Sabres’ goaltender, Robin Lehner, who was injured in the season opener, is due to come off of long term injured reserve in a couple weeks. At that time, the Sabres will have a tough decision to make that could play a big role over the course of this season, and perhaps beyond.
It is conceivable, but not realistic, that the Sabres could carry three goaltenders through the March 2nd trade deadline or even through the end of the season. That means that Lehner (24 years old), Linus Ullmark (22) or Chad Johnson (29) will have to be the odd man out.
An objective review of each player’s body of work clearly supports keeping rookie Ullmark (4-5-1) and playing him as the Sabres’ starter. He sports a GAA of 2.5 and a save percentage of .916. In his favor, his contract carries a cap hit of just $0.7 million until he becomes an RFA in 2017.
Chad Johnson (6-7-1) has played admirably, posting a GAA of 2.37 and a save percentage of .913 this year. His career numbers of 2.44 and .912 were posted mostly when he played for better teams (NYI and BOS). He has respectable numbers and has a cap hit of just $0.3 million this year and $1.3 million next year, before he becomes an UFA in 2016.
Robin Lehner was declared the clear-cut #1 when acquired this summer. Because he has no history with the blue and gold, we have to evaluate his career numbers before arriving in Buffalo. His record: 30-36-13, meaning that he has been victorious in 30 of 79 career games, a winning percentage of just 38%.
He’s never had a winning record in a season in which he’s played more than eight games. Over this span, his GAA is 2.88 and save percentage is .914. And these were numbers he posted while playing for a vastly superior team than the Sabres. Lehner carries a cap hit of $2.23 million for three seasons before becoming an RFA in 2017.
Age 24 29 22
Record 0-0-0 6-7-1 4-5-1
GAA 2.14 2.37 2.50
SV % .917 .913 9.16
Complicating matters are the circumstances that brought Lehner to Buffalo. He came with David Legwand for a 2015 first round draft pick. Legwand, who was seen as a salary dump throw-in by the Senators, has turned out to be a nice addition; a third or fourth line player who works hard and gives the kind of blue collar effort that Western New Yorkers appreciate.
General Manager Tim Murray took a big chance on Lehner, who not only has a concussion history, but could not win the starting position in Ottawa even when given ample opportunity. In 2013, he played 36 games and another 25 in 2014. In both years, his GAA was over 3.00 and his save percentage was marginal at best.
One can only imagine why Murray thought his acquisition was worth the first round pick. Should Murray decide to stick with Lehner, and he makes a Devan Dubnyk-like surprise improvement, it could push Ullmark off the stage.
In an ideal situation, GM Murray is on the phone with teams who have goalies who can’t stop pucks.
The leading candidate is Calgary. Their current No. 1 seems to be Karri Ramo, a player waived just last month, but then re-acquired due to injury at the position. Certainly, Jonas Hiller and Joni Ortio are not the answer for the the Flames.
The team is surprisingly struggling after making a run to get into the playoffs last year. They are stacked at the blue line which is where the Sabres are the weakest. While Chad Johnson may not have much trade value, a deal for Ullmark or Lehner might bring a talented defenseman.
While Winnipeg and Columbus cannot keep the puck out of their nets, the second candidate is probably Edmonton. The Oilers’ GM Todd McLellan went way out on the thin branches by picking up Cam Talbot in the offseason.
Talbot was a wonder spelling injured Ranger superstar Henrik Lundqvist last year. This year, his first as a starter, his GAA is 3.1 and his save percentage is an abysmal .890. Something there has to give. The Oilers are, again, in last place. The entire hockey world does not want to see them with the highest probability of landing another first-overall draft pick. The Oilers have a number of tantalizing young players who might be available.
Only time will tell what the Sabres will do, but that time is running short as Lehner gets closer to being ready to return.