Saturday night was a complicated night for Buffalo Sabres fans.
The race for 30th was over, but the suspense of whether the Sabres would win the lottery and the right to select Connor McDavid at the 2015 NHL draft was not.
After the ping pong balls were pulled, the Edmonton Oilers emerged as the winners of the first overall selection on June 26, a pick they've held four of the last six drafts. It's probable that many reacted similarly to this gentleman when NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly held up the golden Oilers card.
But to most, losing the lottery was of little consequence because the "consolation prize" is Jack Eichel, the best American prospect since at least Patrick Kane and possibly much further back to the likes of Mike Modano.
But losing still stings, and even the most ardent Eichel fans couldn't argue with picking first overall.
And then came general manager Tim Murray's comments.
Seemingly immediately after the results were announced, the cameras turned to Murray to get his thoughts on losing the lottery.
The thought process on the NHL's part was not sterling here. It goes without saying Murray was likely to be somewhat upset, as he just lost his second lottery in a row when he had the best chance to win. Sure enough, the comments weren't vanilla.
"I'm disappointed for our fans."
That seems to be the comment that most are latching on to. Many are interpreting that as Murray being a sore loser and bemoaning the loss of McDavid to the fanbase. If true, that would then be perceived as a slight to Eichel, the set-in-stone No. 2 pick.
But it's not true.
Context is a wonderful thing, and without it, a lot of what Murray said is tough to swallow, especially if you're Eichel. But with it, it's completely different.
The video opens with Murray comparing the Sabres centers to that of the Pittsburgh Penguins with Eichel and Sam Reinhart in the fold. Not what you'd call a negative response about the future of your team.
Then, Murray's response to the next question is a likely a perfect summary on how he felt about losing the lottery: "It's not a disappointment in the player; I think it's just the process for me."
Murray has been an outspoken critic of the NHL's move toward a more NBA-esque chance-based lottery and it's move away from the merit-based system akin to the NFL.
In his post-lottery comments, Murray supported his feelings during the summer.
"I believe the team that finishes last is probably the worst team in the league, so therefore they need the best player, by whomever's estimation─theirs certainly─to get better quickly," opined Murray.
This exchange and Murray's comments about the lottery changes are what many who believe Murray was slighting Eichel are missing. Murray is not irritated about drafting Eichel. Murray is irritated that as the last place team he doesn't get the first pick.
Now, say what you will about his opinion. It's obviously a minority one in the NHL with the Board of Governors implementing a lottery for the first three picks starting next season, but it's not as if it's illogical.
Yes, tanking is a problem that needs to be combated, and the NHL has effectively done that by lowering the odds of winning for the worst teams and instituting the lottery for the first three picks, but it at least stands to reason the worst team should get the first pick.
But the uproar surrounding Murray's comments is nothing more than someone not understanding Murray's standpoint on the process.
Not that it was necessary, but Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com published an article on Sunday that completely cleared the air on Murray's feelings about Eichel the player.
In the article, Murray was effusive in his praise for Eichel, saying the Boston University product is not a consolation prize and that both he and McDavid are likely franchise players. Based on that, it doesn't seem like Murray's too upset about ending up with Eichel.
Now, many will counter with the fact that this is what Murray should have said on Saturday night and that this was just him covering up for himself.
And while that argument admittedly may hold some water, remember that it's exactly those kinds of responses that turned Sabres fans against Darcy Regier. Murray is a breath of fresh air in Buffalo. He says what he's thinking—and sometimes it's not going to be what most want to hear. Saturday night's comments likely fall into that category.
But don't fault the guy for wanting the first pick. And even if you don't agree with his opinion that the worst team should pick first, don't fault him for being consistent.
In another showing of respect for Eichel, it was reported that the Sabres signed Evan Rodrigues, Eichel's linemate from BU, to an entry-level deal, according to TSN's Bob McKenzie (h/t ProHockeyTalk). Rodrigues, a Toronto native, was second in the NCAA in scoring behind Eichel this year with 61 points.
This could be a mere coincidence and the Sabres could have been targeting Rodrigues whether they ended up with the first or second pick, but it seems unlikely Eichel's assumed arrival to Buffalo didn't have anything to do with the signing.
The fact remains that Murray has done an incredible job thus far with the Sabres. His core will finally be created, and it will be finalized by doing nothing. By letting the majority of the unrestricted free agents walk, Murray will essentially have a blank canvas that includes a surprisingly impressive top-six forward group and an equally solid defensive core.
