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Hamilton Take2: Sabres should think long, hard about trading Linus Ullmark as deadline approaches

The Sabres goaltender is an unrestricted free agent this summer, but he's showing great promise for an organization that lacks depth at the position.
Credit: AP
Buffalo Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark (35) stops New York Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad (93) during the shootout of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, April 3, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

BUFFALO, N.Y. — With the NHL trade deadline approaching fast, what should the Sabres do with Linus Ullmark?

To start the season he was nothing more than a backup goalie, but I felt there was still time for him to be a No. 1, and he has taken the job.

In a season where the Sabres were winless in 18 games, Ullmark is 8-5-3. His save percentage is a decent .919, which is a career high for him. Ullmark is 4-1-1 lately with a 2.19 goals against and .937 save percentage.

This is the stretch of games where he really showed he’s up for the job.

The Sabres' plan all along was to bide their time until Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was ready for the NHL. Luukkonen is 22 years old and playing in his second professional season, while Ullmark is 27 playing in his sixth pro year.

The problem with the Sabres' plan is Luukkonen is not ready for the NHL, and Ullmark will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.

This year Ullmark got a one-year contract which paid him $2.6 million. The Vancouver Canucks just handed 25-year-old Thatcher Demko a five-year, $25 million deal, and my guess is Ullmark’s agent will be looking for more because his client is the better goalie.

I’ve never been a fan of paying goaltenders huge amounts. In his day, Carey Price was a great goalie, but there’s just no way I pay a goaltender $10.5 million.

Sergei Bobrovsky is very good until it matters the most, and the Florida Panthers handed him $10 million per season.

Only 12 goalies in the NHL make more than $5 million per year. Kevyn Adams has to decide if Ullmark is one of the top 13 goalies in the NHL. That would make him slightly above average.

When I look at the 12 making more, I would say Ullmark is as good or better than Martin Jones, Jonathan Quick and Cory Schneider. Some would add Jacob Markstrom to that list.

Luukkonen is a bit of a concern to me, but I certainly haven’t given up thinking he won’t make it. Buffalo also has a very good prospect at Michigan in Erik Portillo. The 20-year-old Swedish goalie was 4-1-0 in his freshman season with the Wolverines with a 1.67 goals against and .935 save percentage. Portillo was taken in the third round of the 2019 draft.

Portillo was stuck behind junior goalie Strauss Mann. The 22-year-old was never drafted in the NHL.

The Sabres definitely need a goalie, and it would seem foolish to groom Ullmark for six seasons just to let him go.

Don’t forget, they would’ve lost him to Vegas had they not traded a sixth-round pick to the Golden Knights to take Will Carrier. I think they need to keep Ullmark if they can keep the price under $6 million per season but … Ullmark holds the cards because he can just walk after the season if he wants out.