It appears that Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the two generational centers expected to be at the top of next June’s NHL draft, will both play in Buffalo for at least one game this season. And as the NHL finalized its draft lottery rules on Wednesday, the Sabres remain in position to make First Niagara Center the permanent home for at least one of them if they stay at the bottom of the league standings.
McDavid is scheduled to be in town this afternoon for a news conference in the First Niagara Center pavilion to announce that his junior team, the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters, will play a game in Buffalo this season. Eichel, who will play this season for Boston University, is expected to be the marquee name on the ice here Sept. 25 for USA Hockey’s All-America Prospects Game.
The tandem dubbed “McEichel” by Canadian media outlets is going to be the focus of many teams the next few months. With the public pronouncement that it will improve competitive balance – and the widely accepted private notion that it needs to discourage teams from tanking their seasons to improve their draft odds – the NHL has dropped the chances of the team with the worst record winning the April lottery from 25 percent to 20 percent.
Of biggest importance to the Sabres is the fact that the team with the worst record will only drop to No. 2 if it does not win the lottery in 2015. That’s what happened to the Sabres this year, as they finished 14 points behind every other team but lost the lottery to the Florida Panthers and thus took Sam Reinhart with the No. 2 pick.
Under the new rules, a last-place finish again next year makes it harder to grab McDavid at No. 1 – but would guarantee the Sabres no worse than a chance to draft Eichel at No. 2.
The league is further changing the rules for the 2016 draft, making the lottery for the top three positions instead of just No. 1. The team with the worst record could slide as far as No. 4 if it does not win any of the draws for the top three.
All 14 non-playoff teams, or the teams that own their selections if traded, are entered into the lottery for the No. 1 pick, but the odds have been changed for all of them.
The top four teams have had their odds of getting No. 1 reduced, with the range of 10.7 percent to 25 percent being dropped to 9.5-20 percent. The odds of teams 5-14 have been increased, with the fifth-place team having an 8.5 percent chance to win and No. 14 at 1 percent. Under the previous rules, the range was 0.5-8.1. The Sabres own three first-round picks, with the New York Islanders’ selection also a lottery possibility while the St. Louis Blues’ are not expected to be a lottery choice.
The NHL’s Board of Governors approved the changes during a draft-week meeting in New York, and the players association approved them last month before the league finalized them this week. Some teams were reportedly hoping all non-playoff clubs would get an equal chance at top pick McDavid.
The Sabres, of course, wanted no part of that kind of system.
“I just think it affects the teams you see at the bottom now, so you know who you’re affecting,” General Manager Tim Murray said during draft week in Philadelphia. “I’m not sure that’s fair. I think if you did it three years out, you know you’re affecting somebody. You’re affecting a bad team, but you’re not sure who that team is.”
Speaking here Tuesday after announcing the league is moving its annual scouting combine to Buffalo, NHL senior vice president Colin Campbell acknowledged some teams wanted a more even distribution of the odds.
“There has been a slight adjustment made, but not the adjustment teams were looking for,” said Campbell. I don’t think it’s enough that it’s going to make that big of a difference. In my own opinion, if it’s not broke don’t fix it. I think the draft has worked the way it’s supposed to work.”
As for today’s news conference, Sabres president Ted Black will greet an Erie contingent that will also include Otters general manager/managing partner Sherwood “Sherry” Bassin and new assistant coach and former Sabres defenseman Jay McKee.
In front office changes announced Wednesday, longtime Sabres director of amateur scouting and current assistant general manager Kevin Devine has been reassigned to director of player personnel. Earlier this month, Murray promoted nine-year front-office employee Mark Jakubowski to his assistant general manager.
Former Sabres player and Rochester coach Randy Cunneyworth has moved from a player development coach with the Amerks to development coach for the entire organization. Former Sabres assistant coach Jerry Forton has accepted a position as a college scout.