The Sabres’ draft next month won’t be as much fun as originally anticipated. Buffalo should have a blast in 2015, however.
The Sabres had hoped to own three first-round picks this year, but the total dwindled to one Thursday when the New York Islanders announced they will keep the No. 5 overall selection rather than hand it to Buffalo as part of the Thomas Vanek trade. The Sabres will instead get the Islanders’ first-round pick in 2015.
Buffalo will draft second overall June 27 in Philadelphia, so New York’s decision deprives the team of two picks in the top five. The influx of top-end talent into the last-place organization could have hastened its rebuild.
There’s definitely a bright spot for Sabres fans. The team now has three first-round picks in 2015, which is the most highly anticipated draft in years. Franchise-changing talents Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel headline next year’s prospect list, and the Sabres have three chances to get the top pick. They also own St. Louis’ first-round selection as part of the Ryan Miller trade.
Buffalo would have received the Blues’ first-round pick this year, too, if Miller had carried St. Louis to the Western Conference final, re-signed with the club or been traded. The first two conditions failed to occur, and the third is unlikely.
Buffalo’s draft haul has to wait because Islanders General Manager Garth Snow couldn’t afford to skip this draft. His team has missed the playoffs six of the last seven seasons, including this one. He went for it this year, acquiring Vanek in October in an attempt to make a run.
Instead, the team stumbled and ultimately fell when captain John Tavares suffered a knee injury at the Olympics. Vanek rejected a $50 million contract offer, leaving Snow no choice but to trade the pending unrestricted free agent to Montreal, along with a fifth-round pick, for Swedish prospect Sebastian Collberg and a second-round selection. That package paled in comparison to the one New York gave to Buffalo for Vanek – forward Matt Moulson, the first-round pick and a 2015 second-rounder.
New York’s angry fan base would have been in revolt had the team also handed over the No. 5 selection. The Isles hope next year’s pick delivered to Buffalo is a lot worse, and they set about achieving that Thursday by signing goaltender Jaroslav Halak to a four-year, $18 million deal. Halak, who came to Buffalo from St. Louis as part of the Miller trade but never played for the Sabres, went 29-13-7 this season with a 2.25 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.
The Islanders acquired the rights to Halak from Washington earlier this month in exchange for a fourth-round pick.
“We’re excited to have Jaro join the organization,” Snow told the Islanders’ website. “He’s someone we targeted when the season ended, and we’re happy he’s made this commitment as we continue to make our team stronger this offseason.”
Sabres fans undoubtedly want the Isles to be weaker now that a draft pick awaits at the end of next year.