Out of the gate, the Buffalo Sabres have left much more to be desired during this young NHL season. Six games into the 2014-2015 NHL season, the Sabres have earned two out of a possible twelve points with a 1-5-0 record. At the First Niagara Center, the Sabres have scored just two goals in four games and they’ve failed to log a win.
Last season, the club averaged an abysmal 1.83 goals per game and so far this season the Sabres’ average has been worse. Buffalo sits at 1.17 goals per game just ahead of the Florida Panthers who currently own the worst average goals per game in the NHL. Florida managed to outscore the Sabres this past Friday to secure the Panther’s first win of the young NHL season in a battle of the league’s bottom-dwellers.
Head Coach Ted Nolan has not taken the blight of the Sabres lightly but he has not been able to find a remedy just yet. He has been true to his word of juggling the lineup and pushing his players to give a stronger effort or they’ll find themselves sitting in the press box. Buffalo will be out west this week and if the club can’t find some scoring it will be a difficult road trip with match-ups against the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks.
While the Sabres again find themselves in the thick of the basement race, their current spot in the standings has not been unexpected. As the club continues through a rebuilding process, most analysts have projected Buffalo to finish near the bottom of the NHL standings again this season. Most Sabres fans aren’t crazy about the idea of watching their club sit at the bottom of the NHL, but some have come to grips with this reality in the hope of better days ahead.
Connor McDavid: hat trick, two helpers plus a shootout goal last night in Erie's 7-6 preseason loss at Barrie. Get used to this.
— Kris Baker (@SabresProspects) September 5, 2014
Meanwhile, there are other Sabres fans who are embracing the failure in the hope of landing one of the two prized prospects that will be available in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Forwards Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will be taken at the top of this year’s draft. If the Sabres continue the pace it has set in early-going and has luck on it’s side during the draft lottery, the club could be in the position to welcome McDavid or Eichel to Buffalo. The quest to bring Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel – McEichel – to Buffalo has spawned the ‘tank for McEichel’ fan philosophy and this has permeated the minds of many Sabres fans this season.
The ‘Tank for McEichel’ Sabres Fan Philosophy
Buffalo is poised to make some noise in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Buffalo currently has three draft picks in the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. As part of the Thomas Vanek trade, Buffalo received the New York Islanders’ first round pick in either 2014 or 2015. The Islanders opted to keep their 2014 first round pick so Buffalo will receive New York’s first round pick in 2015. The Sabres also acquired a first round pick from the St. Louis Blues in the Ryan Miller trade.
You will not hear one complaint from me this season over a #Sabres loss. Connor McDavid come home!
— Luke Russert (@LukeRussert) October 9, 2014
With three picks in the first round, Buffalo has a ton of assets in what promises to be a very deep draft. Many of the prospects available in the 2015 draft are high quality leading scouts to believe that it will be one of the deepest drafts in recent history. Forwards Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are the premier players in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The excitement behind the possibility that the Sabres may be able to draft one of these forwards has been growing since the rebuild began and it can also be seen among fans across the NHL with a look at #McEichel on Twitter.
The goal of the ‘tank for McEichel’ philosophy is for Buffalo to perform poorly enough so it is in the best position possible to draft one of these players. Some have come to terms with this idea by retraining their hockey brains to accept losses as a step in the right direction. Others are embracing the tank by feeling that wins this season are counter-productive. Regardless of how much ground the ‘tank for McEichel’ philosophy has gained in the mind of this season’s Sabres fans, the idea is definitely a topic of conversation among the team’s supporters.
Prior to the start of the NHL season, many hoped that the New York Islanders or the St. Louis Blues would flounder this season. Both clubs are off to solid starts to the 2014-2015 season much to the chagrin of the ‘tank for McEichel’ Sabres fan. With Buffalo holding the Islanders’ and Blues’ 1st round picks, if one of these clubs should fall off then Buffalo could find itself with a few high picks in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Regardless, with the 2015 NHL Entry Draft predicted to be a very deep one, Buffalo is well positioned to add to it’s arsenal of young talent as it continues to rebuild. The ‘tank for McEichel’ philosophy isn’t really concerned with the results of this season. Success will be measured by a high draft pick for the Sabres at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and anything short of this will be a disappointment.
The Contenders for Last Place
While some fans hope for a decent season, so far the Sabres haven’t provided much hope. Buffalo is not alone as there are a handful of clubs that are hovering near the bottom of the NHL standings. As a result, there are fans in other markets that also have taken on the ‘tank for McEichel’ fan philosophy in the hope that their club may land Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel at this year’s draft.
