In a crisis, be aware of the danger, but also recognize the opportunity. I’m paraphrasing John F Kennedy here but that’s where the Sabres are at right now. Last week’s Zoom conference call was at best a disaster. Ownership probably would have been better off waiting a day or two instead of doing it right before a whole other set of firings took place.
Still, the theme for the Sabres over the next little while is quite clear, efficiency above all else. As much flack as ownership took that day (and rightfully so) I have to assume that they won’t be the last NHL team to have a similar agenda. There are opportunities here, however, that could help steer the on-ice product in the right direction.
Since Terry Pegula took over in 2011, the Sabres have been notoriously bad at finding value. From questionable low ceiling draft picks to suspect trading to downright bloated free agent deals. They’ve spent at or near the cap for most of Pegula’s tenure as owner and have absolutely no playoff appearances to show for it (I’m not counting the 2011 16-4-4 miracle run since that roster pre-dated the ownership change).
If you look at the new crop of contenders that also pride themselves on economic efficiency, the one thing they have in common is they have invested heavily into the analytics side. I’m not just referring to the money invested, teams like the Carolina Hurricanes and Colorado Avalanche actively incorporate their analytics team in the decision-making process, rather than just have them there to say they have a department.
Analytics is still to date a bit of a touchy topic around hockey circles, commonly met with questions such as “the numbers can’t capture everything” which is true, although I wonder how a set of eyes prone to confirmation bias and fatigue is somehow an improvement. The numbers can’t tell you everything, but they help broaden our understanding. They can give you additional pieces to the puzzle, that can help a team make better decisions (not perfect, just better than they used to).
The Sabres gutted their scouting department, although incomprehensibly keeping the architect of most of the Sabres failings, amateur scout Kevin Devine. The vacancies present a chance for the Sabres to add a data driven approach to both their amateur and pro scouting staff, which could give them an edge leading up to next season.
Speaking of next season, I’ll be completely honest in saying that this Friday’s draft lottery snuck up on me. The Sabres hold the seventh best odds and a little luck could go a long way for them. As mentioned earlier, the Sabres could do with some value moves and nothing is better value than acquiring high end talent through the draft, especially in one as deep as this year’s class.
I wrote up a top ten ranking
not too long ago and while I have my personal favourites, the Sabres would do well to select almost any of the forwards in the top ten. A few of these top forwards are expected to make the jump to the NHL and have an immediate impact as soon as next season. Even winning the third lottery spot could allow the Sabres to add an impact centre and address their issues down the middle with players like Quinton Byfield or Marco Rossi. Assuming they retain the seventh pick after the lottery, the Sabres could still have a shot at a player like Rossi or add an offensively gifted winger such as Alexander Holtz or Lucas Raymond.
The real worry here for Sabres fans should be getting leapfrogged. The lottery odds this year actually skew in favour of teams that lose out in the play in portion of the playoffs (read more here
), so there’s a real possibility they wind up picking as low as 10th. Should that be the case, the Sabres will be in danger of missing out on one of the high-end forwards available in this year’s draft, putting them in a very difficult spot both in the short term and long term. It’s been a difficult off-season for Sabres fans, a lottery victory would go a long way to renewing optimism, but a three-spot fall to 10th might be the final nail in the hope coffin.
Thanks for reading!