Monday, May 1, 2017

Crazy 8's and the Pegula's clean house again.

Published by, 4-30-2017

I’ll take full responsibility for the Buffalo Sabres drafting eighth overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

Sabres Draft Lottery representative Larry Playfair and many in Sabreland watched as the Philadelphia Flyers, who finished 10 points ahead of them standings and had only a 2.2% chance of winning the lottery, leaped high over the Sabres and 10 other teams to the No. 2 slot. In a more reasonable move for Sabres fans (if there can be such a thing for a team that has no luck when it comes to this lottery thing,) the Dallas Stars, who finished with one more point in the standings than Buffalo, hurdled five teams to land at No. 3 overall while the New Jersey Devils, with slightly better than Buffalo 8.5% chance of winning the lottery will select first overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

The Colorado Avalanche bore the brunt of the ping-pong ball madness as they will pick fourth overall after finishing with the least number of points in a season since the league returned from the year-long lockout in 2005. The second-worst team in the league, The Vancouver Canucks will pick fifth while Bill Foley saw a $500 million expansion fee for his Las Vegas Knights turn into the sixth-overall pick. The Arizona Coyotes, who may have worse luck than Buffalo will draft seventh-overall.

When I wrote about symmetry and continuity for the Sabres at this year’s draft I was thinking that a second-overall pick would be apropos for a Buffalo team that had two consecutive No. 2 picks in 2014 and 2015 and after drafting No.8 overall last season, I was hoping that a little poetic justice would come into play as the Sabres missed out on the first-overall pick two years running after finishing in last place. Unfortunately, I received my wish of with a sense of symmetry featuring the Nos. 2 and 8.

When the Sabres started the rebuilding process in the latter half of the 2011-12 season their 89 points and third-place finish in the division netted them the 12th-overall pick in the draft. A year later they drafted eighth-overall after finishing 23rd-overall while 2014 and 2015 featured two second overalls. Last year they landed in the No. 8 slot and this year because of the luck of the ping-pong balls they're back in at No. 8 for a 12, 8, 2, 2, 8, 8 draft order from 2012-17.
Eighth-overall in this draft isn't such a bad spot considering the organizational needs. No doubt either Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier would be great additions to any club as both are very talented centers and considered the top-two players in the draft. And I wouldn't snub my nose at forwards Owen Tippet, Casey Mittelstadt and my personal favorite amongst the second-tier, Gabe Vilardi. The Sabres, however, have more pressing needs in the system than forward--defense.
No doubt a weak defense-corps was exposed this past season and as injuries hit, that position was exposed all the way down to Rochester. In his quest to bolster the forward ranks and depth, which was sub-par at best when he took over, especially at center, former GM Tim Murray's supreme focus seemed to be up front. In the last three drafts, minus the easy sells of centers Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel, both of whom were taken second-overall, Murray did not select a defenseman in the draft higher than 51st overall (Brendan Guhle, 2015.) In the 2014 draft, he selected only one defenseman out of nine selections and while he did draft five defensemen out of seven picks in 2015, after Guhle they were all fourth-round picks or lower.
Last year Murray waited until the third round to select a defenseman, and selected three more from the fifth round on down.
It's not to say that these d-men won't turn into anything. Guhle looks like a steal in the second round and has the tools to be a top-four NHL d-man. Will Borgen (2015, 92nd-overall) and Devante Stephens (2015, 122nd) look like they could be NHL defenseman with Stephens making his pro debut next season. There's also been plenty of talk about Casey Fitzgerald, (2016, 86th) and his strong development at Boston College. And I wouldn't dismiss completely players like Brady Austin or Casey Nelson, both of whom spent the bulk of there time in Rochester last season. Although they had mixed results, both players showed that they could be able to hang full-time in the NHL.
All of the above mentioned defensemen are at their proper developmental levels which does say a lot for how the Sabres approach player development, but the glaring weaknesses with the big club cast a pall over the organizational depth on defense. 
Which leads us now to a new and as of yet unnamed GM entering the 2017 NHL Draft with definitve needs system-wide on defense and a draft slot which may give them the opportunity to select one of the two or three best defensemen in the draft. From International Scouting Services the top defenseman in the draft is Timothy Liljegren whom they see as the sixth-best player in the draft. After him it's Callan Foote coming in as the ninth-best rated prospect and Juuso Valimaki ranked 11th-best. All of them are right in Buffalo's wheelhouse. Fast-rising Cale Makar may also be there when the Sabres step to the podium.
So you can put the blame on me for the ping-pong balls not falling the Sabres way, but also know that fate has them here and ultimately, it's what the new GM and his staff do with their picks that will determine where this team is headed in the near-mid future.
It's the draft and these are 18 yr. old kids. Very few make the immediate jump to the NHL and those are usually found at the top of the draft, even an NHL that keeps getting younger. Patience sucks but that's where we're at...again.
Hopefully next season a sign of progress will have us saying goodbye to 2's and 8's and hello to double digit draft positions once again, preferably upper-double digits.
For posterity's sake, the Sabres have selected eighth-overall only twice--Rasmus Ristolainen, 2013 and Alexander Nylander, 2016.
It was a bloody Sunday for Buffalo Bills GM Doug Whaley and the scouting department. After doing the work on the 2017 NFL Draft, Bills (and Sabres) owner Terry Pegula did a house cleaning today giving Whaley and the entire scouting department their walking papers less than 24 hours after the conclusion of the draft.
After disappointing seasons from both of his franchises, Pegula busted out the hatchet on both of his GM's a mere 10 days apart.
Pegula has been searching for a GM since dismissing Murray 10 days ago and he told the gathered media at today's presser that "we are close on the Sabres to having a final answer" on the Sabres GM position.
Nothing official has come out as of yet but some of the candidates that have been mentioned through sources are:  Jason Botterill, Bill Guerin, Michael Futa, Bill Zito, Norm MacIver and Paul Fenton.

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