Sabres Facing a Need for an Upgrade in Goal

The Sabres have a goaltending problem. To be clear, they’ve had a goaltending problem.

Going back to the 2020 offseason, the Sabres have been dealing with suspect goaltending talent. In an offseason that saw them attempt to upgrade at center (Eric Staal) and land one of the top UFAs (Taylor Hall) in what was ostensibly one last push to break their playoff drought with the existing core. Despite the big ticket acquisitions that summer, Kevyn Adams didn’t address the talent he had in net. Opting to run Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark back after the former posted an .898 save percentage the prior year.

It’s been a similar story this year. Granted, it was going to be difficult to find any notable free agent talent, let alone a goaltender, on the heels of a last place finish. But despite Craig Anderson’s hot start, his injury has left the Sabres exposed once again.

Adams deserves some leeway for the situation he inherited and is currently managing through, as the ability to lure a premier free agent for this season was always going to be a long shot. Opting not to exploit the trade market is a questionable decision, however, and it’s proving to be disastrous as Dustin Tokarski has regressed and Aaron Dell simply hasn’t been good enough. Meanwhile, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has been off to an ugly start for the Amerks, effectively leaving the Sabres with no options in net until Anderson is healthy again.

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Trade route might unearth the answer in net for Buffalo

With the lottery balls still left to be pulled, there are very few positions in the Sabres organization that have an immediate need to be addressed for both the short and long-term. In fact, you could argue that the Sabres’ pipeline is well stocked at nearly every position.

The one area that needs attention, particularly in the near future, is goaltender. While the Sabres have a number of quality goaltending prospects, including four who are at least a year away from their professional debuts, they’re short on NHL-ready talent between the pipes. The recent trade of Jhonas Enroth, while a good decision, demonstrates the shallow depth the Sabres have atop their goaltending pipeline.

While Linus Ullmark, Jonas Johansson and Cal Petersen provide a fair bit of long-term stability from a development standpoint, only Ullmark is under contract at this time. Further, Ullmark will be making his North American debut next year, meaning he is at least two years away from being truly prepared for significant NHL action while the others in the pipeline are still a year or longer away from getting an NHL contract, let along professional playing time.

There is a gap between where the team is expected to be in the coming years and the earliest point you can hope Ullmark makes a serious impact at the NHL level. That means one of two things for Tim Murray and the Sabres. They can either sign a veteran free agent to serve as a bridge for the organization or they can work to trade for another young, promising goaltender who’s further along the development track. The former option may be unavoidable as there is a very good chance that Murray needs to look past Michal Neuvirth as his answer in net regardless of his long-term plans.

Even with the prospect of Ullmark shaping into a star, using a portion of Buffalo’s impressive array of assets to acquire a goaltender who is ready to step into a significant NHL role isn’t just an option that should be considered, it’s the option they should take. Murray is likely going to be stuck signing a veteran this summer whether he likes it or not, but as an organization that is clearly serious about becoming a contender in short order, speeding up their presence in net should be a priority. Considering how weak the free agent class will be, pursuing a trade for a goaltender who is ready for a bigger role represents the best option for the Sabres to improve for both the short and long-term. Continue reading