The team is moving forward, and Eichel will be a big, if not the biggest, cog in it. What he will bring is a topic that 50 articles could be and likely will be written about this summer, but all that matters right now is that Murray is excited to have him.
And Sabres fans are certainly excited to have him, too.
Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all offseason long: @mattclouden.
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Congratulations, Buffalo Sabres fans, the tearing down is over.
After following up their 52-point 2013-14 campaign with an equally atrocious 54-point effort this season, the Sabres are now ready to look to the future—and hopefully toward a much brighter one.
But the Sabres' future relies on a lot more than just this year's draft, which has been deservedly at the forefront of many Sabres fans' minds. Their future will rely on the guys who will remain on the roster moving forward, the guys who will join the roster next season and the new guy who will lead the charge from behind the bench.
Needless to say, Buffalo's offseason could be one of the most intriguing in the entire NHL.
Of the players involved in the blockbuster trade that sent Evander Kane to the Buffalo Sabres on February 11, the troubled 23-year-old has always taken the spotlight. However, goaltender Jason Kasdorf should receive more attention.
The 6’4” goaltender from Winnipeg, Manitoba, currently plays NCAA hockey for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and is thus somewhat of an afterthought in the Kane deal.
Buffalo’s NCAA scout Jerry Forton had tremendous things to say about Kasdorf, explaining the reason for acquiring him. "Winnipeg did a good job identifying and drafting him out of junior hockey," he told Bleacher Report.
"Jason was one of the best goalies in all of college hockey his freshman year and won ECAC Rookie of the Year. His footwork and butterfly were both very good, and he had good size and presence in the net. I knew from several of his coaches over the years that his work ethic and character were both elite.
"Although he missed essentially all of last year with an injury that required surgery, we were impressed in several viewings early this season at how he came back from the injury. ... We're confident Jason will continue to progress his game next year at RPI and at that time be in a position to compete with several of our other young goalie prospects within our system/organization."
The key takeaway from Forton’s comments is Kasdorf's health. After posting a 14-5-2 record, .935 save percentage and 1.62 goals-against average in his freshman season, the future looked bright. However, shoulder surgery sidelined him for his entire sophomore season, and it has taken time for him to fully recover.
Kasdorf’s statistics were not reflective of his rookie season when he returned to the lineup, but he understands that it takes time.
“I think taking a full year off from being able to play definitely doesn’t help and makes things a little tougher to get back into your groove. I also had a minor knee injury right before Christmas which I think set me back a little bit as well. Injuries make it hard to find your groove and get into a rhythm,” said Kasdorf.
Winnipeg's coordinator of player development, Jimmy Roy, echoed Kasdorf’s thoughts in Mitchell Clinton's prospect profile on the Jets' official site:
I think obviously anytime you have an injury that ends your season, it will be a setback in your development. He’s a goalie, and they tend to take a little bit longer to develop. You see goalies in the NHL getting older and older and older. It is a bit of a setback. But for his development, it just gives him more time to develop physically and mentally.
Fortunately for Kasdorf, he still has two years of college eligibility remaining. This could really benefit him when it comes to where he fits in the Sabres’ system after graduation. Nevertheless, neither Kasdorf nor the Sabres organization is looking that far in advance.
“As far as where I fit in, I haven’t really talked a whole lot with them about that yet. They wanted to just let me play and not be a distraction, which I like. I’m sure we will talk this summer about what their plan is for me and where exactly I stand within the organization,” said Kasdorf.
With little to no talk around Kasdorf, he could fly under the radar and be a diamond in the rough for the Sabres.
The Buffalo News' John Vogl briefly explained Kasdorf, writing, “Kasdorf fits the mold of big goaltenders that Sabres general manager Tim Murray covets.”
In terms of where Kasdorf positions himself in the organization, he’s in a much better situation than he was with the Jets. The Sabres have been a revolving door for goaltenders this season, whereas Winnipeg’s future is steady in net with Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Hutchinson.
To showcase Kasdorf’s chance in Buffalo, here’s a current look at the Sabres goaltending system:
The Sabres’ goaltenders are incredibly young right now, and according to Hockey’s Future, Kasdorf is the Sabres’ second-ranked goaltending prospect. Compared to his future teammates, Kasdorf's has been competitive statistically, even during an injury-plagued season.
Also, if one factors in the young RPI team, as well as the fact that it's the most penalized team in the ECAC, his statistics last season may even be underrated.
