Buffalo’s goaltender shopping began with the decision that they wouldn’t be bringing back Robin Lehner. It seems they want to eventually hand over the keys to the city to Linus Ullmark but also want a veteran goalie capable of providing him some buffer.
Before digging in much further, what, exactly, happened here? Over Lehner’s tenure in Buffalo, he had a higher five-on-five save percentage than Semyon Varlamov, Tuukka Rask, Cory Schneider, and Cam Talbot. His expected five-on-five save percentage was second in the league. His all-strengths save percentage was .916, above the league average, and that was behind abysmal teams with abysmal blue lines. Unless there were some sort of off-ice issues between him and the coaches, or he just wanted out, getting rid of him doesn’t seem to make much sense. Buffalo instead felt the need to sign a goalie going into his age-33 season with one good year under his belt. But I digress.
For those subscribing to The Athletic, Ryan Stimson had a nice breakdown of Hutton a couple days ago.
Regardless, going from St. Louis, where they have one defenceman with three top-10 Norris finishes in his career and another who could do the same over the next 10 years, to Buffalo, where the best defenceman might be an 18-year old, is a change; Buffalo was mid-pack in expected goals against last year whereas St. Louis had the third-lowest mark. Barring changes, Hutton will be behind a team which is significantly worse defensively, making a repeat of anything close to his 2017-18 season a longshot.
There’s also the worry of the penalty kill. St. Louis, again, was one of the best teams in limiting chances on the PK in 2017-18. Buffalo was mid-pack. Another instance where the situation has worsened for Hutton.
It’s a question, really, of how many starts he gets. As stated, Ullmark seems to be the goaltender of the future, it’s just a matter of when the team decides that future is. Christmas? March? Next year? Hutton is going to be 33 years old in December and has never appeared in half the games in a season, and his career high is 34 starts back in 2013-14. Can he handle 55 starts?
For my money, I would rather take Ullmark as a fourth goalie in my 12-team leagues than Hutton as a 2nd or early 3rd. There may be a start split in favour of Hutton, but it’s probably closer to 50 than to 60. Given the quality of the team, it seems smarter to take a flier on the backup than spend significant draft capital in the starter.
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