Gone are the days of furious debates regarding Robin Lehner’s usefulness to the Buffalo Sabres. Lehner was not given an offer to return this coming season and on July 1st, after a few weeks of speculation, Carter Hutton officially signed with the Sabres for three years at a $2.75 million AAV. This amount was lower than many were expecting, and it was reported that Hutton left money on the table to come to Buffalo.
The 32-year-old is being brought in as the lead goalie to carry the Sabres while the 24-year-old Ullmark continues to work on his game. Hutton’s age and experience will likely prove useful in mentoring Ullmark, but what use is a 32-year-old in yet when there’s an eager 24-year-old on the bench? Let’s see what the numbers say.
I pulled 10 seasons of goalie data from NHL.com/stats in order to take a look at the effect of age on save percentage. Obviously, there is a lot more than age to consider, but for all the worry about Hutton being 32, I figured it was worth taking a look at.
For a more stable analysis focusing on starting goalies, I filtered to only include goalies who had started 30+ games in that season. Then, I grouped the data by age and calculated the average save percentages by each age. I fit a simple linear trend to the data (think straight line through all the points) and did see a negative trend suggesting save percentage deteriorates with age. However, the R-Squared value for this trend was .4358. That suggests that there isn’t that much of a correlation on the linear fit. So I then fit the data to a 3rd order polynomial (which allows the fitted line to have a bit of a bend to it) and ended up with an R-Squared value of .7348. Here’s that result:
The peak at the beginning of the curve is from the few young goalies who started 30+ games right off the bat having excellent starts. Steve Mason and Carey Price to be specific. Just to be sure that they weren’t skewing the results too much, I refit the curve with them removed and ended up with this:
In either case, the fitted curve actually slightly increases in the early thirties before it starts to dip in the middle to late thirties. Hutton’s contract will take him from 32 at the beginning of this coming season to 35 at the end of the last season on the contract. Meanwhile, Ullmark will go from 25 to 28 in that same span.
Using the fitted curve as guidance, this allows Hutton to carry the majority of the load while he still can, allows Ullmark to grow into his game at the NHL level, and will eventually allow Ullmark to slide into a starting role as Hutton moves toward the dip in the save percentage curve.
Beyond the favorable age situation given Hutton’s contract, he is also coming off a career year. Here’s a look at two key stats over his career (excluding 2012-2013 as he only played one year):
Hutton’s NHL Stats
Hutton has shown excellent trends in his GAA and Save Percentage. For comparison, the league average last season for goalies with at least ten games started was a 2.83 GAA and a .911 SVP.
Despite only playing 32 games last season (partially due to injury), Hutton was known as the “main guy” over Jake Allen by most Blues fans. Allen even acknowledged this himself during a controversy regarding the two goalies while Hutton was returning from injury.
Hutton is clearly in a good point in his career, and the data suggests that there should be next to zero concern about his age. If anything, Sabres GM Jason Botterill executed a perfect contract that will allow Hutton time to shine at a reasonable AAV, while simultaneously grooming Ullmark to make the transition into a full time NHL starter.
By the way, Hutton was 4 for 4 in shootouts last season.