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Examining the Sabres’ Goaltending Situation Since Ryan Miller’s Departure

My colleague Andrew said it well on Twitter: the Buffalo Sabres goaltending situation has been an insane drama since Ryan Miller left.

I decided to take a little deeper dive, and he certainly isn’t wrong.

To set the scene: Miller’s last game with the Sabres was February 25, 2014, a 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at First Niagara Center. Three days later, the Sabres shipped Miller out to St. Louis along with Steve Ott in exchange for Jaroslav Halák, Chris Stewart, William Carrier and a pair of draft picks.

Miller would go on to play an additional 256 NHL games with the Blues, Canucks and Ducks before retiring in 2021. The Sabres’ goaltending situation has never been the same.

Since Miller left, 22 different goaltenders have appeared in at least one game for the Sabres. The team has played 679 games, going 251-345-83, with a 3.19 goals-against average per game. Here’s a table with all the stats, as of January 10, 2022:

Sabres Goalies since Miller

Robin Lehner L 133 129 42 61 22 4,104 3,761 343 0.916 2.77 7421:34 6 0 2 2 16
Linus Ullmark L 117 112 50 47 13 3,527 3,218 309 0.912 2.78 6675:31 3 0 1 1 4
Carter Hutton L 94 90 31 49 10 2,800 2,525 275 0.902 3.12 5289:46 2 0 2 2 8
Chad Johnson L 81 69 32 32 7 2,232 2,025 207 0.907 2.85 4364:37 1 0 2 2 0
Craig Anderson L 46 45 24 18 3 1,440 1,304 136 0.906 2.99 2732:32 1 0 2 2 0
Jhonas Enroth L 45 43 16 26 2 1,504 1,364 140 0.907 3.16 2655:59 1 0 0 0 0
Dustin Tokarski L 42 38 12 20 7 1,347 1,213 134 0.901 3.35 2400:52 1 0 1 1 0
Michal Neuvirth L 29 29 6 19 3 1,039 957 82 0.921 2.96 1660:51 0 0 0 0 0
Anders Nilsson L 26 23 10 10 4 857 791 66 0.923 2.67 1484:15 1 0 0 0 0
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen L 26 26 12 11 3 858 775 83 0.903 3.3 1510:25 0 0 0 0 0
Anders Lindback L 16 15 4 8 2 542 501 41 0.924 2.76 890:59 0 0 0 0 4
Matt Hackett L 13 12 1 10 2 394 354 40 0.898 3.55 676:21 0 0 0 0 0
Jonas Johansson L 13 11 1 8 2 358 318 40 0.888 3.4 706:37 0 0 0 0 0
Aaron Dell L 12 9 1 8 1 354 316 38 0.893 4.03 565:23 0 0 0 0 2
Eric Comrie L 11 11 4 7 0 336 298 38 0.887 3.62 629:14 0 0 1 1 0
Nathan Lieuwen L 7 5 1 4 0 191 173 18 0.906 2.97 363:22 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Houser L 6 6 4 2 0 218 200 18 0.917 2.97 363:02 0 0 0 0 0
Malcolm Subban L 4 3 0 2 1 132 115 17 0.871 4.85 210:28 0 0 0 0 0
Connor Knapp L 2 1 0 0 1 32 28 4 0.875 3.14 76:31 0 0 1 1 0
Jason Kasdorf L 1 1 0 1 0 30 26 4 0.867 4 60:00 0 0 0 0 0
Adam Wilcox L 1 0 0 1 0 14 14 0 1 0 38:39 0 0 0 0 0
Andrey Makarov L 1 1 0 1 0 36 33 3 0.917 3 60:00 0 0 0 0 0

Of course, the above list is only the goaltenders who have actually played for the Sabres since Miller’s departure. The list, then, doesn’t include current prospects like Devon Levi or Erik Portillo, who are still developing with their respective college teams, or Topias Leinonen.

It also doesn’t include other goaltenders who were drafted by the Sabres during Miller’s tenure, like Cal Petersen, who was drafted in 2013 but was never signed by the team. Other goalies drafted during that time – Marty Magers, Jeff Weber, Ghyslain Rousseau, Michal Valent, Adam Dennis, Nick Eno and Bradley Eidsness – never materialized at the NHL level.

Let’s look further at the goaltenders who did play for the Sabres in the post-Miller era.

2013-14 Season

Miller played nearly half of the Sabres season before his trade, so his departure was felt heavily. Then 25-year-old Jhonas Enroth stepped up as the number one netminder and would appear in a total of 28 games that season, with a 2.82 GAA and .911 save percentage.

