With Anders Nilsson set to hit free agency, the Buffalo Sabres have a potential job open behind Robin Lehner for the NHL team. While Linus Ullmark was expected by many to make the jump and fill that role, Michael Russo of the Star Tribune has heard that Chad Johnson is “very likely” to return instead. Johnson of course played for the Sabres in 2015-16 before heading to Calgary, and put up a very strong season in 45 games.
Starting in 40 games that season (the most of his career) Johnson registered a .920 save percentage and was considered a potential tandem starter on the open market. That’s what he found in Calgary with Brian Elliott, and many would say he saved their season while Elliott was going through a bad stretch of inconsistent performance. Though he’d only start 36 games, Johnson would register an acceptable if uninspiring .910 saver percentage. Now, with a career mark of .915 he would be among the top names to backup nearly every starter in the league but knows that in Buffalo he has the chance to steal some playing time once again.
Though Lehner is clearly the starter for now in Buffalo and should be after the team used a first-round pick to acquire him from Ottawa, there have been inconsistencies in his game as well. The 25-year old at times clashed with Dan Bylsma and has been criticized for his poor performance in the shootout this year, but is also one of the most purely talented goaltenders in the league and registered a very solid season this year. Bringing Johnson in would be more about protecting Lehner with a quality backup and allowing Ullmark to continue developing in the minor leagues.
Johnson ranked 35th on our list of free agents, where we projected him to receive a two-year contract worth a total of $3MM. The goaltender is actually currently under contract with the Arizona Coyotes, after being included in the Mike Smith trade in order to give the Coyotes a goaltender to protect in the expansion draft.