Under Pressure: Carter Hutton

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Buffalo Sabres.

The pressure on Carter Hutton won’t be coming from the money the Buffalo Sabres paid for his services on July 1.

No, general manager Jason Botterill did the team a solid by signing Hutton to a deal where he makes less than $3 million per season to be a starting goaltender in the NHL.

The risk, financially, is low.

The pressure here is solely cemented in performance. If Hutton strays too far from the career-best numbers he posted this past season in St. Louis, then trouble will be afoot in Buffalo.

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Three Questions | Building Off a Breakthrough]

Taking gambles on serviceable backup goalies, hoping that they turn into sufficient starting netminders, doesn’t always pay off (see: Scott Darling).

But with Robin Lehner not panning out, Buffalo needed to make a change. With Lehner becoming a restricted free agent (with no intention of qualifying him) and with Hutton available for the taking as an unrestricted free agent, the Sabres took the leap, as did Hutton.

Hutton comes into a Sabres team that looks vastly different from the team that gave up the third most goals-against in the league last year and the team that put up the least run support in the NHL.

Rasmus Dahlin’s arrival certainly helps on the backend, and the addition of Jeff Skinner should help out up top. More goals-for and perhaps a little more shot suppression will go a long way in Buffalo, if Hutton can perform in the task he’s been handed.

“I think for me my main goal right now is going in to win hockey games,” Hutton told NHL.com after he signed. “I’d love to get into the higher end of [50 starts] just to really give myself a goal. I think I play better when I get more minutes.”

Hutton posted a .931 save percentage last season in 32 games. It was his best season as a backup by far, posting a 17-7-3 record. They’re stellar backup numbers, for sure. But can they translate when you double the number of games played?

Hutton isn’t a proven workhorse, nor is it known how he will adjust to not having exceptional defending in front of him.

The Sabres, despite what they’ve built in front of Hutton, could be in serious trouble if he can’t.

Sure, Hutton’s contract is cheap for a starting netminder, but they have nothing proven behind him if this new marriage doesn’t work out. Linus Ullmark could very well be the future and is slated to come up from Rochester to be Hutton’s backup, but there’s no one to steady the ship should it hit turbulent waters.

All that aside, Hutton has one heck of an opportunity in front of him and if he can take those reins and run with them, he’ll be the steal of this offseason’s UFA class.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck