Friday, October 09, 2015

Three Goalie Remedy? Buffalo's Loss of Lehner is the Perfect Storm for Calgary

For Flames general manager Brad Treliving and his well-publicized three-goalie conundrum in net, what happened Thursday night in Buffalo is the exact scenario he's been patiently waiting for.

Sabres starting goalie Robin Lehner exited the game 7:30 into the second period with a leg injury after he fell to the ice and needed to be helped off by the trainer. After the game, he was spotted with a cast on and Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said that while further evaluation is still needed, he didn't think the injury was minor.

Here are six reasons why three days into the season, the Sabres should already be scouring the market for an established goaltender and why Calgary would be an ideal trade partner.

1. Lehner was the Clearcut Starter

Lehner was Buffalo's No. 1 goalie, no question. Picked up in June from Ottawa along with veteran forward David Legwand in exchange for a first round draft pick, the 24-year-old Swede is in the second year of a three-year, $6.675 million deal and it was going to be his crease this season.

The back-up in Buffalo is journeyman Chad Johnson and this was not one of those 1a/1b type of situations. Johnson is the No. 2, that's all he's been in his NHL career, and it's sure to stay that way.

2. Johnson is Not a No. 1 Goalie

Johnson is a 29-year-old that was originally drafted in the fifth round of the 2006 draft by the Penguins. Since moving on from Pittsburgh, he's now in his fifth organization in five years. That's right, the old 'five in five' which is what earns you the label of "journeyman".

Johnson has started 48 NHL games in his career:
  • 2009-10 to 2012-13 - 1-2-1 in 4 starts with NYR
  • 2012-13 - 2-0-2 in 4 starts with Phx
  • 2013-14 - 17-4-3 in 23 starts with Bos
  • 2014-15 - 8-8-1 in 17 starts with NYI
  • 2015-16 - Now with Buf

Johnson is on a one-year deal that pays him $1.3 million.

3. Buffalo Has Plenty of Cap Space

According to General Fanager, the Sabres payroll is just under $61.9 million. That leaves them with over $9.5 million in cap space and more than enough room to absorb salary that would come with any goaltender they bring in.

It doesn't mean Calgary won't be able to get a deal done without retaining some salary for either Karri Ramo (on a one-year $3.8 million deal) or Jonas Hiller (making $4.5 million in second year of a two-year deal), but cap space certainly isn't going to be an issue here.

As a reminder, the CBA allows for the Flames to retain up to 50 percent of a player's salary in a trade.

4. Not Much in the System

The Sabres two goalies with Rochester in the AHL are Nathan Lieuwen and Andrey Makarov.
  • Lieuwen, 24, who was drafted out of Kootenay (WHL) in the 6th round of 2011, is in his third pro season. He's spent most of that time with the Americans but has made five NHL starts, going 1-4-0 two years ago with a 2.98 GAA and .906 SV%.

However, Lieuwen is coming off a mediocre year in the AHL in which he was 4-9-0 with a 3.29 GAA and .883 SV%.

  • Makarov, 22, who was undrafted, is also in his third pro season. The Russian spent most of his first year in the ECHL with Fort Wayne before becoming Rochester's No. 1 last year and putting up a 16-18-3 record with a 2.91 GAA and .905 SV%.

Looking at both of their resumes, one could easily conclude that in regards to being thrust into the NHL for anything longer than an emergency situation, they're both just not ready.

5. Sabres Have a Plethora of Draft Picks to Spend

Thanks to the Jhonas Enroth deal, the Ryan Miller deal, the Brian Flynn deal, the Torey Mitchell deal, the Sabres have four extra draft picks in 2016 as well as all seven of their own picks. Those 11 draft picks break down like this:
  • 1st round - 1
  • 2nd round - 1
  • 3rd round - 3 (SJ, Stl picks also)
  • 4th round - 1
  • 5th round - 2 (Mtl pick also)
  • 6th round - 1
  • 7th round - 2 (Mtl pick also)

In fact, look ahead to 2017 if necessary and the Sabres have all their picks for that draft too along with an additional 2nd round pick from Minnesota, which was acquired in the Chris Stewart trade.

In other words, Buffalo has plenty of draft picks available to use as currency when shopping for a goalie to replace Lehner should his injury be serious.

