Buffalo - September 4, 2014 - It’s become no secret that the Buffalo Sabres won’t be good. We know it, they know it and the entire hockey world knows it.
And that’s no problem for the Sabres and their fans for one reason: Connor McDavid.
The pot of gold at the end of the crappy rainbow is the next prodigy. Being awful in 2014-15 is almost as good as winning the Stanley Cup; who wouldn’t want to land the next Sidney Crosby, the next Mario Lemieux, the next Wayne Gretzky? If there ever was a season to be as awful as possible, it’s the one where the guaranteed superstar is at the top of a deep draft.
Of course, there’s one problem with the idea that being awful this year will get them to McDavid: it might not. The NHL Draft Lottery rules take the odds out of the hands of the truly putrid teams, giving anyone who doesn’t make the playoffs a much better chance of swooping in to grab the first overall pick. Thankfully for the Sabres, this is the final year in which the last place team can’t draft worse than second overall. So if they’re last, they’re guaranteed to grab at least #2 overall.
But that’s still a problem. The goal should be McDavid. He’s a once-in-a-generation superstar, the kind of player that can dominate the NHL as the clear centerpiece of a franchise. More importantly, he’s the kind of skater the Sabres haven’t had since Gilbert Perreault was wearing the blue and gold. For the last couple of decades, the Sabres have been epitomized by quality players and succeeding through a total team effort. That was fine and well, but no one will win a Stanley Cup like that (no, the Devils don’t count because they had the greatest statistical goaltender in the history of the game).
Which brings me to the point of this article: if the Sabres don’t land the first pick, they should do everything in their power to make sure that they acquire it. Obviously, that’s not likely possible if they fall out of the top five and it’s probably not likely if they don’t hold the second or third overall pick. It’s easier to convince a team with the first pick to flip if the consolation for flipping is American-born Jack Eichel, the almost-1B to McDavid’s 1A.
Even if second overall isn’t at the Sabres’ disposal, they need to offer an Eric Lindros level deal. In case you forgot: the Quebec Nordiques selected Lindros first overall and were told by Lindros and his team that he’d never suit up for them. That forced a trade to Philadelphia for Peter Forsberg, Steve Duschene, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, Chris Simon, a pair of first-round picks and $15 million in cash. Of course, Forsberg went on to be a better player than Lindros, but for the first seven or eight years of his career, there weren’t many on the level of Lindros. He was a once-in-a-generation player who unfortunately had his career shortened by injury and a load of BS tied to his father representing him. The Flyers made the right move at the time; sometimes, it works out where you give up a heap of nothing for a HOF-level player (see: Cam Neely and a first-round pick for Barry Pederson) and sometimes it works out where you give up a Peter Forsberg to get a player slightly less than him, but when the opportunity arises to acquire a player like that, you do it.
I’m well aware that I’m getting way ahead of myself here. The Sabres made a lot of improvements during the season and could find themselves so improved that acquiring the first overall pick becomes a pipe dream. And as much as no one really ever wants their team to be awful, Sabres fans can see the light at the end of the tunnel and know that a Stanley Cup won’t find itself in the HSBC Arena unless the team is helmed by a true star.
So do what you need to do, Tim Murray. Make an offer that can’t be refused.
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