Player Report Card: Linus Ullmark
The 26-year-old was dearly missed down the stretch while sidelined with a lower-body injury
Total Season Stats: 17 Wins | 2.69 GAA | .915 SV%
Contract Status: Pending RFA
The 2019-20 season was an interesting campaign for Buffalo Sabres netminder, Linus Ullmark. Heading into the season, it was assumed that he’d split starting duties with Carter Hutton. After his veteran contemporary continued to struggle when called upon, Ullmark became the primary starter.
Was this due in larger part to his own steady play, or Hutton’s abysmal performance? While Ullmark did post modest improvements in his base statistics (save-percentage increased by one-percent, and his GAA decreased by .42-percent), his underlying metrics were notably better too. That said, his play likely hasn’t cemented him an undisputed starting role with Buffalo next season.
Let’s take a look at the underlying metrics, identifying what he did well, and where he requires improvement. It’s important to realize that goaltender metrics are often convoluted, and sometimes inconsistent year-over-year. Fortunately, most of the data in this case jives with the “eyeball test”.
In terms of goals-saved above-average, Ullmark was smack dab in the middle of the pack among goaltenders who played a minimum of 2,000 minutes (of which there were 30). His individual mark of -8.94 ranked him 16th in that group.
On the surface, that number sounds bad, but as you can see, it was a down year for goalies league-wide in this regard. His raw save-percentage of .915 also ranked 16th among 45 netminders who appeared in at least 30 contests.
According to team shot-metrics, the Sabres defense did tend to allow fewer high-danger opportunities with Ullmark in front of them, but part of that metric has something to do with the superior rebound-control he possessed over Hutton. Either way, the performance disparity in front of them wasn’t wide enough in that regard to raise any eyebrows.
While it’s tough to gauge whether or not Ullmark was truly hitting his stride before his injury against the Ottawa Senators on January 28 (he’d only appear one more time before the league-year was indefinitely suspended), the data indicates that he was at least at the beginning of an upward trajectory.
(It’s important to note that a majority of the straight line at the end of the above chart skips the moth of February, which he missed due to injury)
In short, he Ullmark was somewhere near the league-average in most categories among starting netminders league-wide, perhaps a tick below. In all likelihood, the Sabres will elect to extend him to another short-term deal this summer. That will obviously come with a significant raise over his current salary of $1.325 million.
Even at that, it’s unclear whether or not he will re-assume starting duties to begin the 2020-21 season. Buffalo will at least need to add a viable backup option, as it is clear that Hutton’s best days are behind him. If an inexpensive co-starter can be had via trade, Jason Botterill may weigh his options there, as the free agent goalie class is set to be quite sparse (to put it lightly) this summer.
There are some who would have liked to see more from Ullmark this year, but overall he either met, or came very close to meeting what could reasonably be expected. 2020-21 will be a prove-it year of sorts if he plans to be a long-term starting goalie at the NHL level.
Season Grade: C+
GSAx charts courtesy of Charting Hockey