Hamilton Take2: Sabers goal oriented

WGRZ/WGR550 Sabres/NHL Insider Paul Hamilton shares his thoughts on the Sabers goaltending situation.

BUFFALO, NY — Can the Buffalo Sabers make their goaltending work this season with 41-year-old Craig Anderson and 27-year-old Eric Comrie?

With Comrie, it’s not the age, it’s the NHL experience.

Last year was Comrie’s first full season in the NHL and he served as a backup to Connor Hellebuyck for the Winnipeg Jets. At age 26, Comrie played 19 of his 28 NHL games and posted very good numbers, especially his .920 save percentage. Comrie was only one of six goaltenders in the NHL that played 19 games or more with a .920 save percentage.

Comrie was a pretty good AHL goaltender and played 207 games there which usually means he’s not an NHL goalie. Sabers GM Kevyn Adams talked about how their analytics department looked at how he improved in the American Hockey League and the numbers tell them that he’s ready for this opportunity.

It doesn’t happen a lot, but some pretty good goalies didn’t start playing well in the NHL until later. As I talk about these goalies, it’s not the age when they started playing in the NHL, I’m giving you the age where they started to excel. Also, I am in no way shape, or form comparing Comrie to any of these goalies.

For the Sabres, Dominik Hasek was 28 when he finally got a starting opportunity and he never looked back. For Linus Ullmark, he was 26 and Ryan Miller was 25.

Former Rochester American Olaf Kolzig was 27, with the Washington Capitals and he severely outplayed Hasek in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals.

Tim Thomas won the Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011 and also the Conn Smythe Trophy. Thomas was 33 when he finally emerged as a top goalie.

Devan Dubnyk came out of nowhere with the Minnesota Wild at age 28. Marc-Andre Fleury and Ed Belfour were both 25 and it was Belfour that kept Hasek as a backup with the Chicago Blackhawks leading to the trade with Buffalo. What did it cost Buffalo? Stephane Beauregard and future considerations. Belfour also outplayed Hasek in the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals with the Dallas Stars.

If you really want to go back, former New York Rangers goalie Ed Giacomin didn’t round into form until he was 27, and Giacomin’s No. 1 is in the rafters at Madison Square Garden, so as far as Comrie goes, the Sabers did their homework and they believe he can handle more games in the NHL.

I have to be honest, I wasn’t really impressed with the goaltenders made available during this off-season. To me, the Comrie idea was as good as any other, but I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, this should be the year that we find out if Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen can play in the NHL. For me, it’s time. This year is an improvement year and next year is the year that if the team plan goes well, they can challenge for the playoffs, and trying to see if Luukkonen can play should already be done.

Luukkonen did well in only nine games with the Sabers last year and they need to find out if he can play. Once Anderson was signed, that idea went out the window and now he’ll be back with the Rochester Americans. Injuries will probably give Luukkonen some games in the NHL as long as Adams doesn’t decide that he wants to see more of Malcolm Subban.

If the Sabers are to improve, it has to be more than just seeing their young players grow and improve, that, of course, is a big part of it, but if the goaltending doesn’t improve, neither will the team and Terry Pegula might decide to have somebody pay the price.

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