Starter: Carter Hutton
Backup: Linus Ullmark
The Sabres decided to move on from Robin Lehner this summer, signing Carter Hutton to a three-year contract in free agency. Hutton, who turns 33-years-old in December is coming off of a career season with St. Louis. In 26 starts, Hutton posted a .931 save percentage last season. However, in six NHL seasons, Hutton has never been a full-time starter and never played more than 40 games in a season.
While numerous players have found success going from backup to starter, they are usually much younger than Hutton. If Hutton matches his career .915 save percentage, it would be a sizeable upgrade over Lehner’s .908 save percentage. However, given Hutton’s lack of experience as a starter, that is far from a given.
If Hutton fails to live up to his contract, Buffalo will turn to Linus Ullmark. The Sabres made the decision last season to send a sixth-round pick to Vegas to protect Ullmark in the expansion draft last season. The decision to give up a draft pick to protect Ullmark suggests that the Sabres remain high on the former sixth-round pick. However, it does appear that the Sabres are unsure if Ullmark could be a full-time starter in the NHL or if he is better suited to be a backup.
Ullmark spent the majority of last season in the AHL, posting a .922 save percentage. Since signing with the Sabres and coming to North America three years ago, Ullmark has played in 26 NHL games. The tall Swedish goalie has played well, recording a .917 save percentage, improving his save percentage in each season. However, 20 of the 26 games that Ullmark played in were during his rookie season three years ago.
Buffalo enters the season with only a $3.5 million cap hit committed to Hutton and Ullmark. While neither goalie is a proven starter, the team appears to believe they can find financial value in net. However, this strategy could backfire if Hutton or Ullmark play poorly.