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

Scouting the Amerks: Bailey and Ullmark Shine After Rough Weekend

Scouting the Amerks will be a weekly series in which Dennis Allen (not the Saints defensive coordinator) takes a closer look at how things are going on the farm.

To say the Amerks had a bad weekend would be a powerful understatement. Rochester didn’t even have a loser point to show for two games in Lehigh Valley and one in Hershey.

Rochester were doubled up in the shots column in the first game against the Phantoms and the weekend finale against the Bears. They were out shot 125 to 69 over the course of all three games. The Amerks are now ranked 12th in the conference and are 8 points out of the playoff race. The roster is really hurting from a defensive standpoint. So much so that Dan Lambert continues to use five forwards on the power play. That has caused some problems as Evan Rodrigues’ inability to hold the point against Hershey led to a shorthanded breakaway goal.

However the Amerks are not without talent. My two standout Amerks this week were Justin Bailey and Linus Ullmark. Continue reading

Goalie Gear Watch: New Masks and Gear Throughout the Sabres Organization

On the eve of the Buffalo Sabres season (and hours after the Eichel gut punch) we thought it would be cool to take a look at the new paintjobs and new gear Buffalo’s goaltenders will be wearing this season.

All four goaltenders who will be splitting time between Buffalo and Rochester will be using masks painted by Dave Gunnarsson (DaveArt) which probably should be of little surprise given his massive NHL portfolio and Swedish nationality. That the Sabres feature three Swedes certainly helps push business to the NHL’s preeminent mask artist.

As for gear, things are split down the middle between CCM and Vaughn. Robin Lehner and Jason Kasdorf are Vaughn disciples while Anders Nilsson and Linus Ullmark both sport CCM gear. Here’s the full rundown: Continue reading

Long Term Outlook Should Shape Decision on Ullmark

No team wants or plans to lose their starting goaltender, certainly not on the first day of the regular season. But that was precisely what the Buffalo Sabres had to deal with when Robin Lehner went down just a period and a half into the 2015-16 season.

Chad Johnson stepped into Lehner’s role shortly after the injury but it’s been the play of Linus Ullmark that has spurred the Sabres push from 2-6 to a .500 record. Ullmark is just months removed from double hip surgery and is playing in his first season in North America, making his impressive play something of a surprise.

Ullmark has played inspired hockey, compiling a 4-2 record, 2.45 GAA and .924 SV% through six starts. He was 1-2-0 with a 2.72 GAA and .932 SV% in his brief spell with Rochester prior to being recalled. Ullmark’s play has shown fans and the organization what is coming to them in the near future between the pipes while stirring a debate whether or not he should remain with the team long term once Lehner returns.

We’ll likely see at least two more weeks of Ullmark in a Sabres jersey while Lehner finishes his recovery, so a decision isn’t imminent. Not only does Lehner have a couple more weeks until he’s healthy, but there’s a good chance he’s sent on a conditioning assignment before returning to the Sabres full time. This affords Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma a little more time before making a call on their young netminder. 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

Double Minors: 2014 Sabres Development Camp scrimmage

The Sabres annual prospect’s scrimmage came and went last night with a sloppy 5-1 win for Team White.

In a slight change from recent years the scrimmage was held early in the week and the results on the ice reflected that change. With only two ice sessions as a group, the majority of the prospects struggled to find chemistry in a game setting. While the players with more developmental and professional experience stood out for obvious reasons, there were very few true standouts simply based on the disjointed nature of the game that took over at times.

There were some obvious bright spots as one might expect in a six-goal game although a majority of the scoring happened to be done by undrafted camp invites while the organization’s prospects contributed in other ways.

Two of the most obvious standouts were Nikita Zadorov and Rasmus Ristolainen. The two towering defensemen were split between the two squads but they were certainly noticeable when they were on the ice. Zadorov was very active joining the rush and even chipped in with an assist as his booming slapshot caught the end boards and wound up on Jerome Leduc’s tape for a tap in to open the scoring.

Zadorov’s game appeared measured to me as he was picking his spots and recovering well when he joined the rush. He might need to practice a bit more discretion at times but he continued to display the active style that has made him such an attractive prospect. Furthermore, his physical game wasn’t lacking throughout the scrimmage.

Ristolainen was as steady as you might expect a player who split the year between Buffalo and Rochester despite being fresh out of the draft. Since both teams had only five defensemen on their roster the minutes piled up for each and Ristolainen was certainly a beneficiary of that. I think he is a safe bet to pencil into a top-six spot entering training camp as his second professional season is set to begin.

The biggest star of last night’s scrimmage didn’t even see the ice after the halfway mark of the second period. Linus Ullmark was far and away the most impressive goaltender of the four who dressed last night. Continue reading