The Instigator Podcast 9.16 – Pipe Cleaning

This week we discuss some of the rumors swirling about Buffalo’s front office and how the various names connected to the Sabres could affect their future. We touch on the trade that sent Eric Staal to the Montreal Canadiens and the potential positive impact of the return. We wrap up the show analyzing some college free agents who could help in goal.

The Hockey News link on draft lottery changes:https://www.si.com/hockey/news/which-recent-nhl-draft-lottery-outcomes-led-to-the-new-rule-changes

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Sabres Goaltending Pipeline Needs a Boost

It may seem odd that a team so badly in need of help in goal would opt to trade away one of the few goaltenders they had left. But that’s exactly what the Sabres did in dealing Jonas Johansson to Colorado last week.

Things got dicey for the Sabres in the wake of that decision as Carter Hutton went down with a friendly fire injury just two days later. Of course, that’s the sort of season the Sabres are having. Fairly innocuous decisions turn into catastrophes in the blink of an eye.

In the big picture, of course, not having Johansson to rotate in with Hutton, even in the wake of his injury is practically irrelevant. Johansson recorded a singular win for the Sabres over the course of 13 appearances and both this year and last, sported a save percentage under .900. The difference between what he and Dustin Tokarski are capable of providing is minimal.  

The stark reality for the Sabres is that without Linus Ullmark in net, their chances at victory are slim. Carter Hutton has failed to regain the form that earned him his contract, Johansson didn’t display enough pro traits and Tokarski has looked very much like a goalie who hasn’t seen an NHL game in four years. If it isn’t Ullmark between the pipes, it really makes no difference who is playing in his place these days.

Continue reading

Two in the Mailbox – No Need to Panic

The Sabres are back and while it’s only been one game but the team, and the fanbase, are up to their old tricks. Given the leadup to the season opener, and the game’s result, what better time than to do another mailbag?

We’ve got jersey numbers, the Jeff Skinner conundrum, coaching and more. Continue reading

Sabres Goaltending Depth Chart Aided by Taxi Squad

Under normal circumstances the Sabres goaltending depth chart would have been difficult to navigate this year. Prior to the confirmation that teams would be operating with a taxi squad it was looking like it could be a problem.

While Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark are effectively locked in as the top two goalies, finding appropriate playing time for Jonas Johansson, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Dustin Tokarski was going to require creativity. In a typical regular season the Sabres would have the ability to split their minor league goaltenders between Rochester and Cincinnati, easing the burden on the Amerks’ coaching staff to get the right players enough playing time. With Cincinnati not participating this season, the potential for a three-headed monster in the Rochester crease could have been cause for concern.

Aside from finding the right tandem in Buffalo to give the Sabres the best opportunity to end their playoff drought, the most important task with Buffalo’s goaltenders is the development of Luukkonen. It seems unlikely that he would have been destined for Cincinnati given the strides he took last year, though the Cyclones would have been a vital relief valve for the organization to utilize to prevent any one goalie from sitting too long. Continue reading

Sabres Have Options for Upgrades in Rich Goalie Market

Of the may hiccups which have delayed and stalled Buffalo’s rebuild, uncertainty in the goal crease has been almost a near constant. It hasn’t necessarily been at the forefront of the struggles which have beset the Sabres as they try to climb back into playoff contention, but it has been an almost ever-present specter.

It would appear that Kevyn Adams has a goaltender on his offseason shopping list, though the path to improving Buffalo’s prospects in net isn’t linear.

Linus Ullmark has transitioned from a prospect to an NHL caliber goaltender since being drafted in 2012. He has been fairly steady for the Sabres over the last two seasons but it would be a stretch to say he truly fits the mold of a starting goaltender in the NHL. He isn’t likely Buffalo’s long term answer in goal but he’s still poised to take the lion’s share of Buffalo’s starts after playing 50% of the team’s games this past year.

Who he shares the crease with is up for debate as Carter Hutton is positioned to remain in Buffalo for the final year of his contract, but his results have been shaky enough to raise questions about how the Sabres can improve the position. Continue reading

Sabres and Amerks Goalie Gear Breakdown

It’s a good year to be a gear nerd in Buffalo as the Sabres goaltenders have extra masks and pads on display thanks to the 50th anniversary celebration.

