OPINION: Future for Linus Ullmark looks cloudy

Ullmark will be an unrestricted free agent after the season
75756A5E-120A-4932-810C-2FD980DB785E

Here comes the NHL Trade Deadline, less than one week away.

The Buffalo Sabres are, of course, sellers going into April 12 and are fully expected to move pending unrestricted free agents Taylor Hall and Brandon Montour.

However, one soon-to-be free agent is getting very little trade talk in the media.

Linus Ullmark.

Ullmark is on an expiring contract and can hit the open market after the season, if he so chooses.

TSN hockey insider Darren Dreger reported this week that the Sabres have received calls on Ullmark, including from the Leafs. However, general manager Kevyn Adams views him as a "foundational player."

There are several ways the next few months can go for Ullmark and the Sabres.

Trade

In what now seems to be an unlikely scenario, due to how Adams views Ullmark, the Sabres could trade their starting goaltender at the deadline, as to not risk losing him for nothing in free agency.

Given there are several contending teams in the NHL that need to add in net like the Leafs, Avalanche, Capitals, etc., there would be a competitive market for Ullmark's services.

In fact, should the Sabres decide to move Ullmark, he'd be one of the hottest names available.

I can give you all types of metrics that show how great of a season Ullmark is having, but I'm not sure I have to go further than the fact that he has a winning record (8-5-3) on one of the worst Sabres teams we've ever laid eyes on.

If you want the stats too, here's how highly Ullmark ranks this year in the NHL at 5-on-5, among goalies who have played at least 300 minutes:

- Save percentage: 7th (.938)
- High-danger save percentage: 5th (.875)
- Goals saved above average*: 6th (7.97)

* - Goals saved above average is the amount of goals a goalie has saved compared to the league average save percentage with the same amount of shots-against.

Looking at TSN's Trade Bait list for the deadline, you really don't find goalies available with production as good as Ullmark's.

Goalies on the list include Jonathan Bernier, Chris Driedger, Devan Dubynk, and Darcy Kuemper.

Driedger is the only one having a better season than Ullmark, but he has just 28 career NHL starts under his belt. Ullmark would be a much more trustworthy option for a contending team.

Re-sign

The ideal scenario for the Sabres and Adams would be Ullmark returning to Buffalo on a contract extension. There's just nothing in net behind him that could play in the NHL next season.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was a highly-touted prospect, but his development has stalled since undergoing double hip surgery in 2019. In 11 games for the Rochester Americans this season, Luukkonen has an .893 save percentage.

There is, of course, still hope for Luukkonen becoming the Sabres' franchise goaltender, but he doesn't appear to be anywhere near ready to make the leap to the NHL in the 2021-22 season.

Meanwhile, Carter Hutton is a free agent, thank goodness.

Dustin Tokarski is the only Sabres goalie under contract, but he is nothing more than an AHL goaltender at this point in his career.

It's Ullmark, or start over.

With the Sabres having no other goalies, Ullmark having a career year, and Adams viewing him as a "foundational player," his next contract is in line to be pricey.

When I first started thinking about what an Ullmark contract would look like, it was something in the ballpark of three years at $3 million per-year.

Now, I'm beginning to think that's naive of me.

At the bare minimum, Ullmark is going to cost the Sabres $4 million per-year. Comparable players like Elvis Merzlikins in Columbus and Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper in Arizona all make north of $4 million.

Ullmark could also run up the Sabres' price if they have to pay a Sabres-premium.

The team is in such a dark place that I'm not ready to assume anyone would sign or re-sign for less than an overpayment.

To add to that, this is a weak free agent class for goalies coming up. Avalanche netminder Philipp Grubauer is having his best season as a pro and if he doesn't re-sign in Colorado, he will be the top name on the market.

I'd peg Ullmark right after, if not in front of Grubauer.

Veterans Frederik Andersen, Pekka Rinne, and Jaroslav Halak are all intriguing, but I'd bet Ullmark gets more money than any of them, in part because of his age.

If Ullmark loves it in Buffalo and wants an assured workload, he might sign here for market value.

If Ullmark is sick of losing and wants to play for a contender, it'll cost the Sabres more than what he's worth to keep him around.

That's the worst case scenario. If Ullmark just wants to go to a team with a winning culture, the Sabres will either overpay him to stay, or lose a guy they could've had valuable pieces for at the deadline for nothing.

If that situation comes about, Adams will have a tough decision to make. Overpay Ullmark, or start over in net.

We strive to be a platform where varying opinions may be voiced and heard. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed by the author(s) of this article and/or by those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not represent those of Audacy, Inc. We are not responsible for any damages or losses arising from this article and/or any comment(s).