TORONTO – Poor Jason Botterill didn't have a clue what he was getting into here 11 months ago. All he's known with the Pittsburgh Penguins was winning.
Maybe he brought some of that magic touch with him.
The Buffalo Sabres are losers on the ice. They've been perennial losers in acquiring franchise players to spark a turnaround. But that finally changed Saturday.
Rasmus Dahlin is coming to town.
Think of recent draft lotteries. Aaron Ekblad. Connor McDavid. Auston Matthews. All gone. (Nice job by Tim Murray, by the way, picking Alex Nylander over Mikhail Sergachev and Charlie McAvoy two years ago while the Toronto Maple Leafs' fortunes for many years were suddenly changed).
The best odds Saturday night meant everything. Dodging their recent history in these draws, the Sabres got the luck they needed and earned the No. 1 pick in the draft come June in Dallas. And they may as well move on to reshaping their roster and figuring out who they might take in the second round because the first round is a lock.
Darcy Regier's infamous "suffering" news conference was five years ago Sunday. The vice grip it appears to have on this franchise showed no sign of letting up until Saturday.
Dahlin is a franchise pillar on the blueline. That's what Botterill & Co. needed to shore up a terrible defense corps. Getting the franchise's first No. 1 overall pick since Pierre Turgeon in 1987 will do the trick.
Does any team in the NHL need a No. 1 defenseman who could be in their lineup for, oh, the next 10-15 years more than the Sabres do? You might say Edmonton but the Oilers already have McDavid and have had far too many No. 1 picks over the years to deserve any more.
Dahlin will be the best No. 1 overall pick on defense since Denis Potvin 45 years ago. The comparisons are everywhere. Erik Karlsson. Nicklas Lidstrom. A smaller Victor Hedman. Sweden is the current factory for producing defenseman and the Sabres are about to get one now.
Think of what Dahlin will be able to do in terms of getting the puck out of the zone. Think of him feeding Jack Eichel on the power play. Think of the relief he will provide Rasmus Ristolainen, who proved this season he simply can't be relied upon to be a No. 1 defenseman who plays 25 minutes a night.
Even getting Dahlin, of course, doesn't mean the Sabres can instantly start making playoff reservations for next spring. The party line in the wake of the 62-point disaster at the NHL level was that the real bright spot of the season was the improvement in Rochester, where the Amerks started strong and comfortably held a playoff slot the rest of the year while dealing with the inevitable callups to Buffalo.
A long Calder Cup run would have really been a boost to the organizational culture as well as providing a good read on some of the top prospects who are supposed to make a difference in Buffalo.
Instead, the Amerks' postseason was an abject disaster. A three-game sweep at the hands of Syracuse with Nylander invisible, top defense prospect Brendan Guhle struggling, Justin Bailey and Casey Nelson injured and goaltender Linus Ullmark giving up six goals in each game can be termed as nothing but disturbing. What does Botterill do in net next year now? Which middling veteran free agent does he have to go sign to team with Ullmark to try to get the Sabres through the schedule?
You say Botterill got a break last year when he was able to take Casey Mittelstadt at No. 8? Sure seems that way. The kid has great hands and didn't look totally out of place during his six-game stint at the end of the season. The Sabres made it clear they wanted him to play for Team USA at the upcoming World Championships in Denmark and the fit seemed like a good one, given Mittelstadt's head-turning performance at the World Juniors.
The roster was announced Saturday and what was the verdict? No room at the inn for Mittelstadt. Turns out he's nursing a groin injury. Another bummer for Buffalo.
It's how this organization rolls too often. No playoffs in seven years. No playoff series victories in 11 years. No Stanley Cups in nearly 50 years.
Botterill is about four hours by car from Pittsburgh. In hockey terms, he's about a million miles away. Maybe Saturday night will prove to be a long-awaited turning point.