The Instigator Podcast 7.7 – Positive Signs

After a successful west coast road trip, the Sabres return home with the opportunity to make headway in the standings. We talk about the positive signs they showed out west and how they can translate that into their next stretch of games which are fairly favorable. We also touch on the goaltending rotation and how Linus Ullmark’s hot start might alter the approach Phil Housley takes in naming a starting goalie over the next handful of games.

You can listen to The Instigator Podcast on most podcast streaming services, including large providers such as iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeartRadio and TuneIn and most other third-party podcast streaming apps. You can find links to subscribe and rate the show below:

iTunes
Spotify
Stitcher
iHeartRadio
TuneIn
Google Play

 

Who Can the Sabres Target as Linus Ullmark’s Partner?

Three years removed from trading a first round pick for a player they hoped would cement their future at the position, the Buffalo Sabres goal crease remains in flux.

Linus Ullmark is poised to step into a full-time NHL role for the first time but who will partner with him for at least the 2018-19 season is still a question. Despite holding control over his RFA rights, it seems increasingly doubtful that Robin Lehner will be back in Buffalo for another season.

Ullmark’s progression has been steady to this point in his career and there’s no doubt he’s ready for this promotion. However, he’s never handled starter’s minutes at the NHL level. So it stands to reason that Jason Botterill will want to ease Ullmark into a starters role, though his 20 game foray in 2015-16 should provide some baseline for the workload he can handle.

There is something working in Ullmark’s favor here and that is he is no stranger to heavy workloads. He saw the majority of minutes with Modo in the SHL and has been a horse for the Amerks for the past two seasons. He’s played 55 and 44 games over the last two years and he led the AHL in minutes (3201:55), shots faced (1678) and saves (1525) in 2016-17.

What’s unknown is the number of games the Sabres hope to give Ullmark this season. Do they hope to get him in upwards of 50 games? Or is a 50/50 split a more manageable workload for a rookie goaltender playing behind a roster which is expected to see quite a bit of upheaval?

The only scenario I think we can fully rule out is Ullmark playing as a true backup. Even if Lehner is brought back, I doubt Ullmark gets into fewer than 35 games with his partner getting the lion’s share. The Sabres want to see if Ullmark is indeed their goaltender of the future and they won’t be able to accurately evaluate that if he gets a backup’s share of the games.

I’m hoping to see the Sabres pick up another younger netminder who can play in tandem with Ullmark. A peer who can push him for time while also opening another avenue to find a number one goaltender. Signing a veteran that they can string along on a one or two-year deal would be an acceptable option, but I think the younger route offers the Sabres a better long-term outlook, especially with a goaltender market as thin as this year’s. Continue reading

Two in the Mailbox – Buyout Candidates, Team Speed and Bad Trades

Two in the Mailbox, the weekly mailbag on the Sabres, goalie stuff, Buffalo and anything in between, is back. You can submit to the mailbag using #2ITBmailbag on Twitter or emailing 2intheboxbuffalo@gmail.com.

Joe/@JoeHockeySabres – Who are the Sabres buyout candidates? What are the buyout rules regarding numbers and salaries? Who will they pay?

The Sabres only have one buyout on their books (Cody Hodgson). The other two (Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino) are compliance buyouts, to the Sabres have room to work if they opt for buyouts. Here is a good rundown of the NHL’s buyout rules.

Matt Moulson seems like a pretty safe bet, even though it would probably be wiser to stash him in the AHL again and just eat that final year of his salary. On a buyout, Moulson would carry a $3.667m cap hit next year and $667K the year after. That’s a minimal net savings compared to simply keeping him one more year, but it would free up another contract space.

The most valuable buyout would probably be Zach Bogosian. His run of injuries have been incredibly detrimental to his time in Buffalo and he has two more seasons left at a cap hit over five million. Buffalo would gain a fair bit of flexibility if they chose to buy him out. From a contract perspective, cap perspective and even clearing a roster spot for a player with more availability such as Casey Nelson or perhaps even Will Borgen, depending how ready he is come October. Continue reading

Two in the Mailbox – When Does Mittelstadt get Signed, Next Year’s Goalies and Pipeline Graduates

Two in the Mailbox, the weekly mailbag on the Sabres, goalie stuff, Buffalo and anything in between, is back. You can submit to the mailbag using #2ITBmailbag on Twitter or emailing 2intheboxbuffalo@gmail.com.

Matt/@matt_hervan – Which Casey signs a contract first, Mittelstadt or Nelson?

Sign this man

This is a good one. There’s been some chatter that Mittelstadt will return to Minnestoa for another season rather than signing to play in Rochester. There’s no guarantee that’s what Jason Botterill would want him to do – although it’s likely given his m/o – but that’s an option that would be on the table which could also keep the clock on his entry-level deal from starting. However, if Mittelstadt is to sign it’s my belief that it will come this spring after his season with the Gophers comes to a close. The Sabres would have the ability to pitch him on getting pro games right away, even burning a year of his ELC if it comes to that. He’d get a chance to make his NHL debut and he’d be able to play in the playoffs with Rochester as well, which should be a decent selling point for the player just as it would be an attractive development step for the club.

