Luck and the NHL Draft

One of the more interesting moments in NHL and specifically Buffalo Sabres history came in the very early days of their existence. When the National Hockey League announced two new franchises, the Sabres and the Vancouver Canucks, the league decided that in order to determine which of the two clubs would get the first overall selection in the entry draft, it would be done with a spin of a wheel. The Sabres’ coach and General Manager, Punch Imlach chose number 11 and so the Sabres were allocated numbers 11-20, while the Canucks had 1-10. After the spin, NHL president Clarence Campbell proclaimed that the number was one and the Canucks had won. If it were not for Imlach’s careful eye, history would be completely altered, in fact the number was 11 and the Sabres were victorious.

This luck of the spin allowed the Sabres to select Gilbert Perreault, one of only three eventual Hall of Famers in that draft, along with eighth overall pick Darryl Sittler and fifth rounder Billy Smith.

dale tallon florida
Florida Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon, right, along with Panthers coach Kevin Dineen. Tallon was picked second overall in the 1970 Entry Draft behind Gilbert Perrault (Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE)

Perreault of course went on to have a great career for the Buffalo Sabres notching 512 goals and 1326 points all with Buffalo.  Perreault still holds the franchise record for games played, goals, assists and points.

In his first season, 1970-71, he set new rookie marks for goals with 38 and points 72 on his way to the Calder Trophy. It wasn’t long before the Sabres made their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals, losing the 1974-75 Finals to the Philadelphia Flyers.

But whom did the Canucks get at number two? A familiar name still involved with the game: current Florida Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon. The Canucks went with the best defenseman in the draft who went on to play 11 seasons in the NHL and participating in a pair of All-Star games (1971 and 1972).

The reason this history lesson is interesting is because of the situation the NHL currently finds itself in: the lockout.  Once again we could be looking at the next slew of draft picks being decided by some form of randomization.

The Crosby Lottery


After winning the 2005 NHL Draft lottery, the Pittsburgh Penguins selected Sidney Crosby.

In 2005, after the last lockout nullified an entire season a lottery was created for the draft, held in Ottawa.  All of the teams had a shot at the number one pick as they all began with three balls in the barrel. For every playoff appearance or No. 1 overall pick in the previous four years a team lost a ball, coincidentally giving Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Columbus and the New York Rangers the best chance of drafting first.

As we know the Penguins won and made a pretty good choice in drafting Sydney Crosby. Buffalo fell to 13th and drafted Marek Zagrapan.

Head of the class

So with the threat of a cancelled NHL season hanging in the balance could we be heading towards another lottery or spin of a wheel? If so there are two players that jump out as the star candidates in this years NHL draft. Much like the first draft the Sabres participated in it looks like things will come down to a forward and defender. Halifax Mooseheads’ center Nathan MacKinnon and Portland Winterhawks defender Seth Jones.

MacKinnon, coincidentally enough comes from the same town as the last first overall lottery chose selection, Crosby, Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. MacKinnon has already lite it up in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 78 points in the 2011-12 season and 47 points (22 goals, 25 assists) through the first 27 games of the 2012-13 season.

Much like Perrault was 42 years ago, Mackinnon appears to be an offensive talent that could spark any team needing offence.

On the other side of things, Jones is already NHL built with an intimidating 6’3, 205 lbs frame. Jones also provides an excellent skill set and has a strong all-around game. Originally from Plano, Texas, Jones spent two years with the United States National Team Development Program before making his Western Hockey League debut this season.  Through 26 games he has 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists).

If the same system were to happen, in the event of a lost season, the teams that would have the greatest chance at the top selection, three balls, would be Calgary, Carolina, Columbus, Dallas, Minnesota, Toronto and Winnipeg.

Unfortunately for the Sabres, they made the 2010 and 2011 playoffs so their chances are lower. Then again, they got lucky in 1970, but as we all know anything can happen with the spin of a wheel or luck of the draw.