Monday, May 2, 2016

At least it wasn’t Edmonton. Buffalo stays at No. 8 after NHL Lottery

Reprinted with permission from

Yes, it very well could have been the Edmonton Oilers winning the NHL Draft Lottery for the second year in a row, giving them five first-overall picks in the last seven years including three in a row from 2010-12.

Fortunately for everyone involved the Oilers did not get the first overall, nor did they even stay in the top three. The league’s second worst team had a 13.5% chance of winning the lottery and almost as much a chance of picking second or third, but none of that happened as they were jumped by two teams and fell to fourth-overall in the 2016 NHL Draft.

The Buffalo Sabres, who finished with the eight-worst record in the NHL last season, had a 6% chance of landing the first overall pick and slightly less than that for picks No. 2 and 3. They remained in the eighth slot and will pick there for only the second time in franchise history.

At first glance, about the only thing worse for Buffalo, other than Edmonton winning the lottery, would be the last place Toronto Maple Leafs doing something the Sabres could not do the previous two seasons, win the lottery with the best odds of any non-playoff team. The Leafs went in with a 20% chance of winning and that’s how the ping-pong balls fell.

Swooosh!!! The Leafs get the first overall pick and phenom Auston Matthews will likely be the one selected to rest atop Mount Maple Leaf and take his place as Solar god at the so-called Center of the Hockey Universe.

Matthews will ply his trade amidst the collection of recently acquired demi-gods perched upon their thrones atop Mount Maple Leaf. Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoreillo, and Mike Babcock were all brought in and now reside in the great hall flashing a wealth of hockey expertise and multiple Stanley Cup rings to back that up.

These are Canadian treasures entrusted with bringing the Leafs back to their Original-six glory years and their quest to bring the Stanley Cup back to it’s proper resting place will begin, most likely, with an American as their center-piece. And not just any American either. Matthews was born in San Francisco, CA but moved with his family to Scottsdale, AZ when he was an infant. Yes. Hot, arid, cactus-laden Arizona, about as non-traditional a hockey market as one can get in the States.

That said, and as much as I hate that the Leafs got Matthews, it’s really great for Buffalo/Toronto and the league itself.

Both Buffalo and Toronto have been middling for so long a Celine Dion concert would pack more of a punch than most games dating back to 2007. When Buffalo landed Jack Eichel last year (and Sam Reinhart the year before,) the balance of third-world hockey power shifted south to Buffalo. Toronto managed to balance it out with front office and coaching additions and now they’ll be able to add equalizers on the ice. And as each team gets better, the rivalry strengthens.

The Winnipeg Jets jumped from the sixth slot to No. 2 as they won the second phase of the lottery while the Columbus Blue Jackets went from fourth to third. In doing so they’ll both get can’t miss players and premier wingers in Patrik Laine and Jesse Pulujarvi. Those wins pushed the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks down a notch which will have implications for the Buffalo Sabres.

The Oilers desperately need defensemen and will probably take one with the fourth-overall pick despite three prominent forward prospects rated slightly higher staring them right in the face. Vancouver is said to be interested in drafting a defenseman at No. 5 as well.

Prior to the lottery, it was assumed the Sabres would be able to land one of two left-handed defensemen at No. 8—Olli Juolevi and Jakob Chychurn, who are considered the best two d-prospects in the draft. With Edmonton and Vancouver focused upon those two, Buffalo may need to alter their course a bit.

They could lean towards drafting a second-tier winger, which the system could use or they can alter GM Tim Murray’s historical preferences by drafting the player who could be the best d-man on the board, as well as fit their organizational needs. Russian offensive defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who just won the OHL’s  Defenseman of the Year Award is a left-hander with size and offensive acumen, which is just what the Sabres are looking for. However, Murray seems to have an aversion to drafting (and even keeping) Russian players so their focus may shift somewhere else.

With just under two months until the NHL descends upon Buffalo for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, there will be plenty of time to go over and dissect this group of prospects. Until then Buffalo fans can wash down the foul taste of Toronto winning the lottery with the knowledge that their Buffalo Bills may have had a draft for the ages and their Sabres may not see the NHL Draft Lottery again for a long time.

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