McDavid or Eichel. Eichel or McDavid. What about both?
The latter is a question only one team has the luxury of asking this season. The Buffalo Sabres, talked up as one of the franchises most likely to land the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, have a strong chance to become Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel’s future home. The tandem headlines the most exciting draft class in years. Each projects as a generational talent. We have the next Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin on our hands if the scouts are right.
One storyline I haven’t heard yet, however: what if Buffalo lands McDavid and Eichel?
It’s far-fetched, even borderline silly. At this moment, however, the odds of one NHL team picking first and second in the draft are better than they’ve ever been, excluding the zany days in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the Montreal Canadiens were gifted the first few selections.
The reason is three words long: New York Islanders.
If you’ll recall, the past year was Murphy’s Law incarnate for the Isles. John Tavares blew out his knee and the team slipped out of the playoffs after making it one season prior. And there was also the Thomas Vanek debacle. Not only did Vanek end up asking out of town and getting dealt to Montreal at the deadline, acquiring him in the first place last fall cost the Isles Matt Moulson, a 2015 second-round pick and a conditional 2014 first-round pick. The Isles had the option to defer that first-rounder to 2015. It was a risky proposition given how mouthwatering the 2015 draft class is, but when the Isles finished 26th overall, they realized they couldn’t pass up a guaranteed top-five selection in 2014. They used it on promising scorer Michael Dal Colle.
Deferring was the right move, in my mind. But it creates a wild hypothetical situation next spring.
Say the Buffalo Sabres, who had the NHL’s worst record last season, are one of the NHL’s two worst teams again. And say the New York Islanders, the NHL’s 26th-best team last season, finish 29th or 30th. With the deferred pick plus their own pick, the Sabres would be guaranteed at least the No. 2 selection. If a team other than them or the Islanders won the lottery, they’d still end up with the No. 2 and 3 picks. If the Sabres and Islanders finish 29th and 30th and one of them wins the lottery, however…BOOM. It would give Buffalo the first and second pick in 2015. Oh. My. God.
The odds are slim, especially since the league altered the lottery odds to give the bottom team a worse chance of winning, decreasing the motivation to tank. But slim is a relative term. We’re not talking a trillion to one, here.
The 30th-place team in the new system has a 20 percent chance of winning the lottery. The 29th-place team has a 13.5 percent chance. Put those together and the Sabres would have a 33.5 percent chance of landing the first and second picks in the draft, if and only if they and the Islanders finish bottom two in the league.
Of course, the chances of landing McDavid and Eichel aren’t actually 33.5 percent. There’s still the matter of Buffalo and the Isles finishing 29th and 30th. But it’s not the tallest of orders (our mathematically inclined intern, Dom, crunched the numbers behind the curtain and estimates there’s about a 1 in 20 chance both teams finish with fewer than 70 points, which would put them in the last overall hunt). All the worst team in the NHL has to do is repeat its feat. The Isles, with their vastly improved goaltending and forward depth, are a real long shot to struggle as badly as they did last season. But stranger things have happened than the Isles sucking again. And as long as the Isles miss the playoffs, that’s two full lottery entries for Buffalo.
Dare to dream, Sabres fans, crazy as the idea is.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin