Buffalo Sabres: Could Losing the Draft Lottery Be Better in the Long Run?

Matt Clouden@@mattcloudenCorrespondent IApril 15, 2014

The bag of Buffalo Sabres center Cody Hodgson is seen in the locker room after the NHL hockey team gathered for the last time on Monday, April 14, 2014, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Nick LoVerde)
Nick LoVerde

On Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET, the NHL will announce the winner of the draft lottery, and Buffalo Sabres fans will finally be able see where this dreadful season will slot us in June's draft. 

The Sabres hold the best individual odds to win the first pick at 25 percent, according to TSN.ca. That leaves the rest of the field (not including New Jersey, which will pick 30th no matter what) with a 75 percent chance of overtaking the Sabres.

So, Sabres fans, odds are that they are going to lose. 

The real question, though, is whether that is really all that bad.

With all the doom and gloom floating around about the Sabres' chances of snagging the top pick, the one important thing to consider is the worst they can pick is second. A loss to Florida, Edmonton or Calgary, Nos. 2-4 on the individual odds list, only means that the Sabres will drop one spot.

Sure, No. 1 is great, but as Jeremy White wrote last night for WGR550, the second pick has been pretty good since 1999. Save likely only Kari Lehtonen, who by all respects is at worst an average goaltender, every single one of those players listed by White has been of the franchise-changing variety. 

Yet despite White's extremely valid point of "who cares, we'll get someone great no matter what," that may not be the only reason to actually hope the Sabres end up with the second pick. 

The other is based on the team's needs, both now and in the future. 

Kevin Devine, the long-time assistant general manager, has said that Sabres general manager Tim Murray is emphatic that the Sabres take the best player available in June, regardless of position. This strategy should not be surprising nor is it likely even debatable. The Sabres struggled in all facets of their game this year, and they need help everywhere. 

This obviously brings the debate of who the best player available is, and while there is unlikely to be a consensus pick this year, the three guys that are in the mix are forwards Sam Reinhart and Sam Bennett and defenseman Aaron Ekblad. 

This debate will rage well into June and certainly will not be cleared up today with the uncertainty surrounding who is picking first lasting until 8 p.m. However, many GMs and scouts, including Devine, believe that Ekblad is the most likely to be able to step in and contribute at the NHL level next year. 

For the sake of argument, let's say that that designation gives him the inside track on "best player available," and that he is the guy the Sabres will target with the first pick, if they were to get it. 

This scenario has not gone unnoticed to many during the past month or so, and many have weighed in on either side of adding another top-tier defensive prospect to the already incredibly deep pool of blue-line prospects.

On its face, it looks a little ridiculous. Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov were recently ranked Nos. 8 and 14, respectively, in Hockey's Future prospect rankings. Whether you rely on the eye test or like advanced stats, Mark Pysyk was arguably the Sabres' best defenseman during his 44 games. Jake McCabe showed a lot of potential in his seven-game stint and will be in the conversation to make the big club from day one next year. 

Yet too much defense is never a bad thing, and if the Sabres win the lottery, it seems almost impossible to pass on a talent like Ekblad who could help make Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff your fifth and sixth defensemen, respectively, in as little as two years. 

The issue with all of this is that the Sabres were, and continue to be, spectacularly bad at scoring goals. As the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues have found out at various times this season, elite defense can still struggle when you can't score enough goals. 

The debate between Reinhart and Bennett is even closer, with Reinhart having a more offensive reputation and Bennett being seen as a 200-foot player. 

Even with the debate, one thing is for certain: One, if not both of them will be there at pick No 2. Looking at the next five teams after the Sabres—Florida, Edmonton, Calgary, New York Islanders and Vancouver─Calgary may be the only team that can pass on Ekblad. 

What those teams will actually do can, and likely will, be different, but based on personnel, it looks like Ekblad would be the top pick for most.

That would leave the Sabres with a choice of Sams, both of whom project to be very good forwards that will certainly help the scoring cause.

An additional top-end forward will definitely not solidify the forward group like Ekblad would for the defense, but it will go a long way toward putting this team on the right track.

Taking a forward now that will produce over the long haul may be better for the team long term than stocking up on defensemen because it brings the guy into the system earlier, and the more talent in the system, the better. 

Basically, the Sabres cannot be faulted for wanting Ekblad, and they would be a better team for it, but the team needs the most help at forward, and taking a very good forward will likely make the team better in the long run than taking a very good defenseman, of which they have a couple already.

This is really like debating which good scenario you want to have. It truly is a win-win situation. 

So, win or lose tonight, Sabres fans will have a player they can be excited about on the way.  


Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season long: @SwordPlay18