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There was a lot to digest for Sabres fans this week as the NHL revealed its plan for the draft lottery and Sabres ownership retained general manager Jason Botterill for the final year of his contract. This was all capped off by Sabres captain Jack Eichel voicing his displeasure on how the season went, followed by what felt like almost every New York Rangers fan on twitter trying to turn Alexander Georgiev and a 1st into the Rangers acquiring Eichel (in case there are Rangers fans reading this, the answer is all kinds of no).
Draft Lottery Conundrum
The lottery reveal was a bit of a let-down for Sabres fans including myself. I had hoped there would be some kind of modification to the process that would compensate the seven teams on the outside of the playoffs. It’s not that these teams deserve anything for ranking in the bottom quarter of the NHL, rather why does a team that ranks 24th somehow deserves more while having their downside protected?
A five-game play in series will determine if a team that (based on 70 games worth of results) has no business being in a playoff spot gets to play in the playoffs. In that scenario, the losing team a team that has no business being in a lottery, will be rewarded with a lottery selection should they fall in the play in.
However, the real kicker is the lottery probabilities themselves. Though the league is maintaining the same odds they’ve had in the last few years, the drawing is actually taking place before any sort of league restart. This means that there will be 8 sorts of “question marks” involved in the first lottery (representing the play in losers), occupying those final 8 probabilities on the lottery chart.
So why is this significant? Well, unlike in past years where teams ranked 8-15th last would individually have one of these odds assigned to them in order of points percentage, this year they all share the collective percentages of those slots. With no assignment of teams until after the play in is over, as long as one of these slots from 8-15 takes a lottery spot, a play in loser will have a legitimate shot at a lottery spot, 12.5% for each team that loses in the play in.
The combined probability of one of these “question marks” winning a lottery spot in the first lottery is 24.5% for the pick #1, 26.4% for pick #2 and 28.5% for pick number 3. The 12.5% they’d get in the 2nd lottery after they win of these spots would be higher than any team in the lottery except Detroit and Ottawa’s original selection.
Just to add a little fun to the crazy here, there exists a very real scenario where the Carolina Hurricanes could lose in the play in to the New York Rangers, win a lottery selection, and then give up their pick to the Rangers.
Basically, if the Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes grab a lottery spot, the pick the Hurricanes would get from the Leafs defers to 2021 (top 10 protected). Ordinarily, the Rangers would be given the later pick the Hurricanes had (part of the Brady Skjei trade), but with only one pick to give, they’d be forced to move a top 3 selection to the Rangers, the team they lost to in this hypothetical scenario. Talk about salt on the wound.
Sabres ownership came out in defense of Jason Botterill while also informing their fans that he would return for the final year of his contract. This isn’t a major surprise for most fans even if it is a bit of disappointment. Botterill’s tenure with the Sabres hasn’t yielded a playoff spot yet despite Jack Eichel continuing to improve his game year after year, so the disappointment is understandable. As a few on Twitter and in the comments section have pointed out, most of Botterill’s moves have been window dressing.
Sure, individually trades for Henri Jokiharju and Colin Miller were good moves, but neither really addressed major issues that had been plaguing the Sabres for an extended period of time. Even after three seasons, we’re still waiting to see what his core group actually looks like, which is a problem itself but this off season represents perhaps his best (and likely last) opportunity to make his vision a reality.
The Sabres have most of their forward group coming off the books, some will likely be retained but a good portion will probably leave. Dylan Cozens is poised to make the NHL club and the Sabres will have another selection in the top 10 of the draft. Not to mention the on/off rumour of another compliance buyout, which would unburden the Sabres from the back half of Kyle Okposo’s contract. Botterill has made some shrewd moves in the past but that will no longer be enough. If he wants the team to compete next season, he’s going to have to take some major risks to finally put his stamp on the team and assemble his core.
Speaking of core, Jack Eichel’s frustration was the headline on hockey social media today, with fans wondering when he will finally have enough of the losing and demand a trade out. As much as it stings to hear, I don’t believe the comments were nearly as bad as some fans made it out to be. Eichel has always been a very competitive player, and when the team doesn’t compete well, you can certainly expect a reaction like the one he had as it’s in line with his character.
Frustration from the captain about the team is an emotional investment in the team, another way of saying he still cares. The time to panic about your fiercely competitive star player wanting out isn’t when he’s frustrated, that’s normal when things haven't gone well. It’s when they’ve mentally checked out or lost their love for the game, that’s when you’ve got a problem.
This isn’t to suggest that his comments meant nothing, however. A lack of caring is usually preceded by years of being frustration not being addressed. For now, Eichel’s heart is in the team but if Sabres management doesn’t get this team on the right track, it won’t be long till Eichel becomes upset with having his best years wasted, and who could blame him.
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