It’s time for Guhle and Ullmark to make the jump
With no disrespect intended towards the fans in Rochester, we’ve reached the point where the Sabres are better served by having Brendan Guhle and Linus Ullmark playing in Buffalo rather than the AHL.
Sure, the let-them-grow philosophy was the correct path to take at the start of the season. Guhle showed in Sabres training camp that he was close but not quite ready, and the organization wanted to see Ullmark get in a little more time to improve on his 2016-17 numbers in the minors (.909 save percentage and 2.87 GAA).
Fast forward to the midway point of the season, and progress has clearly been made.
Guhle (7-13-20 in 36 games) ranks second in the AHL in scoring for rookie defensemen. While he’s made some mistakes typical of young players, Amerks head coach Chris Taylor has said that he’s been making them less frequently.
Part of the equation with Guhle is his elite speed and skill. Coaches have encouraged him to jump into the play offensively, mostly because he’s so fast that he’s able to get back to defend even after pinching. He’s also not shy about firing the puck on net and leads the Amerks with 92 shots on goal.
Ullmark (17-6-3) is ranked third in both save percentage (.926) and goals against average (2.33) among AHL goalies who’ve played at least 20 games. With the future of the goaltending situation uncertain in Buffalo, it makes a lot of sense to get Ullmark a good number of starts with the big club to get a true feel for what they have in him.
And, unlike with Guhle, there shouldn’t be concerns about Ullmark being too young. He’s a 24-year-old who comes from the same draft class as Matt Murray, Frederik Andersen, Connor Hellebuyck and Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The argument that Buffalo is some kind of toxic horror show, from which all young players should be shielded, has grown a bit tired. You could certainly have made that argument during the past few seasons, especially back when fans and media were fighting among themselves as the Sabres were aiming for 30th place and the best odds in the Connor McDavid lottery, but fans wearing Coyotes jerseys at KeyBank Center are no longer to be found. The environment isn’t quite as volatile these days.
In a sad sort of way, the lack of an explosive environment exists in large part because of a Sabres fan base that’s gradually, and understandably, showing an increasing level of indifference towards the team as years of failure continue to pile up. It’s reached the point where tickets on the secondary market can now be had for the cost of a beer at the game.
But all of that actually strengthens the case for having the kids up here. For the next three months, there will be very little pressure for the Sabres to win. Some Sabres fans who’ve seen Rasmus Dahlin play would actually be averse to it.
And, sure, it would be great for Guhle and Ullmark to get a taste of playoff hockey with the Amerks. That’s a no brainer, actually. But the AHL playoffs begin in mid-April, right after the Sabres clean out their lockers, so there’s no conflict there.
Guhle and Ullmark wouldn’t be viewed with the Sabres as solutions to an immediate problem; they’d be welcomed here as symbols of hope for a turnaround that doesn’t need to begin showing results in the standings until October.
That’s not a toxic environment. It’s an opportunity for these promising players to begin their transition to the NHL now, when long-suffering fans starved for hope want to see them play and aren’t as fixated on wins and losses. Seize it.