The job of retooling the Buffalo Sabres is far from over. But a major question mark was officially answered Sunday.
Just as General Manager Jason Botterill promised, he solved the team's goaltending riddle by signing St. Louis' Carter Hutton to a three-year deal at a very reasonable cap hit of $2.75 million per season. Hutton, 32, is expected to be the No. 1 goalie and serve as a mentor to Linus Ullmark.
Hutton is 32 and led NHL goalies who played at least 30 games in goals-against average (2.09) and save percentage (.931) while playing 40 games for St. Louis. He was also second in the NHL in 5-on-5 save percentage at .940.
But this will be his first chance to be a bona fide NHL starter.
"Buffalo right out of the gate was really strong," Hutton said Sunday afternoon during a FaceTime interview on NHL Network. "They knew I was their guy and that was something that was really important for me."
Speaking later in the day in a conference call with Buffalo media, Hutton said he was sold on the Sabres when he visited with owners Terry and Kim Pegula and members of the front office on Wednesday.
"Buffalo is a great market to go to," he said. "It's a market where they're really yearning for a winning team and they need to win. I was able to fly down and meet everybody. Just getting to meet the owners and management it made the decision a lot easier knowing it was the right place for me and my family to be."
Hutton is familiar to several members of the organization. He was a backup goalie in Nashville for three years (2013-16) when current head coach Phil Housley was a Predators assistant, played two years at Rockford of the AHL while being coached by current Buffalo goalie coach Andrew Allen, and has a close relationship with Gerry Forton, the Sabres' top college scout, from his days at UMass Lowell.
"There was a real comfort level with him," Botterill said. "He was a guy our scouts had focused in on. Our analytics department had some time and certainly liked him a lot. Then you get that sort of character check and it allowed us to have a lot of confidence making the decision to bring Carter to our group."
Hutton said he feels the Sabres are primed to make a turnaround in the first year of the Rasmus Dahlin era.
"He's a heck of a player and the excitement in Buffalo is just huge," Hutton said. "I'm so excited to go to this market. The last few years, they've just been dying for a team to win some games here. I'm excited to come and be a part of that. I think this young kid is going to be a big difference maker, and it's going to be nice having him in front of me."
The Sabres reportedly kicked tires on three players who signed elsewhere: Toronto's James van Riemsdyk (Philadelphia, 5 years, $35 million), Vegas' David Perron (St. Louis, 4 years/$16 million) and New Jersey's Michael Grabner (Arizona, 3 years/$10.05 million).
Botterill got one of his other goals accomplished when he re-signed winger Scott Wilson to a two-year deal with a cap hit of $1.05 million per season. Wilson, a 2017 Stanley Cup champion in Pittsburgh, scored in Game 2 of the Cup final that year against Nashville and collected six goals and eight assists for the Sabres last season.
"We like Scott's tenacity on the forecheck, the fact he's played in playoff games in Stanley Cup situations," Botterill said. "And we think there's more offense we can bring to his games."
The Sabres added to the Amerks' defense by signing Brandon Hickey to a two-year, entry-level deal. Hickey, acquired from Arizona last month for Hudson Fasching, came to development camp and could have gone the college free agent route on Aug. 15.
Instead, Hickey showed confidence in the organization by putting pen to paper. He was a former captain at Boston University, who played as a freshman with Sabres Jack Eichel and Evan Rodrigues and current Amerks prospect Danny O'Regan.
"We wanted to try to find a way to get him to be a part of our organization," Botterill said of Hickey. "With everything that happened this week, it was very positive in general at development camp. It was amazing the fan turnout over at HarborCenter and Brandon felt very comfortable becoming part of the Sabres organization.
"You look at the way he plays, his ability to compete and skate, we feel he's a guy who can fit in to what we're trying to accomplish."
The Sabres further cemented their goaltending by signing Scott Wedgewood, 25, to be the No. 3 man in the organization and ostensibly the No. 1 netminder in Rochester.
Wedgewood, 25, was New Jersey's third-round pick in 2010. He played 20 games for Arizona last season, going 5-9-4 with a 3.45 goals-against average and .893 save percentage. He played four games for the Devils in 2015-16 (2-1-1, 1.25, .957).
"You look at Scott's background of what he's accomplished in the American Hockey League and this past year getting more NHL experience, we felt it was great to have a goalie with NHL experience to come into that role," Botterill said. "But with his age we still feel there's growth there. As Carter Hutton demonstrates, goalies are always developing and we see more potential in Scott moving forward."