Buffalo Sabres' Goalie Situation Could Be Beneficial If Handled Properly

By Tyler Scales
BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 16: Nathan Lieuwen #50 of the Buffalo Sabres follows the play while Thomas Vanek #20 of the Montreal Canadiens circles the net on March 16, 2014 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. The game marked Lieuwen's NHL debut after he replaced injured goaltender Jhonas Enroth in the second period. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

While having three quality goalies would make any NHL team happy, it can prove to be more trouble than good. Traditionally speaking, hockey teams have two roster spaces available for goalies. This delegation can become spotty if there is more talent than there is room to put it. This is the exact issue that the Buffalo Sabres could have found themselves in. Jhonas Enroth, Michal Neuvirth and Matt Hackett are the top three goalies for the Sabres right now. Enroth has been the only consistent name for the Sabres in the past few years, as Neuvirth has just arrived in a trade with the Washington Capitalsand Hackett has been in the AHL making his way to the Sabres via the Minnesota Wild. When things were looking to be sealed and finished for the Sabres in regards to the goalie position, both Enroth and Neuvirth went down with injuries in quick succession. In an emergency relief effort, Hackett secured a victory over the Edmonton Oilers and has seemingly managed to stick his name in the conversation for possibly staying with the NHL team. In 28 games with the Sabres this season, Enroth has recorded a 4-17-5 record with a stat-line of .911 SV percent, 2.82 GAA. While those stats are obviously not at an elite level, they are relatively solid for a goalie playing for the league’s last place team. In two games with the Sabres since being traded, Neuvirth is sitting on a 0-2-0 record with a stat-line of .949 SV percent, 2.56 GAA. It is very rare to see a goalie with a losing record, let alone a winless record, while holding a save percentage around .950. This speaks wonders as to the potential of Neuvirth. One clear example of this potential was his 51 save performance against the Carolina Hurricanes. In his only career start for the Sabres, Hackett recorded an impressive 3-1 victory over the Oilers while posting a stat-line of .972 SV percent, 1.00 GAA. While this is a very limited example, this game can stand alone as a statement to Hackett’s potential. This is a very difficult scenario to find yourself in as a hockey team. Depending on how the injury situation works itself out, the club can handle the situation in many different ways. Considering the season is all but over for the Sabres, there is one way of handling this situation that stands above the others when it comes to preparing for next season. With Enroth having been with the team for years, his potential is already known. As such, the Sabres should send him down to the AHL for the remainder of the season and let Neuvirth and Hackett compete for the second roster spot next season. This will not only show Enroth that his job is most likely safe, but it will also create friendly competition among the two new goaltenders, which will spark the team’s confidence as a whole. In addition to sparking the team’s confidence, a friendly competition between Neuvirth and Hackett could have a hidden benefit as well. Depending on how things work out for the remainder of the season, trade potential could arise from this type of competition. If Neuvirth and Hackett both continue to play at the rate they have shown so far this season in a Sabres uniform, this could open the possibility for a trade early next season. Worst case scenario would be that one of the two goaltenders falters and shows his true colors. In that case, Enroth will be waiting in the wings down in the AHL, ready to come up and fill in for the remainder of the season at that point. Best case scenario would be that both of the new Sabres goalies perform at an impressive rate, which would create a potential trade opportunity for the Sabres’ front office. This trade potential does not end with Neuvirth and Hackett, though. If both goaltenders show they have what it takes to bring the Sabres to the next level, the Sabres veteran Enroth could be a trade target as well. This would usher in a new era for the Sabres in goal, and could take them one step closer to the playoffs.

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