During his freshman season when he was healthy and was playing behind one of the best teams in college hockey, he flourished. He’s a big goaltender that covers a lot of the net and he's very effective with a solid team in front of him.
The veteran squad from the 2012-13 season really helped him transition into the collegiate level, but he’s shown flashes of brilliance ever since.
In a do-or-die game against Clarkson University this season, Kasdorf made 33 saves, while allowing only one goal. With Clarkson attacking throughout the entire third period, Kasdorf was incredibly poised stopping 15 of 16 shots on the road to secure a RPI playoff series victory.
The situation in Buffalo couldn’t be better for Kasdorf, even considering that he was traded by his hometown Jets.
“Obviously, I’m a big Winnipeg fan as I am from there, but I know it's all part of the business and I want to be wherever I have the best opportunity of making the NHL,” said Kasdorf.
Buffalo may have to wait a few years until Kasdorf plays in its system, but fans should get very familiar with him during the team's rebuild.
If he can remain healthy and find his collegiate freshman form, the starting job may be realistic sooner rather than later.
Stephen Nixon is a Contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand via interview.
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The Buffalo Sabres had a vision for the 2014-15 season, and they achieved it by finishing dead last in the NHL. They are guaranteed to draft either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, and either player will help transform the franchise.
The vision for 2015-16 is going to be different than 2014-15, because 2015-16 will not include Ted Nolan. It is a decision that isn't fair, but one that had to be expected. The next head coach of the Sabres isn't going to be a spring chicken, and you can expect it to be someone who has a high profile.
While there are former NHL coaches like Guy Boucher, Claude Noel and Paul MacLean currently without an NHL job, they may not have the full complement of skills the Sabres seek.
Owner Terry Pegula has pockets as deep as the Mariana Trench, and it is fair to say that he will wait until the big-name coaches are fired before making a decision on coaching candidates. The Sabres are bound to make a splash, and here's a look at the best possible candidates, including those who could become available.
Be thankful, Buffalo Sabres fans: It's almost over.
At about 10 p.m. ET Saturday night, the 2014-15 season will (finally) come to a close, and Buffalo hockey fans can turn their attention to some hockey that matters for a few months.
While this will not be the Sabres' worst on-ice season in history, it may have been the worst off the ice by far.
No one expected the Sabres to be contenders this season. If someone did feel that way, he or she is never to be trusted with matters of hockey ever again. However, many saw the writing on the wall and climbed onto the "Finish 30th" bandwagon last summer.
The reasons why are well known: Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.
There is no debate that McDavid and Eichel are two of the best prospects in years, and, after an offseason that seemed geared toward reaching the salary cap floor, many felt the Sabres' best chance at a speedy turnaround was to land one of the two in this year's draft.
This notion has led to what can only be described as a fanbase civil war—one that has progressed as the season went on.
At first it was almost a joke: "Oh, let's lose every game so we get Connor McDavid," followed by a laugh that was more a signal that you were really not kidding seemed to be the most you heard of it. It was framed more in a "this is Buffalo and we don't get anything nice, so why should we expect something really, really nice?" sort of way.
Then things started to become a reality.
The Sabres started off the season 2-8-1 and found themselves at or near the bottom of the standings for most of the month of October. And while they inexplicably found themselves amid a 10-3-0 stretch in mid-December, a stretch of 14 games without a point in January left them in 30th, a spot they have not relinquished since.
That is about the time being a Sabres fan became hard.
It's not because of the on-ice product. That was expected, and, while not easy to watch, it became the status quo very early in the season.
Instead, it was the off-ice vitriol between fans that made it difficult.
The whole tanking conversation has taken on a life of its own, and Sabres fans have rushed to either side of it. Sabres Twitter has been a soul-darkening place as of late, with the radio and newspaper personalities taking their sides and fueling the rest of the populous. The lines have been drawn and it seems you're either 100 percent pro-tank or 100 percent anti-tank these days.
But there is a middle ground.
There exists a spot on the tanking spectrum where a Sabres fan can be livid with where the team is in terms of the on-ice product, but also can see that getting McDavid or Eichel is one of the best ways for the team to get better in the short-term.
And you can argue how smart it is to put the fate of your team in the hands of an 18-year-old all you'd like, but no matter how valid that argument is, what other options exist?
Free agents cost money. Trades cost organizational assets.
The draft is as close to free as it gets in professional sports. You pick a kid, he hops into your organization, be it immediately or a few years down the line, and there's generally nothing they can do about that.
