At age 34, Sabres netminder Carter Hutton is part of a rebuild. Buffalo retooled their front office, most notably firing GM Jason Botterill and hiring long time assistant Kevyn Adams. Not making the playoffs usually means a team shake-up.
“House got cleaned there a little bit, starting with our GM and scouts and assistant GM,” said Hutton, a Thunder Bay native. “Obviously it’s tough, right? Jason Botterill is the guy that brought me in. He had a big impact in my life and my career. It’s tough to see him go. At the same time Kevyn Adams comes in with a new perspective. He’s been with the organization for a long time. You look forward to something fresh here. Something’s had to change. This team has got to get into the playoffs and get back to being competitive. Hopefully, this is the year we’re going to do it.”
The Sabres’ missed the played by .007 of a winning percentage. Front and centre was one game in particular, a 3-2 loss in Colorado on Feb. 26, that falls in the could’ve, should’ve, would’ve category. The Avs won 3-2.
“It’s tough. I think for some of the guys who have been in Buffalo a long time, being in those bigger games is something you look forward to,” said Hutton. “By January, February the team is (usually) out of the playoffs. That’s probably one that stands out, that Colorado loss. We’re going into a tough building. In my opinion they’re one of the favourites to win the cup. Those are experiences you have to take away from it.
“Personally, for me, it’s one of those ones where you’re playing well but you need to be perfect in those games,” Hutton added. “After that it was injuries. We lost a lot of guys. It’s no excuse, but at the same time we need to find ways to win those big games. For us, it’s an experience thing and we can build on that. You think of some teams that have success now that went through these kind of patches. Hopefully we can be a lot better for it come next year.”
The restarted playoffs in the hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton will mean a late start to the 2020-21 NHL season.
Hutton’s looking to hit the reset button on his own career with the extra time off.
“It’s going to be a big year for me. It’s the last year of my contract,” said Hutton, who signed a three-year deal for $2.75 million per season two years ago. “Coming off some issues last year. I thought I played well at times and not as well at other times. I think I’m just trying to level that out, find other ways to contribute any way I can.
I think my goalie partner, Linus (Ullmark) has played well. Hopefully we can push each other to get this team back in the playoffs.”
Hutton was diagnosed with convergence insufficiency during the 2019-20 season, a condition where his eyes do not move at the same time. He soldiered on with the ailment. His stats (.898 save percentage, 3.18 goals-against average) suffered.
“It’s good. It’s good now. I worked out a lot of stuff during the year,” said the former Thunder Bay Golden Hawks and Fort William North Stars goalie. “For a few months there I really struggled, it was disheartening. I worked with a few specialists in Buffalo, just around North America that helped me. Got to the root of the problem. From there it gave me the tools to improve. I thought by the end of January I was back to normal.”
Ullmark, for now, seems to have the inside track on the No. 1goaltender job in Buffalo. Hutton is looking to have a say in the matter.
“Having that three-year contract was the first time I’ve ever had a three-year contract and some security, so obviously that was nice,” Hutton said. “At the end of the day I’ve played under these circumstances a lot — the pressure of contract years. The business side that comes with it. I’m looking forward to controlling what I can control. There’s lots of things that go one with the business of hockey. I can control how I prepare and be ready to play. The rest will take care of itself.”
Buffalo head coach Ralph Kreuger retained his job with the Sabres. It’ll be his second year at the helm. He’s part of the new breed of bench bosses in the NHL.
“I think today’s day and age players are a little difference than back in the day where it was a little more hard knocks,” said Hutton. “The culture and different sensitivity of things. Ralph does a good job of managing all different ages of players and different cultures. He’s an unbelievable guy with his hockey knowledge and his room presence is awesome. He’s a guy I think we can definitely grow under here in Buffalo.”
Hutton and Chris Unick held their own against local pro Evan DeGrazia and Rock 94 FM’s Kaile Wanzuk in the George Jeffrey Children’s Charity Golf Classic at the Fort William Country Club on Thursday.
“The event was great. . . . They’re top notch, everything they do,” said Hutton, who brought his young son, Palmer, along for the day. “To be able to be the host of it you get so much praise, so much thanks. At the end of the day they do so much work. I’m just grateful to be here and be part of it. It’s amazing how much money they’ve raised over the years. This is the fourth year we’ve done it. When you get a chance to go to George Jeffrey and see the kids and the impact it makes it’s pretty awesome.”