When the local hockey team is one of the worst in history, fans are forced to magnify future discussions. The big one for Buffalo Sabres fans ahead of tonight’s NHL Draft Lottery is whether they should want the New York Islanders to use their option to defer which first round draft pick they give to Buffalo to 2015.
Normally when a team is terrible, the idea is to get help as quickly as possible. Buffalo swapped star winger Thomas Vanek in exchange for Matt Moulson and, more importantly, a first round pick in 2014 or 2015. New York makes the decision as to whether they keep this year’s pick and give the Sabres next year’s selection, or bite the bullet and give up this year’s pick (which will almost certainly be a Top 5-7 selection).
What complicates the matter is that 2015 is considered a much stronger draft year with better players and a deeper talent pool.
And the prevailing opinion amongst fans and media seems to be that it would be better for Buffalo if New York decides to take this year’s pick and give the Sabres an extra selection — currency is the big word — in 2015.
Here’s why I’m on the other side:
The 2014 Buffalo Sabres are likely to be poor again, with the opportunity at the No.1 overall pick again. The 2015 Isles? Not-so-much. They’ll get franchise center John Tavares back and, if they keep their pick, be able to add another top-line talent to its roster. They arguably lose no one of significant stature from their roster to free agency — their biggest hole is goaltending — and their roster did make the playoffs in 2012-13. In short, I’d wouldn’t be willing to bet the Isles make the playoffs in 2014-15 — made that mistake after the Vanek trade — but I’d be very surprised if they are a Top 5 team again.
And here’s the thing: two rookies aren’t going to devalue your shot at the No. 1 pick next season, so I’d rather snag two of the 5-7 best players in this class than gamble on a group of 17-year-olds being consistently better over the next year. It’s not a patience thing (though it certainly benefits next season). How many teams are able to secure two Top 7 picks in a given year? Off the top of my head, only Vancouver’s Sedin selections come to mind and that was a trade.
Just a quick scan through the past dozen or so drafts shows it’s mega rare, happening thrice in four years near the turn of the century. In 2000, the Isles had two picks in the Top Five (Rick DiPietro and Raffi Torres) in a retrospectively-poor draft year. Now they passed on Marian Gaborik and Dany Heatley for DiPietro. They passed on Scott Hartnell and a whole lot of nothing for Torres. In 1997, the Islanders did the trick as well, getting Eric Brewer and Roberto Luongo with picks Nos. 4 & 5. The 1999 draft (Sedin class) was also terrible but that mostly worked out for the Canucks.
Seriously, the 2000 group was an awful class. The future All-Stars taken after Torres? Justin Williams (28th overall), Lubomir Visnovsky (118th), Henrik Lundqvist (205th). Shout-outs to Niklas Kronwall, Steve Ott and Anton Volchenkov but WOOF.
Look, it’ll work out in some capacity for the Sabres either way. They could have as many as three first round picks this summer and the same is possible for next. They’ll be able to deal players at next year’s deadline for first round picks if the team is a city fire as expected. But the idea of grabbing two of the absolute best this year, maybe even 1-2, sure is more interesting to me than rolling the dice on some teens in the most uncertain draft this side of Major League Baseball.