6. Motivated to Be Better This Season

Last year, a loss of a goaltender to an injury was not nearly as big of a concern as the Sabres were destined for last place anyway and had Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in their crosshairs.

It's a different situation now.

They drafted Eichel and they've brought in Evander Kane, Ryan O'Reilly and Cody Franson. Highly-touted Sam Reinhart, 2nd overall pick in 2014, is also in the line-up this year. Under new coach Bylsma, the Sabres should be a much improved team and as they begin the long journey back to respectability, they won't get very far down that road without a No. 1 goalie.

Final Thoughts

So while Buffalo GM Tim Murray is the ideal trading partner for Treliving, you wonder which of the two veteran goalies would be most attractive to the Sabres. It would be hard to imagine Calgary trading away 24-year-old rookie Joni Ortio, the third player in the Flames crowded goal crease, so it surely comes down to Hiller or Ramo if a deal gets down.

If you're the Sabres and you're going by the old 'watch the games' eye test, it's probably Hiller, 33, that would be most coveted. Conveniently, both played once against Buffalo last season and with mixed results as the two teams split their season series. 
  • Buffalo won 4-3 at home on Dec. 11, 2014 - Flames fans will remember that night. Calgary outshot the Sabres 45-19 but Ramo was not good and the Sabres scored at 7:59 and 12:31 of the third period to overcome a 3-2 third period deficit and post a come-from-behind victory.
  • Calgary won 4-1 at home on Jan. 27, 2015 - Hiller got the call on this night and was nearly perfect, stopping 17 of 18 shots.

Considering the way Wednesday night went for Ramo when the 29-year-old was beaten five times on 44 shots by the Canucks in the season-opener, you'd think Hiller would be Buffalo's preferred choice. He does have the far more extensive NHL resume. But, where is Calgary's headspace at this morning?

Ramo was the guy here not that many days ago as indicated by the Finn getting the opening night start. But after his performance that night -- although it was a shoddy performance by the entire team -- has their viewpoint changed? Yesterday, coach Bob Hartley said that Hiller would start Saturday night in Vancouver.

Maybe it comes down to which one commands the biggest return and that would surely be Hiller. The Flames may know in their own mind which one they want to keep but the Sabres are the consumer here so you have to keep their shopping interests in mind also or else they could go to a different store altogether and pursue someone like Ben Scrivens instead. Calgary is the best trade partner for the Sabres, but they aren't the only possibility.

What would make this a good deal for the Sabres is Hiller and Ramo are both on expiring contracts. Lehner would still be the guy in Buffalo when healthy again but should he be out for an extended period, this would be an ideal short-term solution that comes with no long-term commitment.

I'd be surprised if Treliving, known to be an early riser, hasn't already been in touch with Murray. It really is the perfect situation for the Flames, let's see if they can hammer something out so mercifully, we can all move on from the topic of three goalies in Calgary which frankly, I'm tired of talking about. I'm sure you've grown weary of hearing about it too.

By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.


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  1. You would have to figure that this is one of those situations that has "No Brainer" written all over it.

    I would not be shocked if a deal was consummated before the Flames next game.

    1. Determining the diagnosis and time frame for Lehner is certainly the first thing that needs to still happen but if it is a long-term injury as speculated, you're correct in that it seems like it should be a no-brainer. The only roadblock I see and it could be a big one is if the Sabres want to acquire the same guy that the Flames have decided they want to keep. But I'm not sure when a better need/opportunity will come up so I'll be surprised if something between these two teams doesn't get done, even if one of the two teams has to settle for their second choice.

    2. Great article as always, Darren. However, neither goalie is a proven number one tender and I think the Sabres could do better. Dallas might work and Scrivens is available, both at least equal options to Hiller and Ramo.

    3. Thanks for the comment. If the team is seeking a veteran with an established body of work, I would think Hiller would be more sought after than Scrivens. I don't see Dallas as a trade partner because not much comfort in Lehtonen there and they brought in Niemi as a result but also not deep enough to part with Lehtonen.

  2. Lehner out 6-10 weeks. Let's hope BT can work something out sooner rather than later. Hiller has looked sharp in the early going.

    1. Interesting how Chad Johnson struggled badly (7 goals on 26 shots) the next day after Buffalo chose not to claim Ramo on waivers. Maybe a trade will still work out with Calgary retaining some salary.