Warren Buffett is backing a contest that promises $1 billion to anyone who fills out a perfect NCAA Tournament bracket. The chairman of The Buffalo News should have offered $1 trillion to anyone who could have guessed the events that would occur in Sabreland this season.
His money would have been safe.
There was the quick firing of Darcy Regier and Ron Rolston, which coincided with the shocking return of Pat LaFontaine and Ted Nolan.
There was the mind-blowing departure of LaFontaine, plus the trades of goaltender Ryan Miller and co-captains Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott. Add in the other transactions, hirings and dubious records set (or about to be set) by Buffalo, and not even the slickest soothsayer would have a perfect percentage.
However, with 16 games left in the season, including tonight’s visit to the New York Islanders, one preseason prognostication is in line to come true. The Sabres are in last place and have a great chance to stay there, giving them the best shot at the first overall draft pick.
The blueprint to be a terrible team designed by owner Terry Pegula, President Ted Black and Regier has had more twists than expected, but the results are as projected. The Sabres are just 19-39-8 and have only 10 regulation wins in 66 games. They’ll enter Nassau Coliseum as losers of four straight, and they’re getting worse by the game.
Buffalo gave up a season-high 55 shots Thursday night in a 4-2 loss to Carolina. It was tied for the fourth-most shots allowed in team history, and only a fantastic 51-save performance by Michal Neuvirth prevented a blowout.
At least the Sabres scored twice, which matched their output from the previous three games. They’ve totaled four goals in the four losses, causing their goals per game to dip to 1.89, far and away the worst in the NHL. It’s near the record low of 1.84 set by the 1997-98 Tampa Bay Lightning.
Unless the Sabres average 4.1 goals per game the rest of the year, they’ll be the lowest-scoring team in franchise history.
Despite all the trials and tribulations, the Sabres are still not a lock to finish 30th. For once, though, they look pretty good.
Entering Friday’s schedule, the Sabres had 46 points. Edmonton had 54, Florida had 55 and the Islanders and Calgary had 59 each.
Here’s a look at what’s left for the teams who have the best chance to win the draft lottery, which will be held April 14:
• Buffalo: The Sabres have 16 games remaining. Only five will be at home, which means 11 are on the road. The Sabres are a league-worst 7-20-3 away from First Niagara Center. Of the 16 games, 11 are against teams holding a playoff spot or within six points of one.
• Edmonton: Including Friday’s visit to Detroit, the Oilers have 15 games left. Ten are at home, where they are 12-16-3. Eleven are against playoff contenders. The Oilers feel they are trending up with the arrival of goalie Ben Scrivens, who had a .929 save percentage in his first 11 appearances.
• Florida: Including Friday’s home game against New Jersey, the Panthers have 16 games left. Ten are at home, but a whopping 14 of 16 are against teams with postseason dreams. They, too, got a boost in goal with the acquisition of Roberto Luongo.
• Islanders: They hosted San Jose on Friday, one of 15 games left on the schedule. They have eight at home, while 12 are against playoff hopefuls. Like the Sabres, they shipped out talent at the trade deadline. Buffalo holds the Isles’ first-round draft pick, but New York has until June 1 to defer the transaction to 2015.
• Calgary: Including Friday’s visit to Dallas, the Flames have 16 games left. Nine are on the road, where they are 11-17-4. Of the remaining contests, 12 are against postseason possibilities.
Buffalo would need a rare hot streak or a complete tank by one of the other teams to move out of 30th.
Considering the Sabres’ longest run of wins is three games, accomplished just once, a hot streak seems unlikely.
Of course, so has nearly every event since October.