Just stop. Please. The rumblings were growing and finally started to bubble to the surface Thursday morning after the Sabres' hideous loss to Calgary dropped them into last place in the NHL's overall standing for a few hours.
No, The Tank should not be back on again. Enough of All In For Dahlin, as in Swedish defenseman and presumptive No. 1 choice Rasmus Dahlin. Three years later, here we are again?
It's quite a bit different this time. First of all, there's no guarantee of anything. Even though this corner might rate as one of the most ardent anti-tankers around, the fact of the matter is that there was plenty of logic to what the Sabres – and Edmonton and Arizona – were doing three years ago.
Lose enough and it didn't matter what the lottery balls said. You were getting either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. That's where the Sabres ended up. They finished last, thanks in large part to Tim Murray just about trading every goaltender he had, and it awarded them an either-or scenario: Win the lottery, get McDavid. Lose the lottery and you still win by getting Eichel.
In the wake of that tankfest, the NHL changed the lottery rules. The odds of winning were dropped, with the last-place team now having only an 18 percent of the winning ping pong balls – or an 82 percent chance of losing. And now the top three picks are lottery competitions, so a team finishing last could drop all the way to fourth in draft order if it loses all three lotteries.
That's exactly what happened last year to Colorado, which endured a 48-point season and didn't get a sniff of the choice between Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick. That could happen to the Sabres this year on April 28, the date Sportsnet's John Shannon reported Friday night is being targeted for the 2018 lottery.
While fans bought into that 2015 "chase" for its guaranteed result, the Sabres did not. They were All In For McDavid, as proven by General Manager Tim Murray's utter disgust and team president Ted Black's emotional inability to speak on the verdict after the defeat on lottery night.
That was the only time in his tenure that Black refused to banter with the media, as he backed into an elevator at the Ritz-Carlton Toronto hotel clearly crestfallen and said simply "not tonight" as reporters asked for a comment.
That reaction was the first of many mistakes the Sabres made after executing their tank. Instead of celebrating the imminent selection of Eichel, Murray talked about how bad he felt for his team's fans. Say what? Fueled by an entire season of talk radio zealotry, the fans were totally on board and happy. It was owner Terry Pegula, Black and Murray who were not.
Without McDavid, Murray couldn't land Mike Babcock as his coach. With Dan Bylsma as a consolation prize, Murray then embarked upon his course of ill-fated trades and ill-advised contracts that set the Sabres to where they are today.
Through five years of mostly abhorrent hockey, the Sabres have somehow emerged without Aaron Ekblad or McDavid or Auston Matthews on their roster. They've blown Eichel's entire entry-level deal without so much as a sniff of the playoffs and watched their star suffer a major injury twice in three years (another risk of tanking that doesn't get nearly enough attention).
So through all that, there's no reason for fans to root against their team at this point. The atmosphere at KeyBank Center has been poisoned enough as it is. No reason to turn the March 21 visit by Arizona into the laughable disgrace it was three years ago when fans group-howled their way into a lather as the Coyotes won here in overtime.
At this point, things have to go organically when the odds are that low. If the Sabres ever turn things around – and there's no guarantee of that – we might look back as a turning point not the drafting of Eichel but the shrewd pick of Casey Mittelstadt last year at No. 8. In a spot far below where he should have been. It's those kind of scenarios, a major complement to Eichel, that often lead teams to get where they want to go.
The NHL knew it had to act after 2015 and tanking is largely going to be a non-issue now in the league. You're not going to do something to set yourself up for an 82 percent chance of losing.
This isn't the NBA, where things are getting so bad that Dallas owner Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 for openly admitting to tanking and commissioner Adam Silver sent a memo to teams warning the "swiftest and harshest response possible” to anyone purposely lying down. And it isn't the sudden problem of baseball, where the World Series championships of the Cubs and Astros has perhaps a dozen teams looking to lie down and not bothering to sign free agents.
(Never mind that those weren't nearly all about tanking, as the Astros signed star Jose Altuve in international free agency or that the teams got over the top with deadline acquisitions like Aroldis Chapman and Justin Verlander).
One final point: There's no need to root against your team anyway. It says here the Sabres are going to finish last overall on merit. Evander Kane is in San Jose and the club has too many injuries going. How good is Eichel going to be even if they get him back in the last 10 games? Their schedule is tough. And the Coyotes are playing super hockey of late, going 9-2-2 in their last 13 games heading into Saturday and getting set to open a five-game homestand Sunday against Vancouver.
By the time they hit town on March 21, Arizona may have already left the Sabres in the dust. Then we can all wait for the lottery ball to likely bounce somebody else's way again.
Meanwhile, Sens say no tanks
The notion of tanking was front-page news in Ottawa as well when the Sabres hit town Thursday. And goaltender Craig Anderson was having none of it. Unlike the Sabres, whose only recent connections to the playoff are buying tickets or using their TV remote, the Senators were one goal away from playing for the Stanley Cup last spring. So the topic of Dahlin isn't a good one to broach.
