When the Sabres asked Larry Playfair to represent them at the NHL Draft Lottery, he was honored and quickly accepted. Alas, he doesn’t have a lucky charm to take to Toronto, and he’s not expecting to bring the No. 1 pick back to Buffalo on Saturday night.
“The chances of us getting anything different are slim to none, but still I’m happy to represent the team,” Playfair said Friday.
For the sixth straight spring, the Sabres have a chance win the top draft pick because they didn’t make the playoffs. They had no luck with the previous five lotteries. Despite the best odds in 2014 and 2015, Buffalo picked second after teams vaulted past them.
The NHL tweaked the rules last year and held lotteries for the first three picks. Buffalo again failed to have its number called and selected eighth overall.
The Sabres have a 7.6 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick this weekend. Those are the sixth-best odds, following Colorado (18 percent), Vancouver (12.1 percent), Vegas and Arizona (10.3 percent each), and New Jersey (8.5 percent). The odds of winning the second and third picks fluctuate based on who wins the previous selections.
Buffalo is presently slated to pick sixth overall, but it can move into the top three or down to Nos. 7, 8 or 9 if teams below the Sabres win spots up top.
“It’s added an element of excitement to this whole draft,” said Playfair, the Sabres’ director of alumni relations.
Buffalo asked Playfair to be part of the televised lottery (8 p.m., NBC, CBC) because the previous representatives are no longer around. The Sabres last week fired General Manager Tim Murray and Greg Royce, the director of amateur scouting.
Playfair was visiting the Sabres’ offices when Michael Gilbert, the vice president of administration, asked if the former defenseman would like to head to Toronto and the CBC Studios.
“I said it would be an honor,” Playfair said. “I’ll probably run into some old guys that I remember or played with.”
Detroit (6.7 percent), Dallas (5.8 percent), Florida (5.4 percent), Los Angeles (4.5 percent), Carolina (3.2 percent), Winnipeg (2.7 percent), Philadelphia (2.2 percent), Tampa Bay (1.8 percent) and the New York Islanders (0.9 percent) are the other teams in the lottery.
The NHL instituted a lottery for the No. 1 pick in 1995. It changed the rules to the first three picks after teams salivated at the chance to land Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel in 2015.
“They’ve been forced to tweak it because of teams just tanking,” Playfair said. “When you have players like Eichel and McDavid available for a first-round pick, those are kids that change the look of a team for a generation. It’s too valuable of an asset to just leave it up to the team that finishes last in the league.”
Murray disliked nearly everything about the lottery, which is why he sent Royce last year. The Sabres are in the midst of their hiring search after firing Murray, coach Dan Bylsma, Royce and Rob Murphy, the director of scouting.
As a fan and former player, Playfair hopes Terry and Kim Pegula hire two or three people for the top of their hockey department. He wouldn’t mind seeing a new GM report to a president of hockey operations.
“I don’t know that they have to go with a retread," Playfair said. 'I don’t know that they have to go with a brand-new guy.
“I witnessed, as we all have, what Toronto has done,” he said, referring to a setup that includes a president, general manager, two assistant GMs, an assistant to the GM and a senior adviser. “I thought when Toronto did what they did with all those hockey minds as executives, I thought they went overboard. I still think they have, but I think somewhere south of what Toronto’s done would be interesting for us to do here.”