Total Season Stats: 50 GP | 18-25-5 | .908 SV% | 3.00 GAA
Contract Status: Signed through 2021
Lamentations of the Sabres 2018-19 season are tied, in large part, to the feeling that nothing ever changes at KeyBank Center. Another dismal finish gave the team a top-10 draft pick - something fans have seen for the better part of a decade, with no real success to show for it.
The year was different, though. While Buffalo was predictably bad for several seasons, marked with tank-sized asterisks for chasing generational talent, there was a brief light at the end of the tunnel for the Sabres. After 25 games, Buffalo was atop the league and the NHL’s most probable playoff team. The spark of hope lit a flame that burned through February, when the dim light of failure wrapped the city in its itchy blanket.
One of the reasons for Buffalo’s early success was its goaltending tandem, with acquisition Carter Hutton taking the net by storm, determined to demonstrate that he was indeed a viable starter in the league. For the first quarter of a season, Hutton was surprisingly good. In a ten-game winning streak, the Sabres posted more than a handful of close victories. It was demonstrably true that Hutton won several of those games for the team.
After that, things...took a turn. The next 23 games were a disaster, as described by Die by the Blade in this look study of the crash. After a .929 save percentage in the successful run, his number slid to a .893. That is, as they say, sub-par. He finished the year just above .900 with a 3.00 goals against average. It was a tough run for the last 60 games, and as the team sank deeper into the abyss, Hutton seemed to be sucked into the vortex, unable to break the surface and catch his formerly steady breath.
It’s tough to hang the failures on Hutton. Sure, there were goals he’d want back. But a shot heat map shows that Buffalo hemorrhaged quality scoring chances. So many shots and tips came from right in front of the net. Too frequently, the team left its netminders out to dry, and the goalies were flapping in the breeze as the pucks passed them by.
His downfall was the penalty kill, which saw his season-save percentage plummet to .883 - the worst since his rookie year. Buffalo was the third-least penalized team in the league, so when they were short-handed, they needed Hutton to stand tall. Unfortunately, they couldn’t depend on him to do so.
On the bright side, he allowed Linus Ullmark to really demonstrate his abilities. Ullmark started 34 games, which was probably more than management would have liked, but also fairly necessary given the way the year went. The young netminder seemed to flourish under Hutton’s tutelage, which may have left a bitter taste in the latter’s mouth, but he was consummate throughout.
The highlight of the year may have been the bits he ran with Tre White of the Buffalo Bills. Funny stuff, and certainly broke the monotony of a season that saw him lose 60% of the games he played.
What lies ahead is unclear. Buffalo is - stop me if you’ve heard this one - rebuilding. There are a lot of changes that will likely take place in the offseason, and one has to wonder what the plan for goaltending will be. Will the new coach try to give his netminders a shot with a revamped defense? Will Hutton retain the ‘starter’ position, or has Ullmark shown enough to overtake him in the depth chart?
Barring a shocking trade, Hutton will be on the roster next season. The coming months will better define his role, and hopefully the veteran journeyman can return to the form that fans know he’s capable of.
Season Grade: C-