The Buffalo Sabres heading into a critical offseason have a couple of areas in need of shoring up if they hope to contend for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
The lack of stable goaltending with veteran netminder Craig Anderson being the most consistent performer contributed to Buffalo missing out on the postseason by one point. Anderson is expected to announce his retirement, Eric Comrie struggled with injuries and inconsistency last season and is signed through 2023-24, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen had as many valleys as peaks in his first full NHL season.
Devon Levi was extremely promising in his late-season seven-game stint and both GM Kevyn Adams and head coach Don Granato expressed confidence that the 21-year-old is ready to handle a sizable workload next season, but the Sabres in spite of saying they think Luukkonen is up to the task have to consider adding a veteran netminder to tandem with Levi.
Disregard the small NHL sample size, the amount of poise and talent Devon Levi shows right out of college in massive situations with a postseason still on the line for the Sabres tells you he needs to begin next season in Buffalo @WGRZ pic.twitter.com/Ai0d1Rfqz1
— Julianne Pelusi (@JuliannePelusi) April 11, 2023
Buffalo can bury most of Comrie’s $1.8 million salary if he is sent down to the AHL, but Luukkonen is no longer waiver-exempt and would either have to be kept on the NHL roster or traded for fear of him being claimed off of waivers.
Unrestricted Free Agent Options Available
Adams has plenty of short-term options that can be signed in unrestricted free agency next season. Starters like Frederik Andersen, Joonas Korpisalo, or Tristan Jarry would likely require more term or salary than the Sabres would prefer to commit to. Potential top-end starters who could be available for trade, such as Anaheim’s John Gibson, Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck, or New York’s Ilya Sorokin would require either long-term extensions or take up significant cap space.
Here are some potential economical shorter-term possibilities:
The 37-year-old future Hall of Famer could be looking for a landing spot after being dealt by Los Angeles to Columbus and then forwarded to the Vegas Golden Knights as depth insurance. Quick may not be the same goalie that won a Conn Smythe a decade ago but could be a valuable tutor to the young netminder.
The veteran Finn has put up excellent numbers in three seasons with Carolina and is capable of being the primary starter in a pinch, which was proven when he stepped in for an injured Andersen in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Raanta is in the final year of a two-year deal making $2 million, a term and amount that would fit what Buffalo may be looking for.
Talbot is a 10-year NHL veteran who played 36 games for Ottawa last season after being moved by Minnesota last summer. An off-year with the Sens could mean that Talbot could be had on a one-year deal.
The 27-year-old Hill has been a tandem partner with Arizona, San Jose and Vegas, and put up good numbers (2.45 GAA, .915 save %, 16-7-1 record) behind an excellent Golden Knights squad. Depending on his success in the playoffs, his salary demands could get too rich.
Looking For Bargains
Other possible options could reveal themselves before July 1, when clubs have to determine whether they will make qualifying offers to restricted free agents. Toronto snapped up Ilya Samsonov after the former first-round was not qualified by the Washington Capitals and the 26-year-old ended up leading the Leafs with 27 wins and to their first playoff series victory in 19 years.
New Jersey’s Mackenzie Blackwood may be this summer’s Samsonov, with Akira Schmid and Vitek Vanecek the future Devils tandem and Blackwood needing a qualifying offer of over $4 million. The 26-year-old has struggled the last three seasons and has a lot to prove, which might equate to taking a one-year-deal prove-it deal for less as Samsonov did.