Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-29-2018
The Buffalo Sabres need an NHL goalie after allowing starter Robin Lehner to walk and unrestricted free agent Carter Hutton seems to be their guy.
This year's crop of free agents may be one of the thinnest ever and it's not much different when it comes to netminders available. Jonathan Bernier, who was with the Colorado Avalanche last season may be the best of the group but word on the street is that he's leaning towards the Detroit Red Wings. Kari Lehtonen is hitting the open market after finishing a 5yr/$29.5 million contract with Dallas as a back up to Ben Bishop last season. Veteran Stanley Cup winning goalie Cam Ward is leaving the Carolina Hurricanes, the only team he's ever played for, and it looks as if he'll end up with the Chicago Blackhawks. The rest of the group includes names like Jaroslav Halak, Peter Mrazek, Eddie Lack and Andrew "The Hamburglar" Hammond.
With the release of Lehner and back-up goalie Chad Johnson moving on as well, the Sabres entered the off season with 24 yr. old Linus Ullmark and his 24 NHL games as their only goaltender. Buffalo GM Jason Botterill said at the end of season presser that Ullmark would be in Buffalo but never fully defined his role and as the off season is playing out, it looks as if he might be part of a 1A/1B goaltending tandem.
In which case Hutton seems like a pretty good addition to the team.
Hutton came out of UMass-Lowell and joined the Philadelphia Flyers organization as a free agent in 2010. The next three seasons would see him bounce between three different teams for two different organizations before getting his first-ever NHL start for the Blackhawks. He would move on to the Nashville Predators organization as a back-up to Pekka Rinne. In three years with the Preds Hutton appeared in 66 games posting a 33-23-12 record with a 2.55 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage.
After Nashville it was on to St. Louis and an opportunity to land the starter's job. But after two seasons the Blues settled on Jake Allen and Hutton is now on the move again, although this time he has some pretty impressive numbers to negotiate with. Last season the well-travelled journeyman went 17-7-3 with a 2.09 GAA and .931 sv% for the Blues.
The fit is good for Buffalo, but the price tag for his services might be steep as initial reports had him with a possible three-year deal at a $4 million cap-hit. Those numbers seem to have come down a bit with the three-year term remaining but with a price tag of $10-11 million, which is still pretty high for a career backup who may be looked upon in a 1A/1B role.
However, it's a thin market and as many as eight teams were said to be after his services so that's the price Buffalo will need to pay if they want him.
From what's been printed, Hutton is said to be a great locker room guy who knows his role and accepts it. He's made a long journey to get to the NHL-level and part of that was in Nashville when Sabres head coach Phil Housley was an assistant coach there. With Buffalo continuing to build with character being a necessary trait, if Hutton has that and can play his role effectively, which includes mentoring Ullmark, paying a 25-30% premium in a market like this shouldn't scare anyone away.
Word on the street is that it's not a matter of if center Ryan O'Reilly could be traded but more like when. However, until a deal is consummated, O'Reilly is still valuable to the Sabres as No. 2 behind Jack Eichel and as protection for 19 yr. old Casey Mittelstadt as he enters his first full season of pro hockey.
Botterill isn't going to give O'Reilly away but should they end up trading him there's been many thoughts on who the Sabres could get to help ease Mittelstadt's transition to the No. 2 center role. Various names have been floating around but one I haven't heard yet is that of Washington's Jay Beagle. Although he was fourth on the depth-chart amongst Washington's centers, he anchored the Captial's penalty kill unit which finished 15th in league this season and was on the ice for every key faceoff the team had.
Like Hutton, Beagle left college and has been working his way up the ranks. The University of Alaska-Anchorage product joined the Capitals' organization as a free agent and signed his entry-level deal in March, 2008. Ten years later he has himself a Stanley Cup ring to add to his Kelly Cup and Calder Cup rings.
Beagle and his linemates faced the opposition's top talents and because of it his analytics took a beating. But in doing so, according to Peter Hassett of russianmachineneverbreaks.com, "he’ll be beloved in the area for decades as the meat-and-potatoes guy who grounded the Caps depth so that the top-liners could soar. And that ain't bad.
Might not be bad for Buffalo either.