than the Sabres).

Tim Murray had quite a reclamation project to work on as he inherited a team that was 14 points and 39 goals south of the second-to-last team in the league last year. If the status-quo were to remain, the Sabres would have quite a hill to climb just to leap frog one team, let alone make a run at the playoffs.

Buffalo’s historically bad season was accomplished with only a month-and-a-half of Thomas Vanek, and interim stay from Matt Moulson and two-thirds of the year with Ryan Miller. Miller’s .923 save percentage was good for a monumental point share during his time here and I’ll be interested to see how Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth perform as a tandem.

Enroth is without doubt the number one goaltender on the roster. To say Neuvirth was shaky during the preseason would be an understatement and he may need a little more time to settle into a groove. Meanwhile, Enroth was tremendous in his preseason appearances and he’ll certainly see the lion’s share of the work early on this year. Will he be able to improve on his .911 save percentage? Will he avoid the lengthy losing streaks that have plagued his young career? The latter is perhaps the most important question here as Enroth’s up-and-down performances have been nothing short of a Jekyll and Hyde of goaltending.

It’s safe to say that there will be a slight decrease in performance in the Buffalo crease. It may not be a regression so steep that it costs the team multiple wins, but it’s safe to assume that the expectations in net will differ from recent years.

Of course, the Sabres roster is vastly improved. The team that will take the ice on Thursday is heads and shoulders better than the one that took the ice in 2013-14. In addition to the departures of Vanek and Miller, Steve Ott, Christian Ehrhoff, John Scott, Henrik Tallinder, Jamie McBain and Matt D’Agostini are all gone. There is some good and bad in that group, but the Sabres are more than improved from top to bottom.

A full season of Moulson and Chris Stewart alone should inject a fair bit of life into the Sabres offense as should the addition of Brian Gionta. With 23, 15 and 11 goals scored by the trio last season, it’s easy to say the Sabres have indeed made up their 40-goal shortfall from last season. Putting Moulson on the wing with Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford could potentially give the Sabres a bona fide scoring line, although I’m not expecting anyone in blue and gold to surpass 30 goals this season. Continue reading

Decisions in the crease could be looming for Sabres

A number of moves made by Darcy Regier and Tim Murray were done to prepare the Sabres for life after Ryan Miller. One player that was acquired (Matt Hackett) may find himself pushed out of the Buffalo goaltending situation.

Regier’s drafting of LinusUllmark and Cal Petersen in consecutive seasons along with the acquisitions of Hackett and MichalNeuvirth has bolstered Buffalo’s depth in the crease with an eye on the future. The Sabres have drafted a goaltender in each of the last three drafts and have eight goaltenders in various levels of the pipeline.

Could Andrey Makarov’s arrival push Matt Hackett out of the organization?

While Jhonas Enroth and Neuvirth are expected to carry the load into the 2014-15 season, the landscape behind them could be in for a change depending on the direction Murray wants to go. Both Enroth and Neuvirth have one more year left on their respective deals before reaching unrestricted free agency. Nathan Lieuwen has one more year until his entry level deal expires while both Matt Hackett and Connor Knapp hit restricted free agency this summer.

Andrey Makarov is the only signed goaltender with significant time on his deal; he doesn’t become a restricted until after the 2015-16 season. Cal Petersen and Linus Ullmark are both unsigned with Petersen a few years away as he prepares to head to Notre Dame and Ullmark creeping towards a contract with superb play in the SHL.

The situation for the big club is all but set. Enroth and Neuvirth will be Buffalo’s starters entering next season and it’s conceivable that they both receive extensions next summer as the rebuilding process continues. It’s the depth chart below them that could be due for a shake up. Continue reading

Weekend yields roster moves for Sabres

It would appear that two games behind the bench is all that Ted Nolan needed to make some concrete decisions on the Sabres roster. A number of changes in the forward lines accompanied Nolan tipping his hand regarding the goaltenders after last weekend’s home-and-home with Toronto.

After Ryan Miller turned aside 33 shots in a 3-1 victory, Jhonas Enroth was victimized by screens and deflections in a 4-2 loss that saw the young Swede only make 22 saves. The decision to run with Miller was likely made not only due to his strong performance on Friday, but the play he has exhibited over his last five starts. Continue reading

Between the Pipes: Weekend update

It was quite an eventful weekend for the Sabres with a back-to-back set punctuated with the trade of Thomas Vanek on Sunday evening. In an attempt to continue my focus on the Sabres crease, I’ll hold off on any sort of recap of the two games this weekend and simply review the goaltenders.