Ryan Vinz, of course, famously dressed for one game as part of an emergency contract after Miller’s trade. Days later, the Sabres acquired Michal Neuvirth from Washington, in a package for Jaroslav Halák. Nathan Lieuwen, Matt Hackett, Connor Knapp and Neuvirth would also play that season, though sparsely. None appeared in more than eight games for Buffalo. Lieuwen suffered a season-ending concussion just a few days after his first NHL win.

In May, the Sabres signed Linus Ullmark to a three-year, entry-level contract. They went on to draft Jonas Johansson in June with the 61st overall pick.

2014-15 Season

The Sabres went into the first full post-Miller season with a tandem of Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth. Enroth appeared in 37 games, starting 35 of them, and accrued a 3.27 GAA and .903 save percentage. Neuvirth played 27 games, going 6-17-3 with a 2.99 GAA and .918 save percentage.

In March, Enroth was sent to Dallas in exchange for Anders Lindbäck and a third-round pick. Neuvirth was sent to the Islanders for Chad Johnson and a draft pick. Lindbäck would appear in 16 games, going 4-8-2 with a 2.76 GAA and .924 save percentage. Andrew Makarov also appeared in one game, while Matt Hackett appeared in five games.

In late June, the Sabres acquired Robin Lehner is a trade for the 21st overall selection. Then, in July, the Sabres signed prospect Nathan Lieuwen to a one-year extension.

2015-16 Season

The Sabres really swung with just three goalies this season for the most part. (Jason Kasdorf appeared in one game.) Lehner made his Sabres debut in the season-opener, but was injured immediately. With his injury, Chad Johnson finally made his Sabres debut and appeared in 45 games, starting 40 of them. He had a 2.36 GAA and .920 save percentage.

Ullmark appeared in 20 games, while Lehner appeared in 21 games. They had 2.60 and 2.47 GAAs, respectively. Lehner faced more injuries as the season went on.

In free agency, the Sabres acquired Anders Nilsson. Nathan Lieuwen was not tendered a qualifying offer.

2016-17 Season

This season is perhaps the most stable since Miller’s departure when it comes to goaltending. Lehner takes charge as starting netminder, appearing in 59 games and starting 58 of them. He went 23-26-8, with a 2.68 GAA and .920 save percentage. Nilsson, a dutiful back-up, had a 2.67 GAA and .923 save percentage in 26 games.

Ullmark also appeared in one game.

The 2017 offseason is an interesting one. On May 31, Cal Petersen announces his decision to forgo his final year of college eligibility. The Sabres failed to sign him, and he went on to sign with the Los Angeles Kings on July 1.

The Sabres also signed Jonas Johansson to a three-year, entry-level contract, and extended Ullmark for two more years. They also drafted Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen 54th overall, brought Chad Johnson back on a one-year deal and signed a one-year, two-way contract with Adam Wilcox.

2017-18 Season

It was, once again, by and large Lehner’s net this season. He went 14-26-9 and appeared in 53 games, accruing a 3.01 GAA and .908 save percentage. Chad Johnson, having signed with Buffalo, appeared in 36 games with a rough 3.55 GAA and .891 save percentage.

Ullmark skated in five games. Wilcox had a one-game stint that lasted 39 minutes after being recalled due to injuries to both Lehner and Ullmark.

Luukkonen signed his four-year, entry-level contract in the offseason. The Sabres also signed Carter Hutton to a three-year contract.

2018-19 Season

Finally, some more stability! Hutton took over as the starting goaltender this season, appearing in 50 games. He went 18-25-5 with a 3.00 GAA and .908 save percentage.

Ullmark also appeared in 37 games, with a 3.11 GAA and .905 save percentage. He also recorded two shutouts.

In the offseason, Ullmark signed a one-year extension. The Sabres also drafted Erik Portillo with the 67th overall pick. Luukkonen underwent hip surgery.

2019-20 Season

On paper, things looked stable: two goalies playing the bulk of the games. In reality, this season saw the Sabres flip-flop between Ullmark and Hutton. Ullmark appeared in 34 games, with a 17-14-3 record, 2.69 GAA and .915 save percentage. Hutton carried most of the rest of the workload, with a 3.18 GAA and .898 in 31 games. He recorded back-to-back shutouts, but then was replaced by Ullmark as the starter for the next nine games.

It was back and forth, back and forth, until Hutton’s vision problem was discovered. The duo continued to flip-flop until Ullmark got injured. Johansson also appeared in six games, coming in as the team’s backup at that point.

Meanwhile, Luukkonen spent most of this season in the ECHL with Cincinnati.

2020-21 Season

In October, both Johansson and Ullmark sign one-year extensions.

This is, of course, a shortened NHL season, which saw the Sabres play a total of 56 games. Ullmark carried most of the work, appearing in 20 games. Hutton was limited to just 13 games.

