Goaltending has been one of the Buffalo Sabres’ consistent weaknesses. Ever since the glory days of Dominik Hasek and Ryan Miller, the team has struggled to find goalies who can consistently keep pucks out of the net. With the franchise relying on Craig Anderson, new netminder Eric Comrie, newly resigned UPL, and Malcolm Subban, how do Buffalo’s moves stack up to other teams in the NHL’s Atlantic Division? In this two-part series, I’ll examine how they compare with the others’ apparent netminding talent, focusing on starting goalies and backups.
The Boston Bruins
Until recently, the Bruins relied heavily on goaltending to make them one of the Atlantic Division’s top playoff contenders and a continuing thorn in Buffalo’s side. Netminding was part of it, but not the only factor. However, the mighty Boston Bruins have lost some of their puck blocking swagger.
Tuukka Rask, once a reliable goaltending presence, decided to retire after suffering an injury, which aggravated him when he returned to the net. Rask wasn’t the same and after letting in five goals on 27 shots against the Anaheim Ducks, he called it quits on Feb. 9, 2022. Backup goalie Jaroslav Halak also departed a little earlier, after the end of the 2020-21 season.
Boston will rely on former Sabre Linus Ullmark and backup Jeremy Swayman. The Bruins hope these two can be enough to keep them in close games. On paper, the two have good stats, both in the low .900s save percentages. Despite those numbers, it’s unclear how they’ll do against teams such as Florida and Tampa Bay, who presumably have most of their offensive firepower still available. Rask’s retirement was a blow. Now if only someone could get Brad Marchand to hang up his skates.
The Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs seem to be between a rock and a hockey hard place lately, going through some of their own goalie shakeups. Jack Campbell, who enjoyed a .914 save percentage and five shutouts for Toronto last season, bolted for Edmonton. While GM Kyle Dubas claimed Campbell’s contract was too expensive, his salary cap hit was only slightly higher than Murray’s. Campbell wasn’t the only Toronto goalie to leave. The Chicago Blackhawks also acquired Leafs backup Petr Mrazek in a trade on July 7.
Canada’s team did manage to snap up Matt Murray from the Ottawa Senators, the goaltender rumored to be the Sabres’ first choice. The franchise also signed Ilya Samsonov to a one-year $1.8 million deal. The Leafs seemed to hedge their bets with these two acquisitions, hoping
they’ll pay off, but not totally convinced. High-scoring teams will definitely test them this year.
The Tampa Bay Lightning
The Bolts have been perennial Stanley Cup contenders in recent years, including this past season. Led by strong offensive depth from captain Steve Stamkos, Tampa has become the team to beat with few rivals able to outscore the Lightning in any playoff series.
Netminding is just as important as scoring, and Tampa rode goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to the finals in 2021-22, only losing to the Colorado Avalanche. Vasilevskiy, with a .916 save percentage and 2.49 GAA this past season, played so much local media became concerned he was overtired. Still only 28 years old, the Russian goalie looks to be the Bolts’ starter in 2022. Tampa’s backup, Maxime Lagace, has decent .800s save percentages. If Vasilevskiy goes down, Lagace can fill in, but observers don’t expect the backup to play many games.
The Florida Panthers
The Cats have taken down easier prey in the Atlantic Division, including Buffalo. While the Panthers boast strong offensive and defensive depth, including former Sabres Sam Reinhart and Eric Staal, they also enjoy a solid netminding situation.
Florida leans on the duo of Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight. Both goaltenders own excellent stats. Bobrovsky has a career .916 save percentage and .913 last season. His GAAs were 2.57 and 2.67, respectively. Backup Knight is a little lower, with a still impressive career .909 and 2.74.
Back in March, Panthers GM Bill Zito told NHL.com he was “pretty comfortable” with the way these two goalies played. Zito, not surprisingly, didn’t make any goaltending trades or drafts. Unlike the situation with other NHL East franchises, Florida likes their netminders and they and the rest of their teammates will remain playoff contenders.
This is Part One of Sabres goalies vs. their Atlantic Division rivals. In Part Two, I’ll look at the Detroit, Montreal and Ottawa goaltending situations.