Why Tim Murray’s Lottery Comments Don’t Concern Jack Eichel

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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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