Getting Nelson extended seems like it’s going to be an offseason task. He’s unrestricted thanks to his Group VI UFA status but he really fits the mold of a true RFA. So it seems likely that once the season wraps up that Botterill will get to work on penning a new contract between Nelson and his agent.

It’s worth noting that my assumptions here are based on rumors and media reports on both player’s contract status. It would be just as easy to view Nelson as a player the Sabres will prioritize now rather than waiting until the summer when the clock is really ticking. Same goes to Mittlestadt as there’s been more than a few reports indicating the full court press will come in the summer.   Continue reading

Guhle, Ullmark Recalls Indicate Botterill is Sticking to His Plan

For all intents and purposes, the Sabres season has been rendered irrelevant for weeks. Their slow start has pretty much stretched the entire course of the year and they’re looking at another year in the league’s basement, hoping for some lottery luck.

Preseason chatter had the Sabres as a dark horse playoff contender, a team that may have had the pieces necessary to snag one of the wild card spots in the East. You may have even found a sports betting site like Betulator.com to place a wager or two on the Sabres outlook. Unfortunately that wouldn’t be money well spent.

The Sabres rebuild has stalled and stalled in a bad way. Unfortunately we’re left looking to the pipeline once again, wondering where the help will come from after seeing the organization’s lack of depth serve as a major speed bump to the post-2014 building process. A deeper dive on exactly where things went wrong will be coming in this space soon, so stay tuned for that.

Jason Botterill’s decision to recall Brendan Guhle and Linus Ullmark may strike some fans as a sign that things are finally changing, that the Sabres are committing to their youth and finally attempting to inject the lineup with young talent. I’m not quite so optimistic, but not because I think either of these two prospects are lacking in skill or potential, but because Botterill told us how he wants to play his hand and pulling two of Rochester’s top performers is counter to his strategy.

Getting a look at Guhle and Ullmark prior to Buffalo’s bye and at a time the Amerks have a light schedule does follow that process, however. Continue reading

Sabres Feature Sharp Masks for 2017-18

The Sabres are back and with a new hockey season comes new hope, new expectations and, most importantly, new goalie equipment.

Every goalie in the Sabres system has a new-ish look for the season and while this lineup certainly isn’t the most impressive collection of masks and gear the team has ever seen, there are still a few solid set ups throughout the pipeline.

None is better than Robin Lehner’s phenomenal Brian’s OPT1K set. Known for unparalleled customization, Brian’s and Lehner cooked up a terrific blend of stock and custom team-logo graphics. I’m not always a fan of the fully custom team logo sets Brian’s creates, but the Sabre on each piece of Lehner’s set is understated enough that you have to look hard to find it.

Chad Johnson is really the only other worthwhile set up to speak of. He is sporting a clean Ventus set that is a little less colorful than the Ventus gear Lehner wore last season. The Ventus graphics are attractive and work nicely with the Sabres colors.

Other than the two goalies with the big club, Buffalo’s other netminders all sport very basic blue and white sets which won’t clash with the Amerks uniforms but don’t stand out much either. Where there is plenty of variety is in the mask department. Continue reading

Sabres Should be Safe in Goal for Vegas Expansion

One of the storylines to track as the NHL inches closer to this summer’s expansion draft is what choices each team will make in goal. Due to their current contract situation, the Sabres are among the teams that have work to do in that department.

Unlike with forwards or defensemen, each team has a very simple set of rules to follow. You can protect one non-exempt goaltender and each team must expose at least one goaltender who is under contract for the 2017-18 season. Restricted free agents can be exposed so long as they have been tendered by their current club. It’s very straightforward and there’s little wiggle room when it comes to making a choice.

All three of Buffalo’s goaltenders are currently on expiring contracts and none have been extended at this time. Anders Nilsson is really the only one who is a threat to leave as a free agent as both Linus Ullmark and Robin Lehner are restricted free agents. That means Lehner and Ullmark will almost certainly receive their qualifying offers and negotiate a new deal for 2017-18, thus eliminating much of the guesswork when it comes to expansion. So while none of Buffalo’s goaltenders are signed through next season, they’re in much better shape than Calgary or Philadelphia, for example.

Note: All teams choices are projections and are subject to change. Only signed or notable non-exempt goalies were included on the above spreadsheet.
Note: All teams choices are projections and are subject to change. Only signed or notable non-exempt goalies were included on the above spreadsheet.

The Sabres are hardly the only team without a precise roadmap in goal in terms of the upcoming expansion draft. Philly and Calgary both have a pair of UFAs to decide on and a host of teams have goalies with NMCs but no signed backups who can be exposed. Chicago, Columbus, Nashville, New Jersey, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Washington all either have starters with an NMC or an obvious choice as to who they’ll protect. However, each has work to do in order to lock in a goalie who will be eligible to be exposed. Many of these teams will simply need to qualify their RFAs, so the work for many will be simple. Continue reading