The annual 2ITB Sabres goaltending fashion update is running a little later than usual in order to capture the recent Hockey Fights Cancer masks and to account for all of the equipment being worn from Buffalo down to Cincinnati.

As always, this post captures the mask art and gear being worn by any goalies on an NHL contract in the pipeline with special dispensation made for 2019 draft pick Erik Portillo because of his crazy Bauer True Design pads. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 7.25 – Assessing the Sabres Goalies with Cat Silverman

Cat Silverman of The Athletic and InGoal Magazine joined the show this week for a long overdue goalie episode. We hit on a number of goalies from around the league, including Darcy Kuemper and Carter Hart. There’s even a brief mention of Sabres legend Matt Hackett. Our main focus was on Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark and just what the Sabres have in the pair, how they’ve fared this season and how they might improve moving forward.

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The Instigator Podcast 6.33 – All Aboard the Goalie Carousel with Joe Yerdon

A Twitter conversation led NHL.com’s Joe Yerdon and I to sitting down for a podcast on the goalie market and how it affects the Sabres. We run through the pros and cons of the thin free agent crop while also touching on some more interesting trade options which could come to light.

Who Can the Sabres Target as Linus Ullmark’s Partner?

Three years removed from trading a first round pick for a player they hoped would cement their future at the position, the Buffalo Sabres goal crease remains in flux.

Linus Ullmark is poised to step into a full-time NHL role for the first time but who will partner with him for at least the 2018-19 season is still a question. Despite holding control over his RFA rights, it seems increasingly doubtful that Robin Lehner will be back in Buffalo for another season.

Ullmark’s progression has been steady to this point in his career and there’s no doubt he’s ready for this promotion. However, he’s never handled starter’s minutes at the NHL level. So it stands to reason that Jason Botterill will want to ease Ullmark into a starters role, though his 20 game foray in 2015-16 should provide some baseline for the workload he can handle.

There is something working in Ullmark’s favor here and that is he is no stranger to heavy workloads. He saw the majority of minutes with Modo in the SHL and has been a horse for the Amerks for the past two seasons. He’s played 55 and 44 games over the last two years and he led the AHL in minutes (3201:55), shots faced (1678) and saves (1525) in 2016-17.

What’s unknown is the number of games the Sabres hope to give Ullmark this season. Do they hope to get him in upwards of 50 games? Or is a 50/50 split a more manageable workload for a rookie goaltender playing behind a roster which is expected to see quite a bit of upheaval?

The only scenario I think we can fully rule out is Ullmark playing as a true backup. Even if Lehner is brought back, I doubt Ullmark gets into fewer than 35 games with his partner getting the lion’s share. The Sabres want to see if Ullmark is indeed their goaltender of the future and they won’t be able to accurately evaluate that if he gets a backup’s share of the games.

I’m hoping to see the Sabres pick up another younger netminder who can play in tandem with Ullmark. A peer who can push him for time while also opening another avenue to find a number one goaltender. Signing a veteran that they can string along on a one or two-year deal would be an acceptable option, but I think the younger route offers the Sabres a better long-term outlook, especially with a goaltender market as thin as this year’s. Continue reading

How Much Responsibility do the Sabres Goaltenders Bear for Lost Points?

On the laundry list of issues the Buffalo Sabres are facing, goaltending ranks relatively low. A slow roster with some problematic contracts all while dropping from first to worst (technically 27th as of today) has far bigger issues to address than goaltender.

Although it may rank low on the larger list of issues facing Jason Botterill and company, it is indeed a problem area that is in need of improvement moving forward.

Improved goaltending wouldn’t be the silver bullet needed to get the Sabres into a playoff position. It wouldn’t even get them into the race at this point, which speaks to the myriad issues with the roster at the moment. But their goaltending has indeed cost them points in the standings, enough to, at the very least, pull them from the doldrums of the league basement and into a more respectable standing.

Chad Johnson and Robin Lehner have combined to allow three or more goals in over half of Buffalo’s games this season and four or more goals have been allowed 22 times. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the vast majority of each goaltender’s wins have come in games where they allow two or fewer goals while the vast majority of losses come when three or more goals are conceded. What has been a problem is a lack of consistency from both, and a propensity to negate rare strong offensive performances from the league’s lowest scoring team. Continue reading