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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

Masks of Jake Allen, Carter Hutton to honor kids impacted by cancer

St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues will hold their Hockey Fights Cancer night during their game against the Los Angeles Kings on Friday, and both goalies, Jake Allen and Carter Hutton, will be sporting special masks.

Allen, who will back up, saw the concept for his mask design created by Alex Pietrangelo’s niece, Ellie Kannel. Three years ago she was diagnosed with a form of kidney cancer that affects mostly children. Along with a Hockey Fights Cancer logo, the Blue Note and a snake drawing done by Ellie, the names of children who have been affected by cancer will also be featured, thanks to a gorgeous paint job by Jason Livery of Head Strong Grafx.

There will be close to 400 names of kids who have battled cancer on Hutton’s mask when he starts versus the Kings. In the design of the “I Fight For…” cards that players and staff have filled out during the NHL’s Hockey Fights Cancer month, the mask is a stunning reminder of just how many people the disease touches.

“It’s definitely powerful,” said Hutton via the Blues website. “For them to be able to individualize it with every kid on there, they’ve been through so many battles in their life, it’s going to be a great honor to wear their name. When you see how much cancer affects everyone on a day-to-day basis, I’m just happy to be part of it.”

Created by Jesse Acciacca of Jesse’s Custom Designs, Hutton’s mask will be donated to Friends of Kids with Cancer and will be auctioned off in the future. Allen’s will be up for bid during the team’s Casino Night last this season benefiting St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

The Blues as a team will be wearing bedazzled jerseys during warm-ups in honor of the late Ari Dougan, an 11-year-old who passed away last month following an eight-year battle with cancer. She had formed a very close bond with Vladimir Tarasenko over the last few years and the star forward and Dougan’s family will take part in the pre-game faceoff.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Sabres hire Allen to replace Irbe as goalie coach

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The Buffalo Sabres rounded out Dan Bylsma’s coaching staff on Friday, hiring former Chicago Blackhawks goalie development boss Andrew Allen as their new goalie coach.

Allen, 38, replaces the outgoing Arturs Irbe.

A former AHL and ECHL netminder, Allen was with Chicago for the last four seasons, spending the majority of his time tutoring netminders with the club’s AHL affiliate in Rockford. During Allen’s tenure, a number of solid backups rose through the ranks: Carter Hutton (now Pekka Rinne’s No. 2 in Nashville), Antti Raanta (now Henrik Lundqvist’s backup in New York) and Scott Darling (now Corey Crawford’s backup in Chicago).

In Buffalo, Allen will work with newly-acquired starter Robin Lenher and No. 2 Chad Johnson, acquired at last season’s trade deadline.

With this hire, Bylsma’s staff is now complete — Allen will join assistant coaches Terry Murray, Dave Barr and Dan Lambert on the Sabres’ bench.

Preds sign Saros, Rinne’s backup at Worlds

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The Nashville Predators announced that they have signed goaltender Juuse Saros to a three-year, entry-level contract.

Saros, 20, was taken with the 99th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He’s coming off of a strong season in the Finnish league where he posted a 2.14 GAA and .929 save percentage in 47 games with HPK Hameenlinna. That’s after he was 2013-14 Finnish Elite League Rookie of the Year with a 1.76 GAA and .928 save percentage in 44 games.

On the international stage, Saros led Finland to a gold medal in the 2014 World Juniors. He also was Pekka Rinne’s understudy in the 2015 World Championship. That role didn’t lend itself to much playing time, but when he was called into service against Slovakia, he earned a shutout by turning aside 22 shots.

Rather than once again become Rinne’s backup, Saros is more likely to be given a chance to adjust to North American hockey while honing his skills in the minors during the 2015-16 campaign. Nashville already has Carter Hutton inked to a one-way contract, although the 29-year-old goaltender’s deal will expire after the 2015-16 campaign, so if Saros has a strong season then perhaps he’ll be viewed as a serious candidate for the backup job at that time.

Preds re-sign goalie Mazanec: one year, $575K

The Nashville Predators have brought back one of their young goaltending prospects, re-signing Marek Mazanec to a one-year, two-way deal worth $575,000 at the NHL level.

Mazanec, 23, made his big-league debut during the 2013-14 season in the wake of Pekka Rinne’s hip injury, getting significant minutes in tandem with Carter Hutton. The Czech netminder earned NHL Rookie of the Month honors for November that year and finished with a .902 save percentage and 2.80 GAA, but then spent almost all of this season in AHL Milwaukee with Rinne and Hutton filling the Preds’ No. 1 and 2 spots.

Mazanec did appear in a pair of games for the Preds this season, allowing just four goals on 47 shots.

With Rinne and Hutton both under contract for next season — the latter’s heading into his final year, the former’s locked in through 2019 — Mazanec will probably spend next season as a workhorse in Milwaukee, and on-call for spot duty in Nashville.