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Sabres notebook: NHL banking on game-night lottery

The timing of the NHL Draft Lottery is expected to change, but the process of picking the winner will remain in place.

The NHL and its television partners believe the lottery will receive more attention if it shares the spotlight rather than commands it on its own, so the event is likely moving to the first Saturday of the postseason. The potential move, first reported by Sportsnet.ca, would create an April 18 date for the lottery. It had previously been held between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs.

The league has studied its analytics and determined that fans are more engaged on game nights rather than off days. By holding the lottery on the same day as playoff games, the NHL is banking on more people paying attention.

Seeing which team will win the lottery and the right to draft Connor McDavid would draw viewers at any time, but NBCSN, Rogers and the NHL believe the first weekend of the playoffs would give the lottery its most prominent placement.

When fans tune in, they’ll see the result of the lottery rather than the actual drawing. The NHL conducts the sweepstakes before going on the air because it considers the plucking of pingpong balls to be poor television.

While seeing bouncing balls that pictorially represent all 14 non-playoff teams would be intriguing for audiences, that’s not how the NHL (or the NBA) does it. Instead, 14 balls are numbered one through 14. Four are drawn. The combination is matched to a four-digit probability chart that previously divided the possible combos among the 14 eligible teams.

The league will film the process and post it on NHL.com after the lottery show.

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Shane Doan knows as well as anyone that Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are special players.

“I’ve got a 13-year-old boy that follows it like you wouldn’t believe, so I know all their stats and I know everything that they’re doing,” the Coyotes’ captain said Thursday. “I’m aware of historically how good each of them are.”

While giving the prospects credit, Doan says the first two picks in June’s draft won’t change a franchise by themselves.

“They need an entire team around them, and if you think that’s going to change because they’re in the NHL, it’s only going to get harder,” Doan said. “Talented players are so valuable and so important and you have to have them in order to have an opportunity to win, but they need a group around them. They need a supporting cast or else.”

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McDavid was too busy to pay any mind to Thursday’s goings-on in Buffalo.

The future No. 1 draft pick started his first-round playoff series with the Erie Otters at the same time the puck dropped in Buffalo, where the 30th-place Sabres hosted the 29th-place Coyotes. One of the teams will get a 20 percent chance of drafting McDavid.

“My whole focus is on the playoffs and the success of our team,” McDavid said in a text to Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun. “It is very important that we are not distracted by anything.”

Erie is also at home against Sarnia on Friday. The best-of-seven series would return to Pennsylvania next Friday and April 7, should it continue to Games Five and Seven. Tickets range from $14 to $24.

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The Sabres have been handling questions about the draft since the opening day of training camp. The Coyotes ran out of patience during just two days in town, as a conversation with Arizona forward Martin Erat showed.

Reporter: “Obviously, around here the draft is such a big topic. Before you guys got to town ...”

Erat: “I don’t want to talk about that.”

Reporter: “That’s what I mean, has anyone even asked you guys about that?”

“I don’t want to talk about that,” said Erat, who abruptly walked away.

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The Coyotes said earlier in the week that Darcy Regier would attend the game, but the team said Thursday the Sabres’ former general manager decided not to travel to Buffalo. Regier is Arizona’s senior vice president and assistant GM. ... The season is over for Sabres left wing Jerry D’Amigo, who took a high stick last week and had facial reconstruction surgery Wednesday.

email: jvogl@buffnews.com

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