The Sabres have two clear objectives as it pertains to the goalie position next year:
1.) No established goalie should block Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen from being an NHL starter next year.
2.) No established goalie should block the path for Devon Levi or Erik Portillo to find their way to the NHL in the foreseeable future.
The Sabres will likely not look for an established goalie with an NHL contract that spans more than one - or at the very most, two - seasons. Kevyn Adams said as much when he spoke to the media following the conclusion of the 2021-22 campaign:
“In terms of the big picture, I’m really excited about the internal answers we have here within the organization for down the road,” he said. “We’ll look at different options, but what we won’t do is do something to box ourselves out or that maybe we would be uncomfortable down the road because we’re doing something because we have to do it right now. We’ll balance all that.”
So, yeah, it’s looking like fans will see a bridge goalie to come aboard for next season while management tries to find out if UPL can withstand the rigors of an NHL season as a starting goalie. That is the implicit and explicit goal for the coming year. So, for the purposes of our discussion regarding the other goalie on the roster, the trade candidates mentioned hereafter must meet two criteria:
1.) The goalie must not be signed for more than two years
2.) The goalie must make under $5m per season
Adams didn’t say they wouldn’t spend more than $5 million, but it’s perfectly clear that the Sabres have no intention of spending any real money this offseason following the acquisition of Ben Bishop’s dried husk 10 days ago in a move that helps the Sabres get to the salary cap floor. The acquisition cost of these goalies should also be minimal as management is keen to hoard as many draft picks as humanly possible, so while a low acquisition cost isn’t one of the musts on our list, it is certainly a real consideration. These ideas do not necessarily represent the best ideas, but rather they are some of the most realistic options to acquire a goalie via trade given the Sabres stated (and unstated) criteria.
With that in mind, Allons-y:
James Reimer, San Jose Sharks
The first thing that springs to mind when perusing Reimer’s Capfriendly page is that he has a 5-team no-trade clause. The Sabres are bad, so one would think that he wouldn’t be inclined to play for Kevyn Adams’s squad. The other way to look at it is that he used to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs and perhaps being in the same division as his former team would be an enticing thought for the Manitoba native.
As for his on-ice play?
Nothing too spectacular as he just finished his second stint with San Jose, with stops in Florida and Carolina sandwiched in the middle. The 34-year-old has amassed a .913 career save percentage and has one year left on his deal at $2.7 million. The acquisition cost is likely low and it paves a clear runway for the Sabres youngsters. This one makes some sense if the Sabres aren’t on his no-no list.
Laurent Brossoit, Vegas Golden Knights
Brossoit had an injury plagued, mediocre season with the Vegas Golden Knights as he played 24 games and collected an .895 save percentage in the process. The Golden Knights are still in search of some cap space, even following their acquisition of Shea Weber’s $7.8m contract which will help them stay quote-un-quote cap compliant for the next four seasons, thanks to the NHL’s ludicrous LTIR rules.
Brossoit had a couple solid seasons in Winnipeg (2018-19: 21gp, 2.52 GAA, .925 SV%; 2020-21: 14 GP 2.42 GAA, .918 SV%), and if the Sabres can get the 29-year-old Canadian for free as a cap casualty when he only has one year left on his deal, well, that’s probably music to Sabres management’s ears.
Matt Murray, Ottawa Senators
The biggest problem with Murray – other than his two brutal years in Ottawa on some bad Senators teams – isn’t his no-trade clause; he was waived this season and he’d probably be willing to accept a trade to literally any place else on the planet. No, the biggest issue is that he’s owed $7 million in real money this season, followed by $8 million next season. For a Sabres team that is seemingly operating on a shoe-string budget, that doesn’t seem likely unless the Senators are willing to retain a sizable chunk of salary, and perhaps add a sweetener.
Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils
Once upon a time, Blackwood was seen as the next big thing in the Devils organization, but after two injury plagued seasons which saw him post a combined .897 save percentage over 60 games, it’s fair to wonder if New Jersey is ready to move on. On one hand, they don’t really have many better organizational options, but on the other, he’s been so bad that it may be time for a new pair of ‘tenders in Jersey.
It would provide an interesting opportunity for the Sabres to buy-in on a 25-year-old goalie who is under contract for next year at $2.8 million before becoming an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent in the summer of 2023. He’s a former second-round goaltender who would be worth a look if the acquisition price was low enough. Still, it’s hard to know exactly what Jersey has in mind for Blackwood, given that he’s still relatively young.
Cam Talbot, Minnesota Wild
Probably the best goalie on the list, Talbot still has plenty of game left at 34-years-old. He’s posted save percentages of .911, .915 and .919 over the past three regular seasons, and then the Wild went ahead and acquired Marc-Andre Fleury at the trade deadline this year. That situation got a little weird and now it’s fair to wonder which goalie the Wild will stick with moving forward. The Wild are also facing a cap crunch heading into next season following the buyouts of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise which will count a combined $12.7 million against Minnesota’s cap next season. Talbot would be a heck of a pick up for the Sabres if the Wild are keen to retain the services of MAF, but the acquisition price might be prohibitively high as other teams would undoubtedly be interested.
This idea seems too far fetched. There is no reason to believe the Wild would move Talbot, and if they do, the Sabres probably aren't interested in the acquisition price. Trading for Talbot is a contender's move given his productivity and the fact that he only has one year left on his contract.
Rapid Fire Ideas:
Brian Elliot, Tampa Bay Lightning
We heard you like old goalies. Can we interest you in a 37-year-old Brian Elliot? One year left on the deal at $900k
Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers
We heard you like really
old goalies. Can we interest you in 40-year-old Mike Smith? He’s threatening to retire despite being owed $2.5 million next season. I guess when you’ve already made $48 million in career earnings, you can call it a day whenever you’d like. The best part about Mike Smith is that every excursion outside of the crease is an unforgettable adventure.
Chris Driedger, Seattle Kraken
The Winnipeg native disappointed in his first season in the pacific northwest and now he’s out for seven months due to an injury sustained during the World Championships. He won’t play much next season and he is slated to make $3.5 million until 2024. The Sabres could pick him up to be a bridge goalie when he gets back if he agrees to waive his no-trade clause. He probably wouldn’t waive it and it’s probably not a good idea in any case.