The NHL Draft Lottery, also known as the Alexis Lafreniere Sweepstakes, will be held Friday night and there's a chance it could be a double disaster, in the eyes of the Sabres and the league as a whole.
The Sabres' trouble is simple: Ottawa and Detroit, the two teams that finished behind them in the Atlantic Division, could collect all of the top three picks that are determined by the bouncing ping-pong balls and thus leave Buffalo at No. 7, the spot it's placed by the odds.
That would mean the Senators and Red Wings likely get instant help next season while the Sabres get futures. And that isn't what new General Manager Kevyn Adams & Co. need during this time of organizational upheaval.
The league, meanwhile, has to be holding its breath as well.
The eight losers from the best-of-5 play-in series that are scheduled to open the 24-team postseason tournament in August will all get a spot in the lottery. They will simply be indicated as "placeholders" Friday night because we won't know their identities until those series are played.
If one gets picked in the top three, another lottery will be held sometime after the play-in round to determine that team's identity.
So if a placeholder or more than one wins a spot Friday night, everybody in the play-in round knows they'll be playing for either a spot in the regular 16-team Stanley Cup Playoffs or as much as a 37.5% chance at a top-3 pick.
Imagine a placeholder is selected and then a play-in loss by the likes of, say, Pittsburgh or Edmonton or Chicago or the New York Rangers. And whether he's been in Edmonton or New Jersey, Taylor Hall's teams have been money for No. 1 picks, so look out for Arizona if the Coyotes lose the play-in and a placeholder is in play.
Worst-case scenario for the Sabres: How about Atlantic foes Toronto, Florida or Montreal? The Leafs and Panthers, in particular, are not in need of a top-3 pick at this point. Especially if that pick is No. 1, which is going to be Lafreniere, the Quebec League winger who is the unanimous top choice.
Lots of bad looks possible for the league under those outcomes.
The lottery particulars are these: The draw is revealed at 8 p.m. on NBCSN and the NHL Network. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly will preside at NHL Network headquarters in Seacaucus, N.J. In deference to the pandemic, team representatives and Lafreniere will participate remotely rather than on site.
The Sabres have a 6.5% chance of getting the top pick, the worst among the teams that didn't make the 24-team tournament, and won't be seen on the ice again for months. Ottawa has the best chance at 25%, owning 13.5% on its own and 11.5% from San Jose in the Erik Karlsson trade (great job there, Sharks). San Jose's collapse this season could provide an unprecedented lifeline to the chaotic Ottawa franchise.
Detroit has an 18.5% chance as the team with the worst record. The Wings obviously need Lafreniere and had a pathetic season with their eyes on the prize. GM Steve Yzerman didn't tank per se, but continuing to run Jimmy Howard in goal essentially did the trick after the veteran posted a 2-23-2 record with a 4.20 goals-against average and .882 save percentage.
After Lafreniere, teams will have choices to make. If the Sabres land in the top 3, they would undoubtedly love to get 6-foot-4 center Quinton Byfield of Sudbury, or perhaps German center Tim Stutzle of Mannheim, Jochen Hecht's hometown. Other teams might prefer Swedish right winger Lucas Raymond from Frolunda, Rasmus Dahlin's old team.
History is against Ottawa, as no team has had the top two picks in the draft since Montreal took Rejean Houle and Marc Tardif 1-2 in 1969. The closest we've seen since was when Vancouver GM Brian Burke traded his way to 2-3 in 1999 to take Henrik and Daniel Sedin. That worked out pretty well.
If you think it's a longshot for one of the play-in losers to sneak into the top three, think again. We're on a streak of three consecutive years of a team making a huge jump.
Chicago went from the 12th spot based on odds to the No. 3 pick last year (Kirby Dach), while Carolina went from No. 11 to No. 2 in 2018 to pick Andrei Svechnikov after the Sabres took Dahlin. And the 2017 lottery was all about longshots as New Jersey went from No. 5 to No. 1 (Nico Hischier), Philadelphia leapfrogged from No. 13 to No. 2 (Nolan Patrick) and Dallas went from No. 8 to No. 3 (Miro Heiskanen).
The '17 lottery created big disappointments for Vegas, just more than five months from its debut season, and for Colorado, which had the best odds after a 48-point regular season that was the worst in the NHL in 17 years.
The Sabres, of course, know lottery despair from 2014 and 2015 and the success of the Dahlin pick two years ago that was supposed to give them the piece to get out of these annual exercises. It hasn't happened yet. The Adams regime could use some good luck in its infancy. But maybe it's more important that the Sabres extend some hexes on their division rivals so they don't slip further down in the Atlantic.
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