Talked with Niagara Coach Dave Burkholder about Jack Eichel yesterday…suffice to say Eichel’s already a legend in college hockey.
— Jeremy White (@JeremyWGR) October 18, 2014
At this point in the season, the teams in the running for the top pick in the 2015 NHL Draft are debatable. This picture will get clearer as the season goes on and larger gaps emerge between NHL clubs in the standings. Here are the top three teams in addition to the Buffalo Sabres that I believe will be in the mix to draft Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.
The Winnipeg Jets have had a difficult start to the 2014-2015 NHL season. After winning their first game, the Jets have lost their last four on the way to 1-4-0 start. In these five games, Winnipeg has scored eight goals but it has allowed opponents to score fifteen goals against them. A big reason for this -7 goal differential is a lackluster power play. The Jets have played with the man advantage fourteen times but it has failed to convert any of these opportunities. In a very strong division that includes the Chicago Blackhawks, and St. Louis Blues, Winnipeg may find itself in the McEichel sweepstakes at the end of this season.
Another club in the hunt for McEichel are the Florida Panthers. Florida edged out the Sabres for the top overall pick during the 2014 NHL Entry Draft lottery despite finishing slightly ahead of Buffalo. The club selected defenseman Aaron Ekblad with the top pick in the draft. The Panthers finished the 2013-2014 season in 29th place with a 21-51-10 record. Much like the Sabres, Florida had a very difficult time scoring goals last season with a -72 goal differential and an average of just 2.29 goals per game. Florida seems to have similar fortunes this season as the club has managed a 1-2-2 record while scoring a total of just five goals and a -6 goal differential.
Finally, the Carolina Hurricanes are the third team that I believe will be in the McEichel hunt. With injuries sidelining forwards Jeff Skinner, Eric Staal and defenseman Andrej Sekera in the early-going and forward Jordan Staal for the longer-term, the banged up Canes have had a difficult start to the 2014-2015 season. Carolina is still seeking it’s first win. The Canes have played two less games than Buffalo so their 0-2-2 record currently puts them in 28th place. The Hurricanes will need to overcome the injuries that have hampered their success to climb out of the Metropolitan Division basement.
The Sabres Fan Bottom Line
Sabres fans who have embraced the ‘tank for McEichel’ philosophy will be scoreboard-stalking the Jets, Panthers, Canes and other basement-dwellers throughout this season. The lottery system makes the ‘tank for McEichel’ philosophy all the more fascinating. The Sabres could very well finish in last place and not hit the top pick if luck passes them by during the lotto draw.
Many Sabres fans have come to terms with the idea that this year will be another challenging season but they have high hopes for the future. Buffalo finished the 2013-2014 season with just fifty-two points which was fourteen points behind the Florida Panthers. The likelihood of the Sabres closing the gap to make a playoff push is small and their struggles so far suggest that they may have a tough time getting out of the basement.
The 2014-2015 NHL season for the Sabres seems bleak but that is not to say that the future is similar. Buffalo has a very deep system of prospects that will begin to surface in the NHL within the next few seasons. The addition of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel to the fold, if the Sabres are in the position to draft them, brings a significant offensive talent to the franchise who would grow with Buffalo’s other young talent.
I get it. There are a lot of hard working players who want to win on the Sabres. But if they miss out on McEichel it's a giant failure
— Matthew Coller (@MatthewColler) September 18, 2014
It will take time for this group of youngsters to grow and the rebuild vision to come to fruition. However, it appears that Buffalo is on track to return to form within the next few seasons. Given the early-going of the 2014-2015 season, the ‘tank for McEichel’ fan philosophy has surfaced. If the team continues this pace, this fan philosophy may take an even stronger hold as a dominant thread of discussion among Sabres fans this season.
The opportunity to draft forward Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel will be the huge payoff that many fans are longing for in exchange for enduring another difficult season. The stars will need to align in order for Buffalo to have the opportunity to draft one of these future superstars. However, Sabres fans who are running full throttle with the ‘tank for McEichel’ philosophy will consider anything short of drafting Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel to be a huge disappointment.
Tim joined The Hockey Writers in July 2013. He began his tenure with THW by covering the Minnesota Wild and he now writes on the Buffalo Sabres. Tim completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University at Buffalo. In addition, he is a published historian and a Baltimore Orioles Contributing Writer for LegendsOnDeck.com. Tim’s work for THW has been featured on sites such as Yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @TOHockeyTHW