With Monday’s NHL Trade Deadline quickly approaching, this is the time of the year when teams are buyers or sellers. Although there is not much doubt what the Sabres are this season, there has been intrigue as to who is on the move.
Evander Kane has led the way in trade talk and has been near the top of TSN’s trade bait list all season, but goaltending, which has been a bright spot the last few years, deserves some intrigue.
Robin Lehner, Chad Johnson and Linus Ullmark, all of whom have played for the Sabres this season, are in different positions in the organization at the moment, but could change by next week.
Lehner, acquired prior to the start of the 2015 NHL Draft, battled injuries his first season in Buffalo, but finished his first two years with a solid .922 save percentage and 2.58 goals against average.
Despite the positive stats early on, many fans questioned his true value and if he was worth the first-round pick traded to Ottawa in the deal, especially since he earned only 28 wins in 69 starts prior to the start of this season.
This year, on the other hand, Lehner has once again been inconsistent and struggled at times, averaging nearly three goals per game and a .910 save percentage, a drop from his averages of the previous two years.
Currently playing on a 1-year ,$4M deal, many wonder if this is the last of Robin Lehner, whether he’s moved at the deadline or let go in free agency. His play this year has not helped his case to remain in the Sabres’ long term plans.
One of the reasons why Lehner achieved success early was also the goaltending as a whole on the Sabres. Johnson, who returned to Buffalo this season after a year in Calgary, posted a winning record (22-16-4) during the 2015-16 campaign while playing as a backup and starter during the time Lehner was on the shelf due to injury.
Similar to Lehner, Johnson has also struggled this year, but has been much worse, averaging 3.41 goals a game, a .890 save percentage and a 4-10-3 record in 17 starts. Bringing Johnson back has not worked out and he will likely be here as a one-year rental as backup for the team.
Linus Ullmark, the 24-year old native of Sweden, has wowed in Rochester this year with 18 wins in 35 games played, a 2.48 goals against average and a .923 save percentage.
As a result of his performance, he made the AHL All-Star game for a second consecutive year. A 44-save performance in his lone start for the Sabres this year has many fans clamoring for his call-up.
In 22 games played for Buffalo over three seasons, Ullmark has compiled an overall record of 9-11-2, a 2.54 goals against average along with a .918 save percentage. Although for his overall development as a goalie, it would likely be best to remain in the AHL for the remainder of this season and into the postseason.
Jason Botterill has key decisions to make over the next few days. While the attention has focused on Evander Kane all season, trade talks involving Lehner have begun to take form and would make a difference in terms of goaltending in Buffalo and Rochester.
Although it may be essential for the Sabres to trade Lehner in order to get a good return and give Ullmark some playing time, it’s difficult to determine what the organization views at the position heading into Monday’s Trade Deadline.