BUFFALO – Eric Comrie processed the question and searched for the right words. The normally loquacious Sabres goalie never found them.
“I don’t know,” he replied when asked about the Sabres’ roster crunch and how he has been focusing on himself. “That’s a tough question to answer.”
Comrie, having once been claimed off waivers four times in a 17-month stretch, has endured a lot of uncertainty in his career. But after signing a two-year contract in 2022, he enjoyed some rare stability, even while at times serving as the Sabres’ third goalie.
When the Sabres sent rookie Devon Levi to the Rochester Americans on Nov. 29, ending their three-goalie rotation, Comrie appeared to have secured the backup job for the foreseeable future.
Then goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen got sick, prompting the return of Levi a week after he was sent down. After Comrie allowed four goals in a start Dec. 5, Levi started the next three games. Since Luukkonen recovered from his illness, he has been sharing the net with Levi.
With the Sabres in win-now mode, Comrie, 28, has been dropped to a distant third on the depth chart
He hasn’t played in the last 10 games entering this afternoon’s contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets at KeyBank Center. He last dressed for a game Dec. 16.
Right now, the Sabres are at the 23-man roster limit. If they want to activate winger Zemgus Girgensons off injured reserve so he can face the Blue Jackets, they must make a move. The most obvious one would be going down to two goalies.
The Sabres have recently waived two established NHL players – center Tyson Jost on Thursday and defenseman Jacob Bryson on Dec. 18 – as they juggle their roster.
Comrie’s unusually short answers Thursday illustrate he knows something could transpire soon.
As his body of work shows, he has history of emerging from difficult situations as a better goalie. He believes he’s equipped to handle whatever’s thrown at him.
“I’ve done it before,” he said following Thursday’s practice.
Comrie spent the 2019-20 season in three organizations, moving from the Winnipeg Jets to the Arizona Coyotes to the Detroit Red Wings. He began the next season back with Winnipeg before the New Jersey Devils claimed him.
After one game, the Jets reclaimed him and in 2021-22 he established himself as one of the NHL’s best backups, posting a .920 save percentage in 19 games. He parlayed his career season into a $3.6 million contract from the Sabres as a free agent.
Comrie started regularly early last season when the Sabres had veteran goalie Craig Anderson and before Luukkonen and Levi arrived. While he fell down the depth chart after suffering an injury, the Sabres awarded Comrie regular starts when they began carrying three goalies. He rewarded them by compiling a 5-1-1 mark in his last seven outings.
This season, Comrie enjoyed a terrific training camp, forcing the Sabres to keep three netminders again.
Following some strong regular-season games, he has struggled since returning from a lower-body injury Nov. 17, registering a 0-4-0 record with an NHL-high 5.17 goals-against average and a league-low .827 save percentage during that stretch.
Did Comrie lose his early-season rhythm while he sat out injured for three weeks?
“I don’t know, I could say maybe,” he said. “I don’t know, tough question. I don’t know, sometimes the results don’t go your way, and I think the results didn’t go my way a little bit there. I’m kind of in this situation now, so it’s different, yeah.”
Overall, Comrie has compiled a 1-5-0 mark with a 4.01 goals-against average and an .863 save percentage in seven games. He earned his last win Oct. 21, his season debut.
While this season has been difficult, returning home to his wife, Haley, and their baby girl, Capri, who was born last month, puts everything in perspective.
“Oh, it’s nice to go home and be a dad, it’s really nice,” Comrie said. “… They’ve been great support for me. But, I mean, yeah, it’s been really good to just to be able to go home and get like a mental break from everything here and just be happy to get home and see her.”
Luukkonen, who had his own net during Friday’s practice in LECOM Harborcenter, will likely start against Columbus. The Finn is 0-5-1 in his last six appearances and 0-3-1 since he returned from his illness.
“It was something I don’t have much control over and it’s no fun,” he said of getting sick. “But back to a three-goalie rotation … it’s not optimal, but you kind of have to work through it. But it’s nothing I’m not used to, so it’s nothing like unusual or crazy.”