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Sabres will not extend qualifying offer to Lehner

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

DALLAS - Jason Botterill promised there would be changes to the Buffalo Sabres' roster following a last-place finish last season. One of those changes will be in net, as Botterill announced that the team will not extend a qualifying offer to goaltender Robin Lehner, thus making him an unrestricted free agent on July 1. 

"It was a scenario where, you finish 31st, you have to make some difficult choices," Botterill said. "We have informed Robin that he will not be coming back next year. Part of it that was so disappointing and difficult was that I know Robin is passionate about the city of Buffalo, passionate about helping this organization. We felt we had to make some adjustments and that was one of the areas."

Lehner spent three seasons in Buffalo after being acquired from Ottawa on draft day in 2015, compiling a record of 42-61-21 and a .908 save percentage in 133 games. The deadline for qualifying restricted free agents is 5 p.m. on Monday.

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Chad Johnson, who comprised the other half of Buffalo's goaltending tandem last season, is also set to become an unrestricted free agent. Botterill has been open about his belief that Linus Ullmark, an All-Star in the AHL for each of the past two seasons, will be ready to serve as one of Buffalo's two goaltenders.

Botterill said he has had trade discussions with other teams regarding the other vacancy at the position. Current options on the free agent market include Anton Khudobin, Jaroslav Halak, Jonathan Bernier, Carter Hutton and Cam Ward. 

Whoever the Sabres bring in, they'll be expected to at least compete for the starting job. Botterill said the Sabres will not go into the season with the assumption that Ullmark is ready to jump right into the No. 1 role. 

"We want to give him an opportunity, but you have to have expectations," Botterill said. "… You have to understand, there's a growing process here. We think Linus is ready for the next challenge here, but to hand him the number one role, I think that's unfair to any young goalie."

In other news, Botterill confirmed Friday that the Sabres will not buy out any contracts this offseason. The league's buyout period concludes at 5 p.m. on June 30.

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