SAN JOSE, Calif. – Chad Johnson insists his preparation this week is the same as at any other point in the season. But the Buffalo Sabres backup goaltender is not naive to his circumstances either.
Johnson is expected to get the start in one of the Sabres’ next two games, either Friday night against the San Jose Sharks or Saturday at Los Angeles, and it’s likely that will be his final game in the Blue and Gold.
As an unrestricted free agent, the 29-year-old is a good bet to be dealt prior to Monday’s NHL trade deadline. And with a cap hit of only $1.3 million and some decent numbers to his season, Johnson and Toronto’s James Reimer appear to be the top available goaltenders for a contender to add in the next few days.
“You’re nervous, excited, there’s a lot of unknown,” Johnson said. “For me, I just take every day a day at a time. It’s something I’ve learned in my career. Worry about today and prepare for tomorrow.”
Johnson is 13-14-3 this season with a 2.50 goals-against average and .916 save percentage while Reimer entered Thursday at 11-12-7/2.49/.918. Reimer’s cap hit, however, is $2.3 million.
Johnson has been particularly strong since November 1, with a line of 10-8-3/2.24/928.
“I think I’ve had a pretty good year. I don’t know what the word is out there. I don’t have an inside scoop or anything like that,” he said. “I don’t hear that. I’ve felt good I’ve had some talk about my season and potential maybe to have a bigger role somewhere. I don’t really know what’s going on but for unrestricted guys around the league, I would hope I’m right up there.”
Thursday was a quiet day for the Sabres as they took a CBA-mandated day off in Northern California ahead of Friday night’s game in SAP Center. Meanwhile, General Manager Tim Murray made no moves back in Buffalo as the countdown to the deadline continues.
The Sabres have yet to play starter Robin Lehner on consecutive days, and may not do it at all this season as Lehner continues to work his way back from the high ankle sprain that sidelined him for more than three months.
It will be interesting to see which game Johnson plays because San Jose is widely believed to be a team looking to upgrade at backup goalie with Alex Stalock struggling at 2.94/.884 in his 13 appearances. Another logical landing spot could be St. Louis, which just put Brian Elliott on injured reserve this week and needs a more veteran backup to play with Jake Allen.
Johnson learned about NHL business realities last year when he was traded at the deadline from the New York Islanders to Buffalo for Michal Neuvirth. He never played for the Sabres after getting injured in a morning skate in Ottawa shortly after the trade.
“That to me was a little shock, realizing you’re joining a new team and putting on a new jersey pretty much the next day,” he said. “It’s definitely a shock. For me, this situation is little more comfortable than last year but it’s always difficult. I love this team, the organization, the fans. It’s just part of the game. I’m unrestricted and we are where we are as a team.”
Johnson had a big season backing up Tuukka Rask in Boston two years ago (17-4-3/2.10/.925), and said he feels his game is close to that level again.
“I wasn’t reliable enough last year,” he said of his time with the Islanders. “This year, I really feel I’ve been consistent all year. I feel great about my game right now, just like I felt good in Boston. But a lot of it has to do with other people’s feelings about you in other organizations. They’re the ones who decide if you can play games, if you get paid or don’t get paid.”
Johnson, who is always up for a good chat with the media, joked with reporters on this trip that he’s not paying attention to scenarios floating around.
“I’m here today and hopefully tomorrow and the next start I’ll just prepare for that and help this team win hockey games,” he said. “You can’t worry about it because it will start just messing you up. And that’s your job to sort of put out the hypotheticals of it all. That’s what you get paid for. I just worry about stopping pucks.”