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

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