Buffalo Sabres’ goaltending remains a question-mark

Uncertainty surrounds the Sabres’ immediate future in net

As the trade-deadline approaches, it is important to understand the value each player brings now and going forward. Wednesday, Erik teed us off with the forwards, followed by Melissa’s assessment of the defense. In the last pit-stop in DBTB’s evaluation of the Buffalo Sabres’ position groups before the All-Star festivities, we head to the crease.

Opening night outlined a much different situation than what has been depicted in the blue paint over the course of this season. Carter Hutton had a pretty strong hold on the starting job for the first month of the season, starting eight of thirteen games and winning his first six. He watched his role slip in November, and rightfully so. After those first six wins, Hutton is winless in eleven straight. Coach Ralph Krueger’s confidence in him has wavered, only providing him three opportunities to redeem himself in the months of December and January.

Linus Ullmark, on the other hand, has done what many Sabres fans were hoping what he would do for awhile now - step up and take over in net. The 26 year-old goalie has started 32 games to Hutton’s 17, and has proven to be a capable netminder. Although unspectacular, Ullmark has at least been able to garner some consistency, which is more than his counterpart can say.

As far as the stats go, Hutton’s 89.31% save percentage is fairly poor on a decent shot suppression team like the Sabres. It’s below his career average of 91.1%. Ullmark, who carries the same career average, has improved on the mark ever-so-slightly this season, currently posting 91.46%. This puts him 18th of the 58 goaltenders to play at least 500 minutes this season, while Hutton ranks 55th.

To take it a bit further, Ullmark also ranks 18th in goals saved above average, according to Evolving-Hockey. Out of these same goaltenders, Hutton is 50th, posting in the negatives. If you then turn to goals save above expected, which weighs in expected goals against, Ullmark drops to 32nd, and Hutton to 51st.

So what does this mean for the future of the position? Hutton, while factoring in age and contract, has likely forced the Sabres hand on a move. It is doubtful he will be able to be traded, but, with one more season remaining on his contract after this one, he may see the waiver wire and could potentially be buried in the AHL next season if unclaimed.

Ullmark is a restricted free agent at the end of the season, and the Sabres brass have a decision to make on the netminder. If he is able to be locked in at a decent price, he has proven to be an acceptable spot-starter and a more than capable backup. With top prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen probably still a year or two away from the NHL, it will be interesting to see how Jason Botterill decides to fill the void in net in the meantime.