The biggest question of the Buffalo Sabres offseason may be whether they believe the tandem of Devon Levi and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen can get them into the playoffs or if they think a move to upgrade in goal is necessary.
One potential option that has been rumored since Winnipeg’s elimination from the playoffs has been Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. The 30-year-old is one of the finalists for the Vezina Trophy along with former Sabre Linus Ullmark and Ilya Sorokin but will be entering the final year of his six-year, $37 million deal.
Are The Jets Shopping Hellebuyck?
The Winnipeg Sun’s Scott Billeck indicates that the Jets face a possible rebuild scenario after next season, with five prominent forwards in Hellebuyck, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Nino Neiterreiter, and Pierre-Luc Dubois all slated to be unrestricted free agents. Hellebuyck is reportedly not interested in staying with the Jets if they opt to rebuild and there is speculation that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff may shop him at the NHL Draft later this month.
Billeck believes that the Sabres, Los Angeles Kings, Ottawa Senators, New Jersey Devils, and Detroit Red Wings could be potential trade partners interested in Hellebuyck, with him acting as a mentor to Levi and getting Buffalo over the hump towards snapping their 12-year playoff drought.
Would Hellebuyck Complicate Matters?
The Sabres without question have the young assets that Winnipeg would be interested in for a potential Hellebuyck deal (Billeck suggested Peyton Krebs), the question is whether GM Kevyn Adams wants to pay for a top-flight goaltender in the prime of his career. A trade for Buffalo only makes sense if Adams can get Hellebuyck signed to an extension after July 1 and that would likely cost in the $7 million AAV range on a multi-year deal.
Luukkonen’s inconsistency can be pointed to as one of the reasons that Buffalo missed the playoffs, along with their defensive issues. There is a strong belief in Levi in the Sabres organization, that the 21-year-old is already a starting goalie capable of playing in excess of 50 games a year, but there are not many examples of a goaltender that young being able to handle that workload so early in their career.
Loading Games On Young Goalies Is A Risky Proposition
Carey Price came out of the WHL as a 19-year-old and won a Calder Cup with Hamilton in 2007, but did not become the go-to starter in Montreal until 2010. Steve Mason played 61 games as a 20-year-old and won the Calder Trophy in 2009, but regressed over the next few years with Columbus and never became the goalie he was expected to be. Carter Hart played a grand total of 18 AHL games before being called up to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2019, and many observers think his progress in the NHL has been stunted because of it.
Trading for Hellebuyck would give the Sabres a veteran netminder that would help them cover up some of their defensive issues while giving Levi a chance to gain experience over the next couple seasons on his entry-level contract, but Buffalo may not want to allocate so much cap room on a goalie with extensions for Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power potentially in the near future.