Looking ahead to Buffalo’s goaltending options for 2015-16

At long last, time is winding down on the Sabres season. The marathon trek to the league basement is all but complete at this point as the Sabres hold a six-point advantage over the Arizona Coyotes for the right to the 20% odds at the NHL Draft Lottery.

While the Sabres aren’t yet guaranteed one of the top two picks in the draft, it’s looking more and more likely that they’ll wind up picking in the top two in June’s draft reports Sports Betting Dime. Even with the final results not yet determined, knowing the talent waiting at the top of the NHL Draft should give Sabres fans solace that the roster turnaround will be nearly completed once Murray announces Buffalo’s pick this summer.

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The curious case of Matt Hackett

Matt Hackett was very much seen as a serious candidate as the goalie of the future for the Sabres when he was acquired at the 2013 trade deadline. He’s since slid down the depth chart and sits in a precarious position as the 2014-15 season dwindles away.

Entering the year, Hackett needed to get in eight appearances of at least 30 minutes to remain a restricted free agent heading into the offseason. His status is a unique one that isn’t encountered too often, but put both himself and Tim Murray in an odd situation even before the season started.

Hackett’s up-and-down play, late-season knee injury, the emergence of Nathan Lieuwen and the presence of both Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth made things that much cloudier.

Of course, things have cleared up a bit as Enroth and Neuvirth were both traded and Chad Johnson was injured before appearing in a game, leaving just Hackett and Anders Lindback to man the crease for the remainder of the year. Lindback’s hot play has kept Hackett from seeing the lion’s share of the work and time is running out with only nine games to go in the season. 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

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

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

Sabres trades net quality return, though full value is still pending

While most of the return that Darcy Regier received at this year’s deadlines came in the form of draft picks, there were still a trio of trades made that will affect the Sabres moving forward.

The lone disappointment of the deadline might just be that more moves didn’t go down. Simply expecting a complete overhaul of the roster is rather unrealistic, but with players like Drew Stafford, Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller rumored to be on the block many expected today to end with more than just one player (not counting Regehr and Leopold) sent on to a new team.

Grading the moves isn’t appropriate in many ways because these are moves that have set up for the future. Unlike recent deadlines in which players were brought in to bolster the lineup, 2013 was a year in which the opposite was true. There was no Cody Hodgson acquisition to base an opinion off of, which does make things slightly difficult when considering that a majority of what was acquired may not pay off until this summer at the earliest. Continue reading

Regier manuvers for the future with deadline deals

Darcy Regier wouldn’t say it outright in his press conference, but he maneuvered the trade deadline like a general manager leading a rebuild.

Regier’s moves netted the Sabres eleven total picks over the first two rounds of the next three drafts. Eleven picks. That includes two first round and two second round picks this year, a first and three seconds next year and a first and two seconds in 2015. In addition, Regier acquired a pair of prospects in his haul from the Jason Pominville trade.

Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr probably weren’t going to be part of the team’s plans for 2013-14 as the season began to spiral out of control. Regier got the maximum return that he could for each player and pulled the trigger. Given that second round picks are valuable commodities, he did a good job in netting a trio of the picks for his two pending free agents.

While the Pominville trade was somewhat expected, the magnitude of the deal may not have been. Two picks (first in 2013, second in 2014) and two NHL-ready prospects for the former captain is a solid haul and specifically the type of trade that is relatively foreign when you look at the moves typically made by Regier.

While the Sabres haven’t been in full sell mode for some time, Regier has also never had to deal with shipping out such a valuable commodity. The closest you could come would be getting Steve Bernier and a first for Brian Campbell, but even that pales in comparison.

Regier had to go into sell mode, there is no denying the position that he was in. There is a good chance that a majority of Sabres fans want Regier gone and they aren’t off base in that desire. He probably isn’t the man to complete the process of the rebuild but that doesn’t mean he didn’t take the right step forward with the moves he made.  Of course, there is no guarantee that he will survive long enough to take the next step in this process. Continue reading