This Buffalo hockey team is insufferable. They can’t seem to get out of their own way at times, but they still have the ability to win games. Even when they’re booed. This team has looked cooked so many times throughout the season, yet they haven’t made the precipitous fall to the very bottom of the league on their way to a high draft pick.
At the same time, the Sabres find themselves in playoff limbo, just four points and three teams out of a playoff spot with nine games to play. Four of those nine remaining games are against teams directly above them in the standings (Winnipeg and the two New York teams), and six are at home. Are they primed for another late-season push into the playoffs? Is that the best option?
The team earned fourteen points over their last ten games, which is less than only three other Eastern Conference teams (Washington, Pittsburgh, and Toronto). They are playing better under their new interim head coach, Ron Rolston, yet so many fans want this team to tank the rest of the season for a high draft pick.
But the draft is a lottery system for the first time this year. Each of the non-playoff teams has a chance to win the first overall pick with diminishing probabilities based on season standings. Finishing dead last no longer guarantees the top overall pick, just a 25% chance at it!
The table below shows the expected pick number based on the current standings for each non-playoff team. The chance of moving down one spot is the chance that a team below wins the first overall pick. Buffalo would have a 4.7% chance to win the top pick, but could also move down to the eighth pick 12% of the time.
The top three picks in this year’s draft are highly touted as those picks usually are, but the class of players usually drops off after that. In fact, the impact a draft pick has on a team in terms of games played per season is highly tiered by draft pick.
After examining the first rounds of the 2007 through 2011 drafts, it’s very clear that there are four tiers of impact based on average games played per season. The graph below represents those four tiers for picks 1-2, 3-8, 9-14, and 15+.
So Buffalo could have a small chance at an elite, top-tier player, or they could be left to choose a player that would potentially average about 40 NHL games per season in his first five years. In order to reach that upper tier, the Sabres would have to finish the season terribly and lose at least six points in the standings to worse teams (Calgary and Florida have 32 points so far this season, compared to Buffalo’s 38).
A push to the playoffs is actually easier to attain, if winning a hockey game is ever easy, than moving up a tier in the draft.
They should go for it and we should cheer for them along the way.
Follow: Michael at @Nickelcitybills