Even with Ullmark in Hand Sabres Need to Supplement their Goaltending Pipeline

While the Sabres didn’t lose Linus Ullmark to the Vegas expansion draft, Buffalo’s goaltending pipeline remains a weak point within the organization; something that will need to be addressed this summer.

It appears evident that Cal Petersen will exercise his right as a free agent and sign with one of the league’s other 30 clubs. UPDATE: Jason Botterill confirmed today that Petersen will test free agency, adding that he doesn’t expect Petersen to sign with the Sabres.

That leaves the Sabres with only Jonas Johansson and restricted free agent Jason Kasdorf (edit: Kasdorf still has a year left) in the pipeline. With Ullmark set to graduate to full-time duty as Robin Lehner’s backup, the Sabres will need to get to work on finding help in net.

Count on the draft being the first step towards remedying the situation. The Sabres will draft at least one goaltender this weekend and may have been slated to spend a late round pick on a second had they not shipped their sixth round pick to Vegas as part of the expansion draft. Spending a pick on Jake Oettinger or Keith Petruzzelli (profiled in Kris Baker’s draft preview) would provide the Sabres a high value prospect to groom over the next couple of seasons. Both fit the blueprint of a modern NHL goaltender; a big body that can move well and both would instantly upgrade Buffalo’s goaltending depth.

Beyond the draft, the Sabres could use a few assets to take on key minutes in Rochester and to push Lehner and Ullmark. At the very least, the Sabres need to acquire one goalie this summer. Kasdorf is most likely to be shuttling between Rochester and Cincinnati, if not taking permanent residence with the Cyclones after a rough rookie season. A goaltender to work in tandem with Johansson in Rochester, if not a player capable of ascending to a higher level with additional growth, will be needed. Continue reading

Shopping Lehner is Tough with Few Replacement Options Available

A somewhat surprising name was tossed into the rumor mill this week after Bob McKenzie noted that Robin Lehner could very well be shopped by the Sabres this summer.

McKenzie noted that the Lehner’s arbitration rights and the potential to score a richer deal than Jason Botterill and the Sabres would be willing to offer being the two primary factors in shopping the netminder. He added that Botterill may not be sold on Lehner as a number one goaltender just yet. While that’s somewhat contradictory to what Botterill told Elliotte Friedman a couple weeks back, it isn’t too hard to read between the lines on what Botterill said.

The idea of shopping Lehner is a curious one. He finally got over the hump of playing a full season and replicated the strong numbers we saw in limited action during 2015-16, erasing some of the lingering questions about his durability and capability to fill the role as a number one. His season was far from perfect but given Buffalo’s depth at the position and Lehner’s fairly strong play, creating a hole on the roster doesn’t seem like a prudent decision.

Lehner’s arbitration status may be the biggest red flag in all of this as the idea of forking over $4m or more isn’t very palatable in my view. Even considering the strides he’s taken over the past season-and-a-half, I’m not sure forking over a long term, big money contract to Lehner is the answer this season. His resume is still too incomplete to justify a big contract nor is it so barren that he should be walked away from either. It’s a bit of a predicament that seems best solved by kicking the can down the road a bit with a short bridge deal. Simply walking away from him leaves the Sabres with a glaring hole where they don’t need to create one. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 5.29 – Turning the Corner

With a trifecta of impressive wins under their belt – and another near miss – the Sabres are creating some believers in Western New York. While there’s still work to do, it appears the rest of the team has caught up to the impressive play in goal. Chris and Tyler discuss the goaltending debate despite the lack of an actual goalie controversy while also highlighting the impressive play of Evander Kane, Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo, among others. Be sure to listen in here or grab the episode on your mobile device and listen on the go.

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Crease Crash Course: Brain Farts All Around in Florida

The Sabres were just minutes away from an impressive comeback road win in Sunrise when a quartet of bad plays led to the tying goal in a game the Sabres would ultimately lose in a shootout.

At the center of Nick Bjugstad’s goal is Zach Bogosian, who makes a number of bad decisions which led to the goal. Robin Lehner, who had played a strong game to this point, ultimately made a very strange decision and poor read prior to Bjugstad chipping the tying goal home.

This is the first goalie review in some time as Buffalo’s run over the last few weeks has featured mostly straightforward play. Both Lehner and Anders Nilsson have continued to play very well and the goals they’re being beaten on aren’t too complicated. So the lack of really in-depth plays to review (and the lack of quality replays in some cases) has led to the absence. However, Bjugstad’s goal on Tuesday featured a number of breakdowns, including the goaltender. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 5.27 – Do the Sabres have a Crease Crisis?

With a lot of attention directed to Buffalo’s goal tending as of late, Chris and Tyler spend this week’s podcast discussing the strength shown by Lehner and Nilsson so far this year while also pouring water on the idea that there could be some sort of controversy brewing.

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In Defense of Robin

The NHL season is now exactly two months old, and as the calendar churns towards Christmas the Buffalo Sabres find themselves in a familiar place: looking up at the rest of the Eastern Conference.

While the team is only six points back of third place in the Atlantic Division with a few games in hand, the team needs to start stringing wins together in order to get back into the playoff conversation. As fans and pundits alike look for ways the Sabres can jumpstart their season, many are of the belief that the answer may lie with Anders Nilsson, at least for the time being.

The first year Sabre and fourth year NHLer is enjoying a career renaissance in Buffalo under the tutelage of goalie coach Andrew Allen. Nilsson has compiled a 5-2-2 record with a 2.38 GAA and career high .932 save percentage to date, and many believe the Sabres should stick with him in net while he continues to pile up the impressive numbers.

Robin Lehner would stand to lose playing time as a result of an extended string of starts for Nilsson. Lehner’s stat line isn’t anything to sneeze at either, as he’s posted a 2.44 GAA and .920 save percentage, yet only has a 5-9-4 record to show for it. Continue reading

Crease Crash Course – Goal Support and Lehner Lift Sabres

For the first time since October 30, the Sabres scored more than two goals in a game. And, shocker, they won!

Robin Lehner has caught quite a bit of undeserved flak, partially due to the price paid by Tim Murray to acquire him and partially due to a number of lopsided losses suffered by the Sabres with him in net. As discussed previously in this space, Lehner’s play hadn’t wavered so much as the play in front of him had dwindled. It’s no surprise that Lehner played an impressive game against Calgary and got a win when the team in front of him scored more than one goal.

The game wasn’t without its warts as the Flames scored on a near tap in off a four-on-one rush, a play which Robin Lehner was exposed on something of a poor read. It seemed obvious that he didn’t expect the pass to Mikael Backlund to be as far outside the crease as it was, leaving him to make a desperate attempt of a two-pad stack as he came across the crease. It was a goal that he probably wasn’t going to stop even if he was technically perfect, as he simply needed to cover too much ground as the pass came across the crease.  Continue reading