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Win by Flyers would create a wild (get over the) Hump Day

By John Vogl

There are already two Game Sevens set for Wednesday night. The Flyers can make it three.

Philadelphia, in a 3-2 series hole, hosts the Rangers tonight. If the Flyers win, Game Seven will be 7 p.m. Wednesday in New York's Madison Square Garden.

Fans are already assured of two elimination games in the Western Conference. Zach Parise had two goals and four points Monday as Minnesota beat Colorado, 5-2, in Game Six. Colorado will host Game Seven at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Los Angeles refused to clean out its lockers Monday with a 4-1 win against San Jose. The series travels back to the Shark Tank for Game Seven at 10 p.m. Wednesday.

In wake of Blues playing wrong playoff note, what becomes of Miller and Ott?

STLPD
Today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch front page (Newseum.com image)

By Mike Harrington

Been reading all over the Internet late this afternoon about Ryan Miller's flameout Sunday in Chicago and it was certainly an epic one, as I discussed in my column in Monday's editions.

Miller said after the game he liked St. Louis and the team and would be interested in returning but has not had any serious talks with the Blues. It would seem his hopes of getting a Henrik Lundqvist-type contract of seven years and roughly $60 million are toast.

Hard to imagine the Blues or anyone else would go much past 3-4 years. Candidates that jump out to me include the Ducks, Sharks, Flyers, Penguins and Islanders. Hard to see a great fit. Several of those teams already have goalies or good prospects. 

There was zero negative chatter in the Blues locker room about Miller, as you would expect. The team's  lack of offense was far more of a talking point.

"Ryan works his butt off," said Blues captain and fellow U.S. Olympian David Backs. "He's a consummate professional and a guy you love having on your team. Some of the plays, tips in front, I don't think it matters who's in the net. They made some good plays."

"It definitely wasn't Millsie," said Steve Ott, who said he was looking for a goaltender interference call on Chicago's second goal.  "He kept us in every single night."

Obviously, most people watching would disagree. Miller wasn't nearly good enough (.897 save percentage) but the Blues weren't beating anybody with 14 goals in six games, no matter who was in the net.

For his part, Ott was stunned by the sudden end to the Blues' season.

Continue reading "In wake of Blues playing wrong playoff note, what becomes of Miller and Ott?" »

Amerks playoff games will be televised in Buffalo on Time Warner

By John Vogl

The rest of the Rochester Americans' playoff series will be played in Chicago, but fans in Buffalo will be able to watch.

Time Warner Cable will pick up the Wolves' home feed and broadcast the games on Time Warner Cable SportsChannel. The series is tied 1-1, with Game Three set for 8 p.m. Thursday. Game Four will be 8:30 p.m. Friday and Game Five, if necessary, will be at 4 p.m. Sunday.

Games Three and Five will be on Ch. 323, while Game Four will be on Ch. 87.

It's all over for Miller, Blues after third-period implosion in Chicago

Miller-Shaw
Hawks winger Andrew Shaw celebrates his third-period goal against Ryan Miller (AP Photo)

By Mike Harrington

CHICAGO -- The St. Louis Blues brought in Ryan Miller as what they felt was the last key piece to make a Stanley Cup run. They didn't come close.

The Blues' season ended in stunning fashion Sunday as Miller got burned for four third-period goals in a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks before a roaring, red-clad crowd at the United Center. The Hawks took the final four games of the first-round series to win it, 4-2.

And Miller thus has still not won a single postseason series since 2007, when the Sabres beat the New York Rangers in the second round. Miller has now dropped four straight matchups.

Miller got badly outplayed in the game and the series by Chicago's Corey Crawford, who had a 1.98 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in the six games. Miller had a 2.70 GAA and sickly .897 save percentage. 

"I'm just really disappointed the game didn't turn in our direction," Miller said. "1-1 going into the third is a pretty good situation for us and we didn't get it done."

The Blues had a 17-3 advantage in shots on goal in the second period and the count ws 28-11 through 40 minutes. But St. Louis went 0 for 6 on the power  play and paid the ultimate price when Chicago captain Jonathan Toews broke the 1-1 tie with a power-play goal 44 seconds into the third period.

Things really started to fall apart  when Patrick Sharp scored a fluky goal at 2:01, chipping the puck under Miller on a semi breakaway while getting high-sticked by Kevin Shattenkirk. Miller was caught going too late for a poke-check.

"I was in the right spot and that last tug he kind of chipped it in between," Miller said. "So yeah