Not surprisingly, the pomp and circumstance of the NHL Draft Lottery fails to appeal to a no-nonsense guy like Tim Murray.
“I’ll go up and sit in the room, they’ll pull cards, they’ll tell us who picks No. 1 and so forth,” said the Sabres’ general manager. “I just want to be told where we’re picking and get ready for that. That’s all. I could care less about the lottery.”
Buffalo’s fans have little else to look forward to, so the April 15 event will garner significant attention. The Sabres will finish last this season, which means they’ll get the best chance at winning the lottery and drafting first overall June 27 in Philadelphia.
Before we move on to the rumored changes to future lotteries, here’s a refresher on the present format:
• All 14 teams that miss the playoffs are entered into a weighted lottery to determine the first pick.
• The 30th-place team has a 25 percent chance of winning, while the 29th-place team has an 18.8 percent chance. The odds dwindle to 0.5 percent for the team that finishes 17th.
• The rest of the first round is conducted in reverse order of finish, so no team can move down more than one spot.
“Whatever happens in the lottery happens,” Murray said. “We’re going to be picking first or second, so we’ve got to be prepared for that, and we will be.”
What Murray isn’t preparing for is a change to the lottery system.
The 2015 draft will be top heavy with franchise forwards Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, and rumors recently flew that the NHL would take significant steps to discourage tanking next season. Reports suggested the league might use a lottery process for the first five picks, or it would base the lottery odds on teams’ performances over the last three to five seasons.
Since the Sabres are expected to be near the bottom again next year, fans didn’t take kindly to the proposed changes. Murray doesn’t expect any changes, based on his talks around the league.
“We’ve all heard that talk of the five-team, five-year rotation, things like that, but there’s been really no appetite to do that,” Murray said. “They don’t think there’s any appetite right now to change it. I believe if there is an appetite to change it, if they’re going to make a drastic change, it has to be something like three to five years out so it doesn’t affect somebody that’s in that position now.
“From what I understand, they’re not worried about tanking for McDavid and Eichel.”
As for this year’s draft, Murray said there are four players in the conversation to be drafted at the top. The GM will meet with the scouting department in May to determine who should head the Sabres’ list.
Loewen’s act goes viral
Until recently, Andrew Loewen’s claim to fame was playing at Canisius College with Cory Conacher. Then he started sharing the crease with a female goaltender, and that led to more than 1 million views of his stellar dance moves.
Loewen, who played at Canisius from 2006 to 2010, has spent the last four seasons tending goal for the Columbus Cottonmouths of the Southern Professional Hockey League. Aside from me and the people who visited when I covered the Georgia minor-league team in 2000 and 2001, it’s likely no one around here had ever heard of the Cottonmouths.
That changed last month when they signed Shannon Szabados, who backstopped Canada to gold medals in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. Her two starts brought in a bunch of new fans, and they marveled at Loewen’s tradition every time he’s the backup.
The 29-year-old joins the Cottonmouths’ dance team during intermission for a routine called The Wobble. He heads to the player entrance in full gear and wiggles his hips, waves his arms and shakes his backside to the beat of the music and the cheers of the crowd. A newcomer caught the dance on video, posted it to YouTube and it topped 1 million views last week.
“With Shannon coming and me doing it, that was kind of the switch that brought it from Columbus to the rest of the outside world,” Loewen said by phone. “One person liked it, shared it. The next person liked it, shared it, and here I am a YouTube viral sensation, my 10 minutes of fame.”
Loewen started his dance about two years ago as a way to entertain fans in a market that’s had hockey only since 1996.
“The very first time I did it I cringed, thinking, ‘What are my teammates thinking about what I’m doing, and should I be doing this?’ ” said Loewen, who was encouraged to shake it by owner and fellow Wobbler Wanda Amos. “I went out there, did it, the fans went crazy, we won the game, so it was acceptable for me to do it the next time. It took off from there and became part of the routine and expected from our Columbus Cottonmouth fans.”
He hasn’t danced lately because he’s been busy leading the Cottonmouths to the SPHL finals. Loewen is 4-1 in the playoffs with a 1.21 goals-against average and .963 save percentage. Last season, the Winnipeg native set league records with a 1.74 GAA and .945 save percentage in 30 appearances.
“I really had one of those seasons that you dream about as a child,” Loewen said. “It was fun to play. Every time I stepped on the ice, it felt like I was in the zone.”
Despite the numbers generated by his play and dance moves, Loewen remains the second most famous goalie on his team behind Szabados.
“She is the attention grabber, which is good and well-deserved,” Loewen said. “She’s a professional and a talented goalie.”
It’s amazing that a team playing along the banks of the Chattahoochee River has two netminders getting so much recognition at the same time.
“We’ve been getting a lot of good press lately,” GM and coach Jerome Bechard said with a laugh. “I knew I was going to get some. I didn’t think it was going to be this big.”
On the fly
• The offseason in playoff-missing Vancouver will be interesting. GM Mike Gillis is already distancing himself from first-year coach John Tortorella. “I know people are upset,” Tortorella said. “I know people above me are upset. I know the players are upset. I’m upset. But we need to stay within it and keep on trying to improve.”
• New Jersey remains in the Eastern Conference playoff race despite an 0-11 record in shootouts entering Saturday night’s game in Carolina. “They’ve got players turned around on the bench, helmets upside down, guys burying their heads,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “I mean, they’ve got everything going. It’s tough to watch, especially at this time of year where these points are so valuable for them.”