The Buffalo Sabres continued a historic NHL streak, but not the kind any team would want to keep going.
For the twelfth consecutive season, there will be no playoff hockey in Western New York. Looks like Buffalo Bills season starts early. Maybe you can even wear these special Rochester Americans jerseys!
Even if they won’t compete for the Stanley Cup, there were more positives than negatives for this year’s Sabres. We’re finally starting to see a young core solidify. Tage Thompson has become nothing short of an NHL superstar.
Plus, a team that was expected to be in the Atlantic Division cellar finished with a .500 record. That’s got to count for something, right?
One of the Sabres’ biggest questions was in goal. 41-year-old Craig Anderson and the enemy of spell check, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, formed a tandem that couldn’t get the job done. I even listed the Sabres on my list of teams most held back by their goaltending.
Is Devon Levi their guy for the Buffalo Sabres?
Then came Devon Levi. The NCAA goaltending stud has put up good numbers in his short six-game audition to end the season with the Sabres. In that small sample, Levi has put up a respectable .901 save percentage and a 3.09 goals against average.
Take away Tuesday’s loss to the New Jersey Devils where he surrendered four goals, and his stats go up to a .907 save percentage and a 3.00 goals against average (Levi gave up six goals in a game against Detroit, but that still ended with a Buffalo win).
Levi’s advanced stats hint at prolonged success as well. He leads all Sabres goaltenders with 1.5 goals saved above expected through six games. Compare that to Anderson’s 1.0 goals saved above expected through 25 games.
Levi’s 0.244 goals saved above expected per 60 minutes is higher than other NHL number one goalie mainstays such as Carter Hart, Jake Oettinger, and Darcy Kuemper. Each of those three played at least 55 games.
The only goaltenders with more than five, but less than ten, games played with a better goals saved above expected are Joseph Woll of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Jaxson Strauber of the Chicago Blackhawks.
What if Buffalo isn’t impressed enough to make Levi their full-time starter? Often talked about on the trade market, John Gibson from the Anaheim Ducks remains an option. Could this be the year the rebuilding Ducks finally move Gibson?
Dan Rosen said in a previous “Over the Boards” mailbag on NHL.com that he could see Gibson as a piece that could help Buffalo immediately. However, last week, Rosen also said that he could see Levi as Buffalo’s number one.
Buffalo didn’t make any large trades at the deadline, a strategy that may have cost them the playoffs. Trading for Gibson would be the franchise’s largest trade since Jack Eichel was sent to the Vegas Golden Knights.
Next season Buffalo will be a more experienced team. Anaheim will want a lot for Gibson, but Buffalo has plenty of draft capital.
Let’s try to compare Gibson and Levi as much as we can. Remember, Levi has only played six games entering Thursday. Gibson is far behind Levi in goals saved above expected at -12.7 and goals saved above expected per 60 minutes at -0.259. That puts Gibson at 25th worst in the NHL for that category.
The only goalie with more than 50 played games that’s worse than him in that category is Ville Husso of the Detroit Red Wings.
I can forgive Gibson’s standard goaltender numbers, a 3.99 goals against average and .899 save percentage, in this comparison. Levi has a much better defense playing in front of him with the likes of Rasmus Dahlin, Owen Power, and Ilya Lyubushkin.
Maybe Anaheim has held onto Gibson for so long that his value has decreased. Maybe you have to take those numbers a bit at face value that Gibson isn’t as “elite” as he once was.
Goaltending is the Sabres’ biggest offseason question. A solid netminder is needed for them to finally end the NHL’s longest playoff drought.
The Sabres may have found their guy in Levi, but they haven’t had anyone consistent in net since Ryan Miller many seasons ago. Hopefully, Levi can change that.