Where do we go from here? Our current goalie situation is well… Different. We have several options to choose from going forward but which basket do we put our eggs in? Since the departure of Ryan Miller we haven’t had a stable goaltending situation. We have gone through so many goalies in such a short time and still, we are uncertain of who our number one will be.
We have some solid options in the system, but are any of them truly ready to lace up the skates and call themselves the Sabres starting net minder? We’ve been spoiled in past years with our goalies and its weird to not have that rock to lean on anymore. It seems though that every goalie that Buffalo touches, turns to gold. The Buffalo Sabres have a knack for developing goalies and doing it right. We’ve even been known to take some goalies that were deemed unfit to be starters and made them into decent players, Im looking at you Anders Lindback. All jokes aside, Im very excited to see what our boys could do.
Our talent pool as far as goalies go is pretty deep. As of right now in the AHL we have Andei Makarov and Nathan Lieuwen. I don’t think that as of right now either of these two should be the starter in Buffalo. Both have played pretty well in the past but between the two we barely have a stable AHL goalie. It seems as though they both split the starting duty and both play either really well or they let in 3+ goals a game. With this happening in the minors it can only get worse for them moving up to the big league prematurely. I don’t see Lieuwen getting past AHL Starter in our system solely because of his history with concussions. Don’t get me wrong, he is a very talented player but it seems that every time he gets going on a roll he gets hurt. I used to compare Lieuwen to a young Ryan Miller but lately it seems that he just doesn’t have that fire under his butt that he used to. I think his place is with the Americans in Rochester.
Then there’s Andrei Makarkov. This kid is a firecracker. He has made some of the best saves I’ve ever seen on the AHL level. I do think he needs to work on consistency though. The talent is 100% there. This kid can split and bend in every way you want your goalie to at his level and even at an NHL level, but if you cant do it consistently then you’re a liability out on the ice. If he can just work on doing that type of play every game there isn’t a doubt in my mind that in a few years he will be bumped up the Sabres roster.
This brings us to our boys up in the big club. We have Robin Lehner who the Sabres acquired over the summer as part of trade with the Ottawa Senators. This move was little controversial from a fan standpoint although it seemed like a no brainer for GM Tim Murray. Now for those of you who don’t know, Tim Murray was the assistant GM over in Ottawa before he was hired on as the GM for the Buffalo Sabres. Murray was part of the group that actually scouted Lehner. He had seen enough to think that Lehner had what it took to become the franchise goaltender that the team needed. Sadly Lehner sustained a high ankle strain halfway through his first game in Buffalo and has been out since. There has been a lot of talk as to where he will fit in when he comes back because in his absence the Sabres have been heavily relying on Chad Johnson and Linus Ullmark. Some have gone as far as saying Lehner should spend some time in Rochester when he returns, just to get back in the swing of things. Personally I think that move could honestly do the kid some good. I’ve watched Lehner play and I can honestly say that he is a talented player with a bright future ahead of him. But do we really want another Grigorenko situation where we rush the player along too fast and ruin his development? I know that I don’t, especially when you trade a first round pick for him. My personal opinion as far as him being our starter is up in the air. He’s another one that I think could handle it in year or two.
Behind Lehner at the start of the season was Chad Johnson. Before I dive into his play I have one thing to say about Chad. If I were him, I would wear number 85 for the very obvious “Ochocinco” joke there, but I digress. Anyways, I’d like to think that Johnson has surprised everyone this season. Originally we acquired Johnson in a trade from the Islanders last season. He didn’t see any ice time until this season due to an injury. After seeing Johnson play a bit for the Islanders and even before that with the Boston Bruins, I was not a happy camper when I heard he had joined the roster. As much as I hate to admit it, Johnson is slowly growing on me. He has had his share of remarkable saves, but at the same time he has also had his share disappointing moments. I think that time with the Sabres has done him a lot of good as far as growing as a player and getting better. With this being said, he is on an expiring contract. It seems that as of late there are one too many goalies in our system and Johnson may be the odd man out. I would not be surprised if Tim Murray tried to move him at the trade deadline for a pick or even another David Legwand type of player (Veteran on a more expensive contract). I hope more than anything that Johnson finds the right team and has a lot of success. Unfortunately I don’t think the Sabres are the team for him.
This brings us to the last and certainly not least player in our system in the running for the starter spot… Linus Ullmark. I felt bad for Linus last season not only for his terrible hip injury that resulted in him having to have surgery, but for the fact that his talent was almost being wasted where he was. He was by far one of the best goalies in his Swedish league but on one of the worst teams. After his surgery he went into physical therapy and he now plays better than ever. Once Lehner went down with his injury, Lieuwen was called up to Buffalo, and Ullmark got the call to report to Rochester. I was actually at the game in Rochester where Ullmark got his first start against the Utica Comets. Words cannot express how impressed I was by his play. Everything he did was with precision and accuracy. His positioning was always on point, he wasn’t afraid to make those game changing diving saves. On top of all that he got the win. If you don’t really follow the AHL at all you need to know, the Utica Comets are pretty good. They went all the way to finals last season and aren’t a team to be taken lightly. None of this fazed Linus and he went out on the ice to become one of the three stars of the game. Since then, Linus was called up into Buffalo and traded spots with Nathan Lieuwen. Even in the big league Ullmark has kept his composure and given it his all. Developmentally he is right where he should be if not a little ahead of schedule. As far as I’m concerned Linus should be at least the AHL starter when Lehner is feeling up to playing with the Sabres again. He is our goalie of the future. He just needs more experience.
With all of this being said, I sadly have no say in who plays where. As you can see we have a boatload of talent through out our system and our team is only going to get better from here. I still to this day think about how different things would be if we had resigned Miller, but you cant live in the past. The only thing we can do from here on out is waiting to see what Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma do. I for one, have complete and total faith in him and the future of this team.