"We have that game-breaker defenceman already," Anderson told Ottawa reporters, referring to captain Erik Karlsson. "To go fritter away the last 20 games to try and get another game-breaking defenseman– and it’s all by chance, anyway – it just doesn’t make any sense for me.”
Of course, Anderson ignored the point the Senators almost dealt Karlsson to Vegas at the deadline and might move him in the off-season.
"As proud players, as competitors, our job is to go out there and compete,” Anderson said. “Nobody goes out there and throws in their sticks and says, ‘Let’s get this over with.’ We have a fire in our belly, too. We want to make sure we prove to everyone in the world that we belong in this league. If we just go out there and go through the motions, now you’re hurting a teammate who may need a job or a contract (next season)."
The Senators lost just once in regulation in their first 11 games (5-1-5) and were 8-3-5 after sweeping their two-game set from Colorado in Stockholm in early November. Since that overseas jaunt, however, the Ottawa season collapsed. The Sens went 1-10-2 upon returning from Sweden and have not been in the playoff race since.
Vegas' Tuch is Syracuse Strong in Buffalo visit
The happiest member of the Vegas Golden Knights to be in Buffalo on Saturday was winger and Syracuse native Alex Tuch. He was slated to have more than 450 friends and family members in the stands for his first game in the arena of his favorite team growing up.
"I lived next to Tim Connolly. My parents and his parents still live next door to each other," Tuch told this corner after practice Friday. "I watched him a lot. The Sabres were my team. I played against Ryan Miller a couple weeks ago in Anaheim and I thought that was really cool."
Tuch also recalled a head-to-head moment with ex-Buffalo defenseman Brian Campbell during a game against Chicago.
"It's one of my first NHL games," Tuch said. "He might have done a spin-o-rama against me but I might have let it happen cuz I was like, 'All right. I always remember those spin-o-ramas.' I got to play with Jason Pominville last year in Minnesota and that was pretty cool. I played against Thomas Vanek. Those were little things that made the season special."
Tuch was Minnesota's first-round pick in 2014 out of Boston College and made his NHL debut in six games for the Wild last year. He entered Saturday with 13 goals and 30 points in 63 games for the Golden Knights.
Tuch skated at HarborCenter in August as former Sabres Andrew Peters and Matt Ellis directed some NHL players and local NHL hopefuls like Alex Iafallo of the Los Angeles Kings in pre-training camp workouts. Tuch's brother, Luke, has former Sabre Patrick Kaleta and Peters' brother, Geoff, as his assistant coaches on the Junior Sabres' midget 16-under squad.
Like parent, like child when it comes to OT
Looks like the Sabres organization as a whole needs to spend more time on its strategy for overtime. While the big club has dropped 11 games after regulation – including suffering an NHL-high 10 losses in 3-on-3 play – the Rochester Amerks have also had incredible troubles in extra time.
Friday's 2-1 overtime loss to Providence was the Amerks' 15th of the season after regulation. No one else in the AHL's Eastern Conference has more than nine defeats and the Iowa Wild (12) are the only team in the West with 10 or more. The Amerks entered Saturday tied for the AHL lead in both OT losses (nine, with San Antonio) and shootout losses (six, with Grand Rapids).
Around the boards
•Boston’s Brad Marchand, Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine and Florida’s Nick Bjugstad each notched hat tricks on Tuesday, the first day to feature a trio of hat tricks since March 14, 2016. On that day, Nashville's James Neal, Calgary's Michael Frolik and Anaheim's Jakob Silfverberg accomplished the feat.
Marchand's five-point game was the 22nd of the season in the NHL, the most in the league since there were 24 in 2007-08.
•The league has announced the 2019 draft will be held in Vancouver and commissioner Gary Bettman was thrilled to see in a visit to Edmonton last week that things continue to move forward with the city's Ice District development around Rogers Place. That project is highlighted by a JW Marriott hotel and a 66-story office/condominium tower that will be the largest building in Canada outside of Toronto. The draft or All-Star Game – or both – are definitely headed to Oil Country perhaps as soon as 2020.
•Bettman remains less than enthusiastic about the situation in Calgary, where the Flames have no prospects for a new arena to replace the aging Saddledome in large part because city leaders aren't all that interested in making a deal with them for one.
"This building, in its time, was a work of art," Bettman said of the Saddledome, the home of 1988 Olympic hockey and figure skating. "Its time is long past."
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the Flames' $500 million arena plan places too heavy a tax burden on the city. The team says the city wants it to pay for all of the construction.
"The team’s competitive situation, financial stability, is obviously being impacted with each season that they stay here,” said Bettman. “They used to write a check for revenue sharing. For the last couple years, they have been receiving checks. The checks are getting bigger.”