By Design, Goaltending Is Buffalo’s Most Glaring Issue
The Sabres knew that goaltending wouldn’t be their strong point this season.
With Matt Murray seemingly set to hit the waiver wire, many Buffalo Sabres fans are pondering whether or not the team should take a chance on him. Murray, of course, is struggling mightily this season. He’s started six games with Ottawa, finished five of them and has yet to capture a win. His .890 save percentage is nothing to write home about, and his 3.26 GAA is equally dismal.
This is where we’re at as a hockey community: considering picking up a netminder with pretty rough numbers, because hey, he’s not great - but he could be better than what we’ve got right now.
To some extent, that’s true. Murray’s numbers are, in some cases, better than Aaron Dell, who is also searching for his first win this season, with a 4.56 GAA and .862 save percentage. The problem is, we knew that goaltending wouldn’t be a strong point for the Sabres entering this season. You don’t sign two netminders (Craig Anderson, Aaron Dell) to league-minimum deals and expect them to carry you to the Stanley Cup.
By design, the Sabres were going to struggle with their goaltending this season. If I’m being honest, Dell looks about how I expected him to look when the Sabres first signed him. His numbers are slightly worse than his few games last season in New Jersey, but then, the team overall isn’t exactly great.
Craig Anderson actually looked much better than most people expected in his limited run, before suffering an injury that’s lingered longer than expected. He won four of six games and had a .921 save percentage and 2.50 GAA. He was a pleasant surprise... and then he got hurt, forcing the Sabres to explore their other options.
(As an aside, even if Anderson hadn’t gotten hurt, the Sabres still would’ve faced struggles, since you can’t put an entire season on a 40-year-old netminder’s shoulders.)
Dustin Tokarski has had some flashes of brilliance over the course of the season. (To his credit, Dell has had a few incredible saves, too.) He’s struggled lately, obviously, but there were some moments where he genuinely looked good.
The other option for the Sabres is, of course, Ukko-Pekka Luukonen, but he isn’t NHL-ready, and bringing him up just to fail in the big league wouldn’t help his development or the team.
So this is where we’re at... but did we realistically expect to be anywhere else? And does picking up Matt Murray solve any of Buffalo’s problems?
He’s still a struggling goaltender, and maybe a fresh start in a different club gives him a new lease on life, but maybe not. His contract is also not great, and sure, you could put him back on waivers if things don’t work out, but is that a risk worth taking? Why bother?
Then again.... what’s the other option right now? Keeping things status quo and just hoping something works itself out, or another option comes up?
We knew goaltending would be an issue. Sure, things have worked out a little differently than we expected - with Anderson getting hurt, Dell becoming less of an option than a necessity, UPL just not up to NHL ready and Tokarski wavering between good and frustrating.
There’s no easy solution, no “right” answer. Goaltending was always going to be one of Buffalo’s most glaring issues this season, and a quarter into the season, the Sabres are facing a point where they have to deal with it, in one way or another.