I’m a die-hard Sabres fan.
And when I say die-hard...I mean we’re in a strict monogamous relationship.
There’s no checking out the other team...eyeing up their prospects...dreaming about tapping into their goaltending pipeline. I’ve never been a guy to list off my top 5 favorite teams, or be someone who, once their team is eliminated from the playoffs (if they ever get there in the first place), announces their playoff allegiances to a new team for the remainder of the postseason.
Can’t do it.
Won’t do it.
It just doesn’t feel right.
I’m a one-team kinda guy.
But I am the guy who will cheer for other teams, whole-heartedly, IF it’s going to benefit my one team.
So, with those lovable Sabres once again out of the playoff picture...and...also out of the ridiculous Draft Lottery Part II...I’ve got to start figuring out just where my “allegiances” for this year’s playoffs lie.
For the purpose of this exercise I’m going to order this from the team I’m most “okay” with getting Alexis Lafreniere, down to the team that I would rather light my teeth on fire then see him pull on their sweater.
1. Minnesota Wild - It’s no secret, the early part of this list will be dominated by Western conference teams. And who better to kick it off then the most boring team in hockey. True, Lafreniere is not from Minnesota or Wisconsin, which seems to be a prerequisite to playing for the Wild. But he IS something the Wild are lacking...an actual good player. Hopefully the Minnesota front office is so thrown off by the French accent (or lack of that Minnesoooota sing-song accent) that they agree to swap him straight up for local boy Casey Mittelstadt.
2. Arizona Coyotes - From the boring-est team in hockey to the most confusing team in hockey. The Coyotes should skate out to the “Hokey Pokey” for player introductions. So much “left foot in, and left foot out, and trade this guy, and move this money about” over the last few years...it’s hard to know what the plan is. At least he’ll have nice weather and plenty of golfing options.
3. Winnipeg Jets - As I’m sure we all are aware by now, the Jets were actually the team in the spot that won the lottery. Surprisingly, there hasn’t been a lot of noise on this front. I imagine their voices will become much louder should the Jets lose in the play-in round. In Winnipeg I see a similar situation to what the Sabres face. A smaller market. A very undesirable location. A rabid fanbase. A zero in the “Stanley Cup’s won” column. They’ve built a nice collection of talented forwards...but the defense is starting to crumble. So...maybe adding a Lafreniere would shake loose one of those forwards….(and maybe we deserve a second chance).
4. Chicago Blackhawks - Now it’s starting to get a little painful. The ‘Hawks weren’t in line to make the playoffs to begin with...so there’s that. But recent successes have me hesitant to dump more ammo that will result in a non-stop Chelsea Dagger marathon the next time the Sabres are in town. While their stars are aging-out...they’re starting to build a nice stable of young talent...meaning the transition from old guard to new may, unfortunately, prove to be a relatively smooth one.
5. Nashville Predators - I’m kind of indifferent here. The Preds have been good for so long, but have done it without that bonafide star. Part of me thinks they deserve to finally get one. They are a team that seems to be on a bit of a downslide. Getting Lafreniere could help them to quickly reset that course.
6. Calgary Flames - This team carries so much offensive fire-power already. But their defense is looking at some big changes this summer. Like the Jets, this could be a team that, should they land Lafreniere, might be freed up to move some of their current offensive stars for some help on the back end. The Sabres just may have some defensemen of interest.
7. Vancouver Canucks - The Canucks are starting to assemble a fairly impressive core of young players. Pettersson, Horvat, Hughes, Boeser, Virtanen...I don’t want them to get more. I’ll admit, this one might be more of a personal bias...being that I live in an area where Canucks fans are loud and proud...I’ve grown tired of their antics. I wish them ill-success. Now trade us Boeser and I might rethink this placing.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets - The first team from the East. This is the perfect example of my die-hard Sabres fandom shining through. Had they not been a team the Sabres were directly in competition with for a playoff spot, I probably would’ve slotted them ahead of Chicago. But alas, they are in our way. I think I really respect their trade deadline stance of 2018-19. Don’t know if it was smart. Not sure I agree with it. But it was bold. As a team they lack offense, especially high-end offense...so of the Eastern teams, they can absorb Lafreniere the best...with the least effect on the Sabres.
9. New York Islanders - Here’s another team that really focuses on defense-first, thus potentially limiting the impact of an Alexis Lafreniere. Being in the Metro is less impactful than the Atlantic...and I’m starting to dread finishing this article.
10. Montreal Canadiens - What a beautiful story this could be. Hometown boy brings hockey’s most notorious franchise back into respectability. Hold my hair while I barf. I DON’T want this. I mean I guess I want it the 10th most. But I hate it. The only saving grace is the Canadiens are generally a mess and are full of tiny players.
11. Carolina Hurricanes - I went back and forth on this one, trying to choose between the ‘Canes and Rangers. In the end I chose the Hurricanes because they will always have a tougher time recruiting and retaining talent. The Rangers can seemingly get whoever they want, whenever they want. Both are rising talented, young teams that will be good for years....even (and hopefully) without Lafreniere.
12. New York Rangers - see above. Both the Rangers and Hurricanes have had unexpected lottery wins over the past couple of years. The ‘Canes jumped from 11 to 2 in 2018 where they selected Andrei Svechnikov, while the Rangers jumped from 7 to 2 to select Kaapo Kakko in the most recent draft. The Sabres have never jumped up.
13. Pittsburgh Penguins - This team hasn’t known a time without a generational superstar since pre-Mario. They’ve had either Lemieux, Jagr, Crosby or Malkin in their line up since October of 1984. Although in 2003-04 Lemieux, who was the only one there, played just 10 games as the Pens fell to last place. I didn’t feel sorry for them then...and I won’t feel sorry for them now...if they don’t win this pick.
14. Florida Panthers - The second of three teams from the Atlantic division that are in the running for the first overall pick. This is a team that is hitting its prime. The Panthers window is kind of now...and I feel kind of brief. I don’t need them to add that cheap, immediate influx of talent to their lineup that would help extend the window. They also play in front of the NHL’s 3rd lowest attendance. Don’t. Deserve.
15. Edmonton Oilers - I don’t think I even need to waste my time here. This is just no. I cannot imagine what the Oilers winning this pick would do. I guess maybe it would force the NHL to rethink its draft lottery set up. Although they’d probably just shrug it off as a one-off in an asterixed season. But my goodness...NHL-wide...I don’t think there could be a worse possible outcome.
16. Toronto Maple Leafs - ...don’t even wanna talk about it. Don’t want to do anything to jinx this into being. Not only would it anger me to see the lineup that the “we didn’t tank for Matthew’s” Leafs could roll out on the ice...it might actually be the lineup that they roll out OFF the ice I’d dread even more. Just imagine...Alexis Lafreniere in little fancy black dress shoes with no socks, and short-shorts and maybe a little suit jacket, a moustache and a fedora. Who knows what these guys will try to pass off as fashion to their new impressionable teammate.
So in summary...and I never, ever in a million years thought I’d say this...but...Go Leafs Go!
For exactly one round.
Then get crushed.
What say you?