The Buffalo Sabres may be utilizing a three-headed goalie the rest of the season.
Regulars Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson are both fine and practiced fully Tuesday in HarborCenter. But they were joined by Linus Ullmark, who was called up from Rochester with a clear eye to the future.
Lehner is a restricted free agent after the season and Johnson is an unrestricted free agent. Ullmark, 24, is signed through next year at a cap hit of $750,000 and it appears the Sabres want to give him a chance to get some more NHL games in before the 2017-18 campaign ends on April 7.
"We felt it was a good time to call Linus up," coach Phil Housley said after practice. "He certainly deserves to be up here. We continue to evaluate all of our players, especially our goaltenders. It's a good opportunity at this time to bring him up. He's going to get an opportunity. When that is, I don't know.
"We're going to continue to work through this with our coaching staff and Jason (GM Jason Botterill) to see the best fit. Obviously he's earned a right to be called up."
Ullmark has played one game this year for the Sabres, stopping 44 shots in a 3-1 win over Columbus on Jan. 11 in KeyBank Center. He is 20-11-10 in 42 games for the Amerks, posting career-best numbers in goals-against average (2.44) and save percentage (.923) and appearing in the AHL All-Star Game.
The Amerks are seemingly locked into their playoff slot, so veteran Adam Wilcox can hold the fort in goal in the AHL while Ullmark plays for the Sabres before returning to Rochester for the Calder Cup playoffs.
Ullmark has played 22 games with Buffalo over the last three seasons, posting a 9-11-2 record with a 2.55 GAA and .918 save percentage. Virtually all of that work came while Lehner was injured during the 2015-16 season as Ullmark went 8-10-2, 2.60/.913.
After returning to practice Tuesday for the first time in more than a month, Jack Eichel was asked his reaction to the Feb. 26 trade of standout winger and close friend Evander Kane to San Jose:
"It's the nature of the business and things like that happen," Eichel said. "Kaner is a really good guy and somebody that I'll miss. I wish him the most success out there and hopefully he does well and things work out for him. That sort of stuff is kind of out of my hands. I just focus on playing hockey and what I can control. You can just control yourself.
"I learned it my rookie year your buddies go out the door. One day they're on another team and that's what happens. It's all for the best. You just move on from it. I'm sure he enjoyed his few years here and now he's in San Jose helping them. It's something you learn to deal with. Trades, guys moving, guys getting signed in other places. It doesn't mean we won't continue our friendship. We'll continue to talk but he's on another team for now."
As a rookie, Eichel became close to veteran forward Jamie McGinn, who was dealt to Anaheim at the trade deadline. Also during that 2015-16 season, Eichel lived with Matt Moulson, who was waived in November and eventually loaned to Ontario of the AHL.
Forward Justin Bailey was suspended by the AHL for one game Tuesday as a result of a check to the head in Sunday's game against Syracuse. Bailey will sit out Thursday's game against Bridgeport before being eligible to return for Friday's game at Providence.
Bailey scored the Sabres' lone goal Saturday, his third of the season, in a 2-1 shootout loss to Vegas. He has six goals and five assists in 28 games for the Amerks.
In addition to Eichel, forwards Seth Griffith (upper body) and Evan Rodrigues (ribs) returned to practice fully on Tuesday. Housley said they will be evaluated for a possible return Thursday night. Kyle Okposo (concussion) and Kyle Criscuolo (shoulder) remain out of practice.
The lines Thursday were:
Scott Wilson-Ryan O'Reilly-Sam Reinhart; Zemgus Girgensons-Eichel-Jason Pominville; Rodrigues-Johan Larsson-Nick Baptiste; Benoit Pouliot-Jacob Josefson-Jordan Nolan/Griffith.