Even before Darcy Regier uttered the word suffering at his press conference last year, the Sabres were embarking on a rebuilding effort that would see many of their established veterans traded for futures that include prospects and picks in the coming drafts.
Regier likely expected to be in the exact spot that Tim Murray find himself in now; without Ryan Miller, Matt Moulson (via Thomas Vanek) and Steve Ott while possessing a bevy of draft picks in the top 60 of the next two drafts. He also most certainly knew his team would be picking quite high in one or perhaps both of the drafts as he set the organization on the path they’re on now. Exactly how deliberate the on-ice results that followed were is up for debate, but it would seem as if Regier and Murray both knew the Sabres would be picking at the top of this June’s draft with a strong likelihood of repeating the feat in 2015.
That’s why the news that the NHL is considering to make a significant change to the draft lottery, ahead of what’s expected to be one of the deepest first rounds in years, is likely startling to many Sabres fans. It falls in line with so many “because it’s Buffalo” moments as those who follow the team and were expecting to have a chance to purchase a Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel jersey in a few years may be watching another fan base with envy.
As is detailed in Elliotte Friedman’s column, the league is looking at a number of different options that would still favor the league’s worst teams but bring more clubs into the conversation for the top pick. The exact system hasn’t been worked out, but Friedman points to one that could use a system that is weighted based on a team’s finish over the last number of seasons. While there are many kinks to work out, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the league transition to this for what’s expected to be such a deep draft.
The formula that Friedman explains wouldn’t favor the Sabres nearly as much as another offensively challenged campaign like this season would. The Sabres playoff appearances in 2009-10 and 2010-11 with their subsequent strive for ninth in the following years would skew the results of a second-straight 30th place finish (if they even finish that low). However, there is still an ace in the Sabres’ sleeve.
With Garth Snow staring at the least enviable situation a GM could face, he’s tasked with choosing to sacrifice a top-five selection in this year’s draft to save his first round pick in 2015 or keep his lottery selection this season while giving the Sabres his pick next year. Assuming Snow wouldn’t risk giving up a known top-five selection, it stands to reason that the Sabres will wind up with New York’s pick next year. It also stands to reason that this new system could conceivably provide the Sabres a better chance at the first pick.
The current system gives a 25% chance at the first pick to the team that finishes 30th with the odds decreasing with each subsequent pick. Holding lottery balls for the 30th and 27th spots would all but guarantee a team the top pick under the current system. However, Buffalo’s relative success between 2009 and 2012 would limit their chances at the top pick even with another 29th or 30th place finish next year. Counting this season, the Isles finished 27th three times, 26th once and 16th once since the 2009-10 season. That combined with Buffalo’s lottery odds based on their last few seasons significantly increase the Sabres’ lottery odds. So missing out on New York’s pick this year could wind up being even more valuable than originally expected.
Obviously this is a long way off. The Islanders could just as easily make the playoffs and leave the Sabres with just one shot in the lottery. Although that would take a significant improvement on many levels, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. But if both teams were to finish 20th or worse, it would be hard for a team to wind up with better odds than Buffalo next summer.
While this would mean another lost season on the road to a high pick, at least rest easy knowing that if Garth Snow makes the decision most people expect him to make (not a safe bet) the Sabres may benefit even more come next summer.