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While the NHL and NHLPA continue to work closer towards an official announcement on the continuation of their season, the Buffalo Sabres officially enter off-season mode for the foreseeable future. Not much has been said by the league regarding the NHL draft although we would expect that is part of the ongoing negotiations between the two sides.
Social media was full of hindsight after the announcement was made and the Sabres were not part of the 24-team playoff format. There were plenty of what if statements, especially regarding the final stretch of games that did not go well and if only they had won a few of those.
The reality is any way you slice it the Sabres were not a playoff team. Having your bottom 10 team (both in the standings and expected goals for) accidentally gain entrance to a makeshift post-season is the start of a chain of events that almost always ends up with management thinking everything is alright. Not to mention the terrible free agent contracts that follow. After all, they were a playoff team, a few adds in free agency will make the contenders, right?
On The playoff Format
I can certainly understand wanting to include as many teams as possible, especially after axing the regular season. The league is going to take a hit with the gates closed and having more teams involved will bring more viewers, but I’m fairly surprised only two teams voted against this (Tampa Bay and Carolina). There’s already plenty of luck that goes into winning a normal best of seven playoff series. In a best of five play in, it would not surprise me at all if a few contenders saw their season come to a quick end.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were rumoured to have voted no before Kris Letang came out and clarified otherwise but their opposition to the format would be understandable. They were the 7th best team in the NHL, but if Carey Price gets hot for 3 out of 5 games, that’s their season done.
When the idea of an early June draft was being floated by the league, firing Botterill made less sense. By the time they could find a suitable candidate, they’d have hardly any time to prepare for a very important draft. The new date is still pending, though we assume it will be further down the road. While that would give ownership more time to bring in a new general manager, I wouldn’t bet on them parting ways with Botterill. He has just 1 year left on his current deal, and given the circumstances, it’s likely that they’ll give him one last shot at building a playoff team.
As for whether he actually deserves to be fired, consider this. The Sabres got a near MVP like season out of Jack Eichel, and were still not good enough to get into an expanded playoff format that includes more than 3/4ths of the league. That pretty much says it all does it not?
In what has become something of an annoying tradition, the draft lottery once again represents the biggest night in the Sabres season. There hasn’t been much word on the event since the rumoured proposal of altering the process to only allow a team to move up four spots was brought up. I have to imagine that given the new format, that rumoured proposal is a long shot at best.
It will be interesting to see if the league decides to re-weight the slots for the lottery. Assuming they give the bottom 14 teams a shot at it, will the teams who did not make the “play in” this year be given higher odds at the top three spots? Or could they simply reduce the lottery down to just the bottom seven, with one winner and the rest of the draft coming down to seeding and elimination from the playoffs?
There was also a rumour early on in the shutdown that they could scrap the lottery altogether, but I have to believe that would have gotten major pushback from every team that isn’t Detroit or Ottawa. If a draft lottery does take place, it could be the silver lining in falling short of a 24-team playoff for the Sabres. Any sort of increase in odds gets them that much closer to landing a game changer on an entry level contract, something they desperately need.
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