The Buffalo Sabres will once again be in the NHL Draft Lottery that will be held on Saturday, April, 30th. The past two years the Sabres have come into the drawing with the best odds at the top overall pick at over 20 percent each year. Neither year luck was able to find the Sabres as the Florida Panthers won in 2014 and the Edmonton Oilers again in 2015. Buffalo was still able to walk away with two excellent players second overall in Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel.
The draft conversation in Buffalo was centered on the players at the top the last two years. Well, this year things are different. The Sabres currently sit with the eighth best odds of winning the lottery at six percent. The focus now is on the prospects outside of the top five as potential fits. Nobody has won the lottery from beyond the third overall spot since New Jersey in 2011 at eighth overall, but the Devils could only move up four spots to fourth overall. The last team to get the first overall pick outside of the top three was the Chicago Blackhawks from fifth overall in 2007. So, long story short here the Sabres are probably not going to win the lottery, but what if they do?
Make the Pick
Option one is obviously to make the pick at first overall. The NHL Draft is in Buffalo this year and it would be must see to hear the ovation if the Sabres held the first overall pick. American-born center Auston Matthews would be the obvious pick at number one. The idea of combining Matthews with the other forwards on the roster, especially Eichel and Reinhart would almost be a dream scenario. Buffalo would be set in the top six for the foreseeable future and have one of the best forward units in all of hockey.
Matthews ending up in Buffalo could also work out for the NHL from a PR standpoint. Buffalo is arguably one the NHL’s top hockey markets and the two future faces of USA Hockey would be playing together. When it comes down to it, if the Sabres were to win the lottery staying put and making the pick doesn’t require a lot of analysis. The payoff is obvious and exciting for the organization.
Now we have option two, trading the pick. This may seem like a crazy idea to some, but let’s take a step back and look at the roster. The forward depth is pretty deep in the organization with Eichel, Reinhart, O’Reilly, Kane and Ennis. Also, you have forwards like Hudson Fasching and Justin Bailey who’ll be pushing for a roster spot.
The Sabres defense is the weakness of the roster currently. Outside of, Rasmus Ristolainen, Buffalo doesn’t have a lot on the blue line. General Manager Tim Murray already indicated his number one objective of the off-season would be to find a top end quarterback defender. Instead of bolstering the forward ranks, the Sabres could use the top pick to acquire that top end blue liner.
A few teams in the top ten may be willing to move that type of player to move up and draft a player like Auston Matthews. The first team that immediately comes to mind is the Arizona Coyotes. Matthews is from Arizona and grew up watching the Coyotes. Not only would Matthews help the Coyotes on the ice, but he would help generate new fans of the club. The Coyotes are in the middle of a General Manager transition after firing long time General Manager Don Maloney. The new GM could look to make an early splash and build their club around Matthews, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Dylan Strome. The player that the Sabres could be interested in is puck moving defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The 24-year-old is a left-handed shot which is exactly what the Sabres need. He can quarterback the power play and is good in his own end. Maloney said the Coyotes had no interest in moving Ekman-Larsson, but could the new GM have a different opinion?
Another team that could be interesting is the Montreal Canadiens. The player I’m thinking of here is PK Subban. The Canadiens would be taking a huge risk in moving Subban, but nonetheless, the chatter is there that they would entertain the idea. Montreal would get the number one center to be the face of their franchise. Also, the Canadiens would rid themselves of a nine million dollar cap hit through 2021-2022. General Manager Marc Bergevin can sell the idea of change after a disappointing season to the fan base with this move.
A third team could be the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets could offer the Sabres restricted-free-agent Jacob Trouba. He’s not on the same level as Ekman-Larsson and Subban, so the Jets may have to offer more in a package. The Jets are pretty stocked on the blue line and can afford to move Trouba. Matthews would fit nicely in an already very deep prospect pool with other forwards like Nikolaj Ehlers, Joel Armia, Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor and Brendan Lemieux.
It’s unlikely the Sabres will win the lottery and move up to first overall. However, if it did happen Buffalo would have an interesting decision to make. Both sides of the coin could be argued for in this situation. Adding another elite forward would be another great piece to a young and high potential forward core. Moving the pick and bringing in a top end defender could make more sense to even out the roster and make the Sabres a complete team. You never know, maybe with some luck and draft lottery karma, the Sabres could find themselves the recipient of a shocking development.