In November, Dustin Tokarski signed a two-year deal with the Sabres organization. He would join the NHL team in March 2021. In total, he appeared in 13 games and started 10, going 2-8-2 with a 3.54 GAA and .904 save percentage.

Johansson appeared in seven games, starting six of them. He failed to record a win and had a 3.79 GAA. Late March rolls around, and he’s traded to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for a sixth-round pick.

The Sabres also signed Michael Houser to a one-year contract in March, for the remainder of the season. He joined the team’s taxi squad, then made a total of four starts (2-2-0). Elsewhere, Luukkonen had been playing overseas on loan to TPS, but returned to North America. He made his NHL debut on April 23 and plays in four games, going 1-3-0.

In July, the Sabres acquire Devon Levi in a trade for Sam Reinhart. Linus Ullmark signs with the Boston Bruins, and the Sabres elect to sign Craig Anderson to a one-year contract. They also sign Aaron Dell to a one-year contract, while Hutton signs with the Arizona Coyotes. Michael Houser re-signs with the Rochester Americans.

2021-22 Season

Anderson and Tokarski split much of the action this season. Anderson went 17-12-2 in 31 games, with a 3.12 GAA and .897 save percentage. Tokarski, eight years his junior, went 10-12-5 in 29 games played. Dell appeared in just 12 games, going 1-8-1 with a 4.03 GAA.

Anderson went down with injury in early November, and his prognosis continually worsened: from day-to-day, to week-to-week, to month-to-month. He was out until the end of January, and the Sabres had to rely on Tokarski and Dell in the meantime. At least until….

In early December, the Sabres found themselves in another sticky situation, when Tokarski entered COVID protocol. Amid this, the Sabres recalled Luukkonen, then acquired Malcolm Subban from Chicago. Two days later, Subban made his Buffalo debut.

Tokarski eventually rejoined the team toward the end of December, but faced lingering issues from COVID and ended up missing two months.

It just kept getting worse. On January 12, Luukkonen was injured in a game against the Lightning. Subban came in to relieve him, then suffered an injury, but stayed in for the rest of the game. He would miss the remainder of the season. As the Sabres dealt with numerous injuries in net, they were forced to sign Houser to a two-way contract. He would appear in two games, winning both of them.

Luukkonen appeared in nine NHL games over the course of the season, going 2-5-2 with a 2.74 GAA and .917 save percentage.

In the offseason, Anderson signs a one-year deal to return to Buffalo, while Luukkonen gets a two-year extension. The Sabres also sign (what could have been) their new starter, Eic Comrie, to a two-year contract. In addition, the team drafts Topias Leinonen with the 41st overall pick. Houser signs a one-year AHL contract with the Amerks.

2022-23 Season

And so, here’s where we are now.

Comrie and Anderson start the season as the team’s one-two punch. Things are going fairly well, all things considered. Then, mid-November rolls around and Comrie suffers a lower-body injury that’s expected to keep him out for “multiple weeks.” As a result, Luukkonen is recalled from the Amerks.

The season progresses, and the Sabres are ramping up. Anderson has appeared in 15 games and has a record of 7-6-1 with a 2.70 GAA and .921 save percentage. Luukkonen has been on fire, with a 9-3-1 record despite a 3.57 GAA and .891 save percentage.

Comrie went on injured reserve, then served a conditioning stint in Rochester. From here, we go to what Sabres GM Kevyn Adams calls “daily roster management” to manage the team’s three-goalie carousel. To make the situation even more complex, Luukkonen was loaned to Rochester in a paper transaction on January 9 and expected to be recalled and play on January 10. Instead, he woke up sick, throwing another wrench into the fold.

Elsewhere in the organization, Portillo has appeared in 17 games with Michigan this season, going 11-6-0 with a 2.77 GAA. His future with the Sabres organization, however, is uncertain. If he isn’t signed by the end of this year, he’ll become a free agent. If that’s the case, the team will lose him, and get nothing in return.

Levi is back at Northeastern for another season, having earned the Mike Richter Award and representing Canada at the Olympics last season This year, he’s appeared in 20 games with a 9-8-3 record and 2.53 GAA and is one of the favorites to win the Hobey Baker. The Sabres have a bit more time to figure out if they want to sign him to an NHL contract than they do with Portillo.

There’s been very few, if any, dull moments when it comes to the Sabres’ goaltending since Ryan Miller left all those years ago. The Sabres arguably haven’t had a real, consistent, NHL-caliber starter over the years, and it’s been a tumultuous time. Now, can the organization find its long-term goaltending solution as they had with Miller at one time?

Talking Points