Jhonas Enroth – 44 saves, 3-1 win

Enroth was easily the first star of the weekend for the Sabres as he single-handedly earned them their first regulation win of the season. He made a number of dazzling saves amongst the 45 shots he faced in the one-goal effort earning him an easy nod as the game’s first star.

What he did well

When Enroth is at his best he is playing big and getting hit with the puck. He’s much more of a blocking goaltender than one who reacts to each shot and truly “makes saves”. What makes Enroth so effective in his style is that he’s able to play big despite being somewhat undersized as a goaltender in today’s NHL.

On Friday he was on. It was the type of performance that has most Sabres fans at a certain level of acceptance with Ryan Miller’s potential departure. Enroth was very active in the crease and he was turning aside a number of difficult back-door plays. He took a handful of goals off the Panthers’ sticks which is as much as you can ask of a goalie getting peppered with 45 pucks. Continue reading

Between the Pipes: Sabres drop OT decision to Bolts

For my new goalie focused recap I chose a picture with two skaters.

For this season I’m going to try and mix things up a bit for game recaps. Since the blogging community continues to be well represented at each Sabres game, I know that there will be at least one or two quality recap for each game. In addition to the stories coming from the mainstream media sources in town I’d like to try to offer something of a slightly different ilk for my game recap.

So what I’m going to work out over these first few weeks is a little different take on the typical Sabres game recap. While I’ll still provide some basic elements of what occurred, my primary focus will be on the players between the pipes for both the Sabres and their opponents with some additional thoughts added at the end. So that’s the plan for now. If it happens to be garbage I’ll regroup with something that makes sense.

As for last night, it wasn’t the most painful hockey game that I’ve ever had to sit through. Buffalo’s inability to pass and cycle the puck was rather pathetic and their overwhelming lack of puck possession resulted in yet another imbalanced shot on goal tally that saw the Lightning nearly double Buffalo’s efforts at even strength (29 shots to 16 shots).

Despite that imbalance, the Sabres managed to stake themselves to a pair of one-goal leads thanks to their previously dormant power play and were a backwards whistle away from taking a two-goal lead early in the third.

That confusing play – which wound up being nothing more than a massive screw up by the officials – really wound up serving as the true turning point in the game. Somehow the officials missed Ott playing the puck on the sideboards – how I’m not quite sure – and waited until McBain shot to call the play. All of this combined to be massively confusing not only because of the goal, but because the Bolts had managed to get a whistle on a delayed penalty of their own after the puck struck one of their skates earlier in the period. So there was already a precedent of questionably ending plays on delayed penalties prior to this play. Add in that the high stick was a pretty weak call – as Vanek and Carle had gotten tied up behind the net – and it was a very ugly turn of events.

Oh yeah, and Tampa scored on the ensuing power play to tie the game.

The loss fell on Jhonas Enroth’s shoulders and his record is now 0-1-1 on the young season as the 31 saves matched his output against the Penguins on Saturday. Enroth’s play was strong despite fighting the puck early in the contest. His stiffest tests came from Tampa’s five power play shots and he responded well.

His counterpart, Ben Bishop, wasn’t very busy and coasted through most of the game without needing to make many impressive stops. Bishop’s finest save came when he flashed his glove on Mark Pysyk in the first and he was quite busy in the third as the Sabres fired 13 of their 23 shots during that stanza. Continue reading

Enroth deal, market, setting stage for Miller

The writing appears to be on the wall. Jhonas Enroth’s two-year, $1.25M extension signifies an investment in the young Swede and with Matt Hackett expected to sign an extension of his own soon enough it would appear that the Sabres are prepared to move on without Ryan Miller.

This should surprise exactly no one as the relationship between Miller and the organization (fans and media too) appeared to be slowly fraying last season as the Sabres spiraled to the bottom of the Conference. As the season came to a close most assumed that Miller’s 500th would be his final game as a Sabre.

If both Enroth and Hackett sign it would represent not only the changing of the guard in the Buffalo goal crease, but a culture shift away from a big-money, number one netminder to a 1A, 1B tandem between Hackett and Enroth.

Assuming Hackett gets somewhere in the neighborhood of $925K, Buffalo will have just over $2M invested in their goal crease. Add in the looming trade of Miller and winds up being a savings in the $4M range. For a team with a decent amount of cap space to begin with, that is a huge amount of wiggle room. Continue reading