Sure, you can attempt to trade for Ryan O'Reilly, a guy who at least has the ability to slot in as your No. 1 center, but the price is going to be extremely high, especially after seeing the Colorado Avalanche would like to keep him.
Now, don't take this as the only way for the Sabres to get better is to land McDavid or Eichel. That couldn't be further from the truth. This is to say that the easiest way for the Sabres to get better is to take McDavid or Eichel.
And while that notion is not set in stone quite yet, the Sabres have a single regulation loss—or win by Arizona—between them and clinching 30th for the second year in a row. The odds of accomplishing that feat are at an incredibly comforting 94-percent, according to Sports Club Stats.
So where does all of this leave the Sabres?
In reality, the team has been preparing for a state of limbo since the season began, and general manager Tim Murray has a ton of work to do this offseason.
The Sabres have three defensemen who have played significant time heading to unrestricted free agency. Two of their goaltenders are also going to become UFAs. Patrick Kaleta and Matt Ellis have probably also come to the end of their Sabres journey.
Mikhail Grigorenko, Phil Varone, Johan Larsson and Mark Pysyk headline the list of restricted free agents for the team. Most of the RFAs, and especially the four listed, are expected to be back with the team, with Grigorenko, Larsson and Pysyk, assuming he's healthy, looking to take on bigger NHL roles next year.
That in turn pushes out guys like Cody McCormick and Zac Dalpe, or guys who have been able to find a home in Buffalo because of the lack of depth on the roster.
You also have a few guys in Rochester looking to break into the Sabres lineup a bit more regularly. Jake McCabe and Chad Ruhwedel have played very well in the AHL and have made a case they belong at the NHL level. With a crowded blue line, what do they do, especially with Ruhwedel who is a RFA at year end?
But the roster is not the only place there will be change.
Many believe Ted Nolan will essentially leave the bench on Saturday night, get into his car and drive off into the sunset.
At the beginning of the season, when the writing seemed to already be on the wall, there was a sizable contingent that seemed to feel that his likely firing was unfair, mainly because he has not gotten a shot with a contending roster.
As the season has progressed, it seems that sentiment has died down. It's hard to measure, and there are certainly those who still feel Nolan is getting a raw deal, but the Nolan brand of hockey has taken a hit.
It's no secret that the Sabres have gotten some pretty amazing goaltending from some average-at-best goalies this year. It's come in spurts, like Jhonas Enroth's during the 10-3-0 run, Michal Neuvirth's right before the trade deadline and Anders Lindback's current one, but it seems easy to say that if one of those goaltenders had played consistently at their career average level, the Sabres would be in 30th by a mile right now.
What's crazier is all three of those goalies have played for other teams and have played embarrassingly poorly. Enroth has a .892 save percentage since going to Dallas, Neuvirth at .881 since being moved to the Islanders and Lindback had a .875 before coming over from Dallas.
Essentially, it's become clear that Nolan really only finds success when he has a goaltender playing out of his mind, as many can remember this guy doing most nights during Nolan's first stint in Buffalo.
Not only is that completely unsustainable in today's NHL, it's forcing a square peg in a round hole because the roster that Murray is building is shaping up to be a Chicago- or Los Angeles-type possession team. That requires skilled guys fused with big, strong but talented forwards who excel on the forecheck supported by three-zone defensemen who can move the puck.
It's easy to laugh and say "Where has that been all year?" but if you take a step back it becomes clear, especially when you look the prospect cupboard. With guys like Sam Reinhart, Nick Baptiste, Justin Bailey, Hudson Fasching and J.T. Compher on the way, the Sabres can reasonably become that type of team soon.
But puck possession and Nolan are like oil and water, with the Sabres finishing 30th in the league in Corsi-for percentage and Fenwick-for percentage this year and 29th in the league in both categories last season.
Even overlooking the atrocious possession numbers, the Sabres currently rank 30th in both the penalty kill and the power play this season, even with the Sabres power play looking somewhat reasonable the past 10 games.
So now Sabres fans wait.
They wait to see whether or not they will be guaranteed McDavid or Eichel in June.
They wait to see how much the roster is shaken up this offseason.
They wait to see who will be behind the bench in early October.
But what's great about it all is that they wait.
After two of the more trying seasons a hockey fan could ever imagine going through, Sabres fans are just as passionate today as they were when Chris Drury and Daniel Briere captained the team.
It's been a long road, but the future is bright and Sabres fans will bask in it when the time comes.
For now, they wait.
Advanced stats courtesy of war-on-ice.com.
Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season long: @mattclouden.
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