What Should The Sabres Do In Goal Next Season?
Is two games too soon to proclaim Devon Levi the unquestionable starter? And should the Sabres get a veteran back-up or roll with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen behind him?
Is two games too soon to proclaim Devon Levi the unquestionable starter?
Despite the crushing disappointment of seeing their playoff hopes evaporate last night, there should still be plenty of optimism for the Buffalo Sabres looking ahead. There is a young and talented core of players signed up for the long term, plenty more potential stars coming through the ranks and most recently, a superstar goaltender in the making.
The Sabres signed up Devon Levi to an entry-level contract just days after his college season ended, and even shipped out the other goalie prospect Erik Portillo to clear the decks for the future between the pipes. With Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen already on the roster, fans can be forgiven for dreaming about the days when they had Ryan Miller, Marty Biron and Mika Noronen all in the system.
This is the second straight season Levi has been a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top player in NCAA Division I college hockey. A junior this season at Northeastern University, he was also named the Hockey East Player of the Year as well as being shortlisted as one of the three finalists for the Mike Richter Award given to the top goalie.
His performances in his two starts so far have shown that General Manager Kevyn Adams faith in the youngster is well-placed. Levi has posted 1.98 GAA and .942 SV% facing 36 and 33 shots against the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers respectively.
What has really caught the eye though is the manner in which he has occupied the crease. His flexibility down low is unreal for a rookie, and his form and composure when facing odd-man breakaways will fill fans with joy because for the upcoming future that is the kind of hockey the Sabres will play.
Levi's calm and collected confidence has permeated throughout the team, bringing a level-headedness to an otherwise helter-skelter young Sabres. You often hear the saying that a defense corps 'plays better' when a certain goaltender is in net, and even with a small sample size you can see that with Buffalo. There is no doubting that Luukkonen is a good goaltender in his own right, but he doesn't have the same presence in goal that Levi does. You can see the Sabres winning 2-1 games with one of the pair of goaltenders, and 5-4 with the other.
Which then poses a difficult question for the leadership in Buffalo. Should the Sabres bring in a more reliable and veteran backup for Levi next season, or should they roll with the Levi-UPL tandem? The Sabres window for playoff success is arguably already open, but they will also have the weight of expectation on them the next few seasons as well.
The first option certainly has its advantages, as Levi will almost certainly hit a roadbump or two in his development, and at that time if the Sabres have a backup that can carry the load and hopefully maintain a playoff push that will be ideal. However, will that adversely affect Levi? Like it or not, the Sabres have placed all their eggs in his basket but if they are expecting a kid who has never played more than 35-ish games a season to start playing 50-60 at the elite NHL level, that seems extremely risky.
So if the Sabres do go with two young goalies in Levi and UPL, then there is also a chance that the pair both hit the proverbial wall at the same time and the salary cap situation is going to get to a point where they can't carry a third, even if it's Craig Anderson or Eric Comrie. Sacrificing their playoff chances from that decision is going to get Adams crucified. Also, going into the playoffs with Levi (rookie season) and UPL (sophomore season) seems very risky.
Does a third option exist? Would getting a Thatcher Demko or Carter Hart be a middle of the road option? What do you think?