By Bill Hoppe
Without Jhonas Enroth’s splendid job subbing for an injured Ryan Miller, without his six critical victories down the stretch that helped push the Sabres into the postseason, Darcy Regier might’ve looked for a different backup goalie this summer.
But Enroth’s dazzling play as a rookie convinced the general manager the youngster could assume the No. 2 role full time for the upcoming season, and the Sabres inked the 23-year-old, a restricted free agent, to a two-year deal Thursday worth $1.35 million, according to a Swedish newspaper.
“Without that, I don’t know that we would’ve had the same level of confidence,” Regier said inside HSBC Arena about Enroth’s late-season performance. “But he came in and played the way he played, had the record he had with Ryan being injured. (It) really gave him and gave us a lot of confidence in him.”
In his first extensive NHL action last season, Enroth’s clutch play turned heads. In 15 games, the diminutive Swede went 9-2-2 with a 2.73 goals-against average, .907 save percentage and one shutout. He set an NHL record by winning his first three games via shootout.
Enroth has averaged 54 games during his three North American seasons. Playing behind Miller could limit Enroth to 20 contests or less. If Enroth gets rusty, he could be sent to Rochester briefly.
“That’s the approach we are going take, that he will be here all year next year,” Regier said. “We’re in a position in the event that he would need a game in the minors he’s eligible to go and play a game or two games. But we’re heading into the season hoping both Ryan and him have terrific years. If that’s the case, I think it’s reasonable to think Jhonas will get enough playing time.”
Enroth’s brother, Mattias, recently tweeted contract negotiations weren’t going well.
Regier said Mark Jakubowski, his assistant, handled the contract.
“I said, ‘Mark, what would you like me to tell the media on how these negotiations went?’” Regier said. “He laughed and he said, ‘Why don’t we just leave it at long?’”
With Enroth inked, the Sabres have only one restricted free agent left, defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani.
“We will probably pick that up with a little more intensity in the next week or two,” Regier said about signing Gragnani. “Having Jhonas done and (Andrej) Sekera done, I think now we can slowly focus on Grags.”
Before the Enroth deal, the Sabres were $2,920,357 over the $64.3 million salary cap, according to capgeek.com. They can exceed the cap by up to 10 percent now and have until opening night to get under.
Regier said he’s still looking into trades.
“We talked to some teams that maybe have some needs in some areas we have depth,” Regier said. “We’ll look to see if there’s an opportunity, even where we are, to improve the team.”
Following a flurry of activity earlier this offseason, the trade market has cooled recently. Regier expects it to get going again soon, however.
“I think teams are still positioning in respect to the remaining unrestricted free agents,” he said. “So it’ll play out over the next month. I expect it’ll pick up in the latter half of August as teams kind of gear up for the season.”
Regier also said the team would like to add some scoring talent for its affiliate in Rochester.
“We got quite a bit of depth there,” he said. “But I think if we can add some scoring, it’s probably the focal point.”