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

Amerks (Sabres) Season Preview: Betweeen the pipes

Buffalo Sabres training camp was supposed to have opened last Friday. Instead, Tyler Ennis agreed to hop over the pond to Switzerland, Christian Ehrhoff was beginning his stint back in Germany and other Sabres were pondering European deals as well.

While it doesn’t seem as if the Sabres will be starting up any time soon, the Amerks have been injected with some extra talent (from their parent club) and have a deep, overpopulated roster to sort through before the puck drops on the AHL season.

The most difficult decisions for Ron Rolston and his staff will be at forward and defense, where the surplus of players is significant. However, the most delicate situation that Rolston and the organization as a whole will need to deal with is in net.

David Leggio is back for another season with the club but will have some interesting company this season. Rookies Nathan Lieuwen and Connor Knapp will each be entering their initial professional seasons but in a situation where two’s company and three is typically a crowd.

Leggio is the unquestioned starter after finding his way into Rolston’s good graces with consistently solid play last year. This was a pleasant surprise for the WNYer because of the contract given to AHL journeyman Drew MacIntyre who was signed to provide more stability as Buffalo’s third goaltender. However, one year removed from outperforming Jhonas Enroth in Portland, Leggio did it again to another goaltender who was tabbed as the superior talent.

The big step here is that Leggio is just one injury away from stepping in as the Sabres backup. This is likely something that the Sabres are at least somewhat concerned with because of the massive question mark that is Leggio’s ability at the NHL level. While he is a very good AHL goalkeeper, there is nothing that indicates how strong he would be filling time in the show.

Leggio’s presence will stabilize the Amerks crease and give the team a reliable starter for a majority of their regular season contests. He should also serve as a tutor of sorts for Lieuwen and Knapp. Where the situation gets sticky is the way in which the two rookies will be rotated. Continue reading

Sabres Development Camp: Day two recap

Even though there has only been two days worth of practice, it is probably safe to say the blue squad is a deeper and more talented bunch than those in gold at Sabres Development Camp.

With an opportunity to watch the gold group’s practice today I noticed that there is a little less flash as compared to the blue team anchored by Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons. The gold team’s top set of players – Luke Adam, Cody Hodgson and Corey Tropp – certainly has the most fluidity in terms of chemistry, but the rest of the squad lacks the polish of the blue team.

Day two of camp was a little more focused on game scenarios and playing in traffic as compared to day one. There was still a fair amount of flow drills done in the early going, but the latter half of the ice time was primarily centered in a scrimmage setting.

The Adam, Hodgson, Tropp trio was heads and shoulders above the rest of the group during most of the drills. They were particularly dangerous in odd-man situations, shredding the defense on a few occasions during three-on-two drills. They also had success during the final four-on-four scrimmage to close the session.

On the whole, the gold team looked a little disjointed at times during the day and there was certainly an obvious lack of chemistry from top to bottom. I’d venture a guess that two days of 4:30 wakeup calls and SEAL training coupled with a full on-ice practice with conditioning to follow would kick anyone’s ass. So perhaps that, plus the fact that a vast majority of these players have never played together has something to do with the sloppy play. Continue reading

Sabres crease grows crowded with Lieuwen contract

The Buffalo Sabres are slowly growing an impressive stable of talented goaltenders at the NHL and minor league level. Their most recent addition was signing Nathan Lieuwen to an entry level contract, one year after he was drafted.

Lieuwen was an overage junior last year and there was even a chance that he could have been signed to a pro deal over last summer. However, he was sent back to the WHL to play big minutes and continue to develop. Now the 6’5” 20 year old will battle for playing time in Rochester with David Leggio and Connor Knapp.

The addition of Lieuwen gives the Sabres five goaltenders under contract and even more talented keepers who sit in limbo entering the offseason. Brad Eidsness was once a promising prospect through two seasons with North Dakota, but he was unseated by Aaron Dell and will likely not receive a contract from the Sabres. Buffalo also signed Jeff Jakaitis to a minor league deal in order to provide Gwinnett with some additional talent. Jakaitis seemed to show some real promise before getting shelved with a season ending injury. There is also the looming status of Drew MacIntyre, who will be a UFA this summer after a very underwhelming season in Rochester.

There is no reason for the Sabres to re-sign MacIntrye this season, but that doesn’t mean the goaltending pipeline won’t be clogged heading into 2012-13. With Ryan Miller the obvious leader of the pack and backed up by Jhonas Enroth, the Sabres also have impending UFA David Leggio along with Knapp and Lieuwen as AHL goaltenders. Continue reading