The clock is ticking.
On Wednesday Notre Dame goaltender and 2013 Buffalo Sabres draft pick Cal Petersen announced he will leave school to turn pro. His decision gives the Sabres and new GM Jason Botterill 30 days to sign Petersen before he becomes an unrestricted free agent. That would allow him to sign with any NHL team on Friday, June 30.
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) May 31, 2017
"I feel immensely fortunate I was given the opportunity to attend Notre Dame and play hockey for the Fighting Irish," Petersen told UND.com. "The experiences and memories I have shared with my teammates and best friends both on and off the ice will be something I carry with me forever. This is the hardest decision I have ever had to make because of how incredible of a place Notre Dame is to be both a student and an athlete. My sincere thanks go to Coach Jackson, Coach Pooley, Coach Slaggert, all of the support staff, and most importantly my teammates for their efforts in making me a better hockey player, student, and person. Lastly, I would like to thank my family for their unwavering love and support while making this decision. Notre Dame has given me the opportunity to realize my dreams and I will be forever Irish."
Petersen, 22, had spent the last three seasons with the Fighting Irish and helped lead Notre Dame to their third Frozen Four in school history. During that time, Petersen started in 90 (!) straight games, finishing with a career .924 save percentage, 2.30 goals against average and 55 wins.
After finding a new head coach, Cal Petersen's contract might become Jason Botterill's biggest priority in the next month. That might sound crazy with the expansion draft, NHL Draft, and free agency looming, but Petersen has proven while at Notre Dame that he's the real deal.
From the people I've spoken with, Petersen isn't ready to make the jump to the NHL just yet. But if that's what he wants, the Sabres might not be one of his more intriguing options. Sure, they could make Petersen the backup next year. But as far as long-term development that doesn't seem like the best idea.
— Notre Dame Hockey (@NDHockey) May 31, 2017
That being said, if Petersen is willing to play in Rochester next season and immediately be penciled in as the starter, he could find a permanent home in the Buffalo crease in just a few years. It will really all depend on what happens with Robin Lehner, who is set to become a restricted free agent at the end of this year. Linus Ullmark, who many expect to be the backup next season has also shown signs of improvement over the last few years, but when it comes down to it, Petersen looks like he has the higher ceiling.
In a paragraph, here's how I think the pitch to Petersen should go:
"Hey Cal, we think a year in the AHL would do wonders for your development. Then, Lehner's contract will be coming to an end, and you can be the primary backup in Buffalo until he's a UFA. By then we should be pretty good and you'll be the guy in between the pipes for years to come. Oh yeah, Jack Eichel plays here too."
On Wednesday Eichel told John Vogl of the Buffalo News that the two had talked about Buffalo while overseas for the World Hockey Championships.
“He’s a great kid,” Eichel told Vogl. “I obviously told him that we’d love to have him. I just kind of gave him a bit of an earful about what Buffalo is like, how passionate the people were here and how great an organization it is.”
If Petersen elects to pull a 'Jimmy Vesey' and move on the Sabres won't be doomed. But Jason Botterill should do everything in his power to ensure that Petersen remains property of the Buffalo Sabres. I fully expect Botterill does everything he can. Whether or not that's enough remains to be seen. It's going to be interesting 30 days, that's for sure.