What’s up Sports Chillers? My apologies for the near two-month stretch without an article, life has been just tad hectic.
The NHL playoffs are in full swing, but that’s not what Buffalo Sabres fans in particular are paying attention to. Tonight, the NHL will reveal the winners of the 2018 Draft Lottery, the yearly event that essentially tells fans of mediocre teams whether or not their suffering was worth it. And no word describes the Buffalo Sabres over the last five years better than mediocre.
2017-18 was one of, if not the worst season in Sabres history and it was downright embarrassing to watch more often than not. There is a mountain of uncertainty surrounding the team and the direction that GM Jason Botterill and co. will decide to head in, but tonight all comes down to a number between one and four.
The Sabres finished the season with the NHL’s worst record and made unflattering history as the first team to last of 31. Despite Jack Eichel’s best efforts and solid performances from Sam Reinhart and Ryan O’Reilly, Buffalo finds itself in contention for the first overall pick for the third time in the last five seasons. I myself am not confident in how well Lady Luck will play in Buffalo’s fortunes tonight. Why? Well, just look the past two times Buffalo was in this spot.
Before its recent restructuring, the NHL’s rules for the Draft Lottery were that the last place finisher was guaranteed at least no. 2. After a pathetic 2013-14 campaign, Buffalo finished last with just 52 points, 14 lower than second-lowest Florida. Despite that 14 point cushion, who won? The Panthers. Unfortunately, 2014-15 was a familiar yet even mpre stinging of a feeling.
Despite a gallant two-point improvement, the Sabres again finished last in the NHL with 54 points. Though this time around their cushion was only two points over the Arizona Coyotes, there was hope to be had. 2014-15 was the year of what now has become known as the “McEichel Derby”, the final prize of landing a generational talent in either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel was the light at the end of the tunnel for non-competitive teams. The season polarized Sabres fans, and whether you were a supporter of the alleged “tank” that occurred or not, it was tumultuous ride. However, when the season ended and Buffalo clinched last place yet again, hope filled the hearts of fans across the Queen City. Luck hadn’t been on our side the prior year, but it was going to realign itself this time around and bring Connor McDavid up from Erie, PA.
Like most notable sporting events, I’ll never forget sitting in my grandparent’s kitchen on Saturday, April 18, 2015, watching the lottery with my grandfather. Sabres fans everywhere were preparing to get whomever was on their jersey taken off so that they could get “McDavid” placed on it instead.
In typical, deliberately slow fashion, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly read off the results in reverse-chronological order. My grandfather and I hung on the edge of our seats awaiting a gold card with Buffalo’s logo on it, meaning the Sabres were victorious. Then, it happened.
The gold card indeed arrived, but rather than two swords, it read “Oilers”. Jaws hung agape in Buffalo as fans realized that the team would have to settle for number two for the second consecutive year. Disbelief, shock, anger, sadness. Whatever spot you were at on the roller coaster of grief was irrelevant, because the sting of losing yet again was universal. In the years since I’ve heard countless talk of the lottery being rigged in some way, shape or form. I don’t believe that, but I understand why people do.
In 2014 Buffalo’s chance of winning the draft was 25%, Florida’s was 18.8%. Who won? The Panthers. In 2015 Buffalo’s chance was 20% to Edmonton’s 11.5. Who won? The Oilers. Losing back-to-back lotteries after the odds were that much in your favor would have anyone expecting foul play. And regardless of whether there was or wasn’t, the sting is still felt by Sabres fans, and it’s good that we’re used to it, because we’re going to feel it again tonight.
Though the 2018 Lottery is structured differently than it was in 2014 and 2015, Buffalo’s chances are still the greatest, 18.5% according to SportsNet. Ottawa is second with 13.5, Arizona third with 11.5 and Montreal fourth with 9.5. I list the fourth place finisher because, while Buffalo still has the greatest odds, they face the added possibility of falling as far as fourth. Given the Sabres’ luck in this department in recent memory, that is where I see them ending up.
Swedish D Rasmus Dahlin is the top prize to be had this year according to NHL Central Scouting. Their top ranked North American skater is Keith Tkachuk’s youngest son, Brady. If the hockey gods decide to smile upon Buffalo, it will be very interesting to see whom they take first overall. Dahlin is a highly touted defenseman who could a potential void if the team decides to deal Rasmus Ristolainen. At the same time, Tkachuk has the potential to be a strong and physical forward if he is anything like his Dad and older brother.
The lottery unveiling is tonight during the second intermission of San Jose vs. Vegas game two. Don’t miss out!