The Buffalo Sabres went into the summer with questions about their goaltending and whether GM Kevyn Adams would add an experienced netminder to split the duties with rookie Devon Levi, but Adams chose to stand pat and roll the dice on Levi as the primary starter. With NHL training camps opening next week, the Sabres have a few areas of uncertainty and competition that will be resolved before the season opener on October 12, but the question of whether Adams made the right decision will not be answered until April when the club has either ended or extended their 12-year playoff drought.
Uncertainties about Levi have nothing to do with his ability or potential, but whether it is too soon for a 21-year-old with seven games of pro experience to be ready to handle the heavy workload of 50 to 55 games. Both Adams and head coach Don Granato expressed confidence that Levi can handle being the primary starter, but if that is not the case, they really do not have an adequate fallback position for goaltending within the organization.
Luukkonen ROBS the Flames on a shorthanded 2-on-0. 🙅♂️ pic.twitter.com/id2YkvKNO1
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 11, 2023
Training camp will pit Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Eric Comrie against each other in a battle to be Levi’s backup. Luukkonen has yet to fulfil the promise that saw him win OHL goaltender of the year in 2019 and a World Junior gold medals with Finland in 2018 and 2019. The 24-year-old missed significant time in 2020 recovering from hip surgery, and over the next three seasons played only 69 AHL games before being pressed into heavy usage with the Sabres last season. That lack of experience and development may have contributed to his wild inconsistency last season, where he finished with a winning record (17-11-4), but an inflated 3.62 GAA and sub .900 save percentage.
The Sabres need a stabilizing presence in back of Levi, as they had with veteran Craig Anderson last season, and whether Luukkonen is up to the task is perhaps the biggest question entering the season. Comrie has been almost written off in the minds of many fans since being added as a free agent last season. His injury last November necessitated the recall of Luukkonen from the AHL and although he ended the season winning five of his last six games, the 28-year-old ended the season with a .500 record and numbers worse than Luukkonen.
Buffalo can bury most of Comrie’s $1.8 million salary if he is sent down to the AHL, and 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. It is possible with the Sabres being one of the few teams with cap room to play with, that Adams will choose to keep three goalies up, but the question going into the season is whether a trio goaltending group is workable, necessary, and good enough to have success.