Buffalo Sabres Goaltending: A Review

We are five short weeks away from the start of the Buffalo Sabres regular season.  While Sabres fans bleed blue and gold all year, you may be looking for a little more Sabres action in your life to help get you by until puck drop.  For the next six weeks, I will be highlighting intriguing organizational situations to get you amped for this season. 

 #6: Goaltending

Diehard Sabres fans will never forget the likes of Steve Shields, Mika Norenen, and Dwayne Roloson - solid backups who played important roles on different Sabres teams.  The truth of the matter is that there has been major stability in the goaltending position in Buffalo for the past twenty years.  As I look back two decades in Buffalo Sabres history, I realize that there are ONLY THREE mainstay starters here in the Queen City (Hasek, Biron, Miller).

Although I am not comparing the quarterback position to the goaltending position, I would like to gently remind you of the instability the Buffalo Bills have had at the quarterback position during the same time frame.  Where do I start?  Todd Collins, Flutie, Rob Johnson, Drew Bledsoe, JP Losman. Am I done yet? No. Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and now E.J Manuel.  BREAKING NEWS: People are not thrilled with EJ Manuel.

All I am saying is that we know how brutal the past twenty years have been in Bills history.  Though the Sabres may not have been stacking up Ws in the last few years either, we can take some comfort knowing that fans have enjoyed top notch performance at a critical position over the past two decades.


Dominik Hasek

1993-2001 (Started & Member of Organization)

Career Sabres Statistics- 234 Wins -- .926 Sv% -- 2.22 GAA

5 Vezina Trophies

1999 Playoff Statistics (Made Stanley Cup)

.939 GAA – 1.77 GAA in 19 Playoff Games

Arguably the greatest Sabres player of all time, Hasek made some of the most incredible saves you will ever see.  Seriously, if you are bored go watch Hasek highlights.  The stats say it all for “The Dominator”, who is entering the 2014 Hockey Hall of Fame  on November 17th alongside the like of Peter Forsberg and Mike Modano. 


Martin Biron

Biron - The Herd Report.png

1999-2004 (Started)

1995-2007 (Member of Organization)

300 GP-153 wins w/Buffalo

.909 SV% and a 2.53 GAA w/Buffalo

Biron was drafted with the 16th overall pick in the 1995 NHL Draft.  Although he never saw consistent playing time with the big league club until 1999-2000, he played in three games in 1995 under head coach Ted Nolan.  Both Teddy Nolan and Biron are back in Buffalo nineteen years later after making various stops around the NHL.  Biron is now the Director of Goaltending for the Harborcenter Academy of Hockey in Downtown Buffalo while Ted Nolan is back behind the bench as the Head Coach. 

Although not spectacular like Hasek, Martin Biron was solid and a fan favorite.  Biron never gained consistent playing time until the departure of Dominik Hasek before the 2001-2002 season.  In his first full year as a starter, he played in 72 games and boasted a 2.22 GAA.  He then served as the full time starter until Ryan Miller knocked him off during the magical 2005-2006 season (The 2004-2005 season never happened due to the NHL Lockout).

It’s surprising to know that Biron was the full time starter in only three seasons, although his career here lasted for the better part of nine seasons.  He appeared in 300 games as a member of the Buffalo Sabres before moving on to play for the Flyers, Islanders and Rangers.


Ryan Miller

2005-2013 (Started)

2000-2013 (Member of Organization)

284 Wins (Most in Sabres History)

.916Sv%----2.60GAA

      (with Buffalo)

Fun Fact: Miller is only three years younger than Martin Biron.

I am not going to bore you with the story of Ryan Miller as it seems he left two days ago, but I will remind you of the great stability he brought to the goaltending position throughout the duration of his career in Buffalo.  He was the cornerstone of my favorite time in sports history.  If you are a Buffalo Sabres fan and under the age of 25, I am 100% certain that your favorite time in the history of Buffalo sports was the 2005-2006 season where the Buffalo Sabres were unbelievable.  Buffalo went 52-24-6 and was THIS close to making the Stanley Cup Finals.  We all remember.  What you may not remember was how awesome Ryan Miller performed.  The young phenom from Michigan State held a record of 30-14-3 and helped Buffalo earn a deep playoff run.  Miller took the starting gig from Martin Biron that year and the rest is history.

Miller was chosen by Buffalo in the 5th round of the 1999 NHL draft.  Solid value.  He holds more Sabres records than you might expect.  For example, Ryan Miller has FIFTY more career wins as a Sabres player than Hasek does.  Throughout his 11-year career in Buffalo, Ryan Miller has given Sabres fans something to cheer about.  Some will point out the down points to Miller’s career such as the below average year he had in 2012-2013 when he posted a career worst .915 SV percentage. 

Miller was traded to St. Louis at the trade deadline last season and signed a nice contract with the Vancouver Canucks this past offseason.  I wish him the best of luck as he has provided the WNY and USA hockey community (Olympics 2010) with plenty of great moments and memories.


2014

2013-14 was unlike any other year in Sabres history.  Buffalo was the worst team in the NHL, but there was also a goaltending record set by the franchise.  After the trade of Ryan Miller, the goaltending position turned into a carousel of a nightmare as there seemed to be a new goalie injured each night.  As an NHL all time record, nine goaltenders suited up for the Sabres in the 2013-14 season.  Can you guess them all?  Answers listed at the end of the article.* 

Heading into this season marks certain unfamiliarity at the goaltending position.  For the first time in nine seasons, the Buffalo Sabres are entering training camp without a clear cut, #1 starter.  The battle will be between Jonas Enroth and newcomer Michael Neuvirth.  Enroth has proven to be a solid backup for Ryan Miller the past 3.5 seasons and has put together some fantastic stretches of play in Miller’s absence. 

Neuvirth is more of the unknown heading into training camp.  He was expected much more playing time before an injury derailed his season just two games into his tenure in Buffalo.  Though he was 0-2 in those games, he only allowed 5 goals in out of an unbelievable 98 shots. Neuvirth and Enroth were both chosen in the second round of the 2006 NHL entry draft (Neuvrth 34th, Enroth 46th).  Both are 26 years old and have had very similar careers although the experience edge goes to Neuvirth.  You may remember the solid year Michael Neuvirth put together in 2010-2011 as he went 27-12-4 in the regular season as he led Washington to 48 total wins and a number 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.  Although Washington was upset in the 1st round, Nevirth appeared on his way to a long successful starting career in the NHL.  Injuries allowed young gun Braden Holtby to showcase his skills in Washington and Neuvirth was never able to regain his starting position.  Neuvirth was traded to Buffalo at the deadline last season and looks to recapture his career. 

Cap Numbers—Both Enroth and Neuvirth are free agents at the end of the season. Neuvirth doubles Enroth in salary as he is scheduled to earn 2.5 million while Enroth will make 1.25 million. 

Although Sabres fans saw flashes of potential with young Rochester netminders last season, I would not expect Nathan Lieuwen, Matt Hackett or Andrey Makarov to see significant ice time through the first half of the seasonIn my opionion, one goalie will be traded at the deadline, allowing an opportunity for a guy like Mararov or Lieuwan a consistant opportunity later in the season. 

*2013-2014 Buffalo Sabres Goaltenders:

Ryan Miller, Jonas Enroth, Matt Hackett, Nathan Liewen, Andrey Makarov, Michael Neuvirth, Connor Knapp, Jaroslav Halak, and who could forget Ryan Vinz.