We’re inching our way to the always-intriguing trade deadline, and after a half season or so that’s been the definition of up and down, most are expecting the Sabres to deal away a few players to pull in draft picks or a couple of notable names to fill out the roster.
Netminder Chad Johnson seems like a strong candidate for trade bait. The Sabres have a fairly decent trio of goaltenders at the moment, and with Linus Ullmark appearing to be their choice for a future starter, and Robin Lehner holding meager trade value given his injury concerns, that leaves Johnson with a potential target on his back.
His surprising numbers don’t hurt, either. He skated into Monday night’s game against the Arizona Coyotes with a .919 save percentage and a 2.41, two very impressive stats for any goaltender, never mind one who’s getting his first opportunity to be a ‘starter’ and is on a fledging roster.
There’s more than a few other NHL teams that would probably love to have Johnson in their lineup, at the moment.
But can you really get rid of him when he’s playing this well?
Lehner is a giant question mark on more on than one front; he has a penchant for lengthy hiatuses due to injury, and he’s never proven to be a standout goaltender. Ullmark, while certainly loaded with potential, is clearly a couple of years off (if not, longer) from the necessary skillset to be a regular NHL starter. Even if he someday gets ahead of schedule, this team will be in pretty good hands with Johnson as the backup.
And if things get dire, the man has proven that he can steal a game or two when called upon. Johnson hasn’t been exempt from having a bad game or two to break up a solid streak this year, but it’s unfair to judge his consistency when he hasn’t been given the chance to be a true starter this year, or any of his previous NHL seasons.
When he’s fresh, he’s on. You need to look no further than his brilliant performances in his last two outings. He came back after a few days off to nullify the Washington Capitals’ furious offense at home, and then he went on the road to shut down the Arizona Coyotes who had lengthy power play opportunities to pepper him with 27 shots. Two games against two strong opponents, and Johnson skated away having given up just one goal in each showing.
There’s plenty more sample sizes like that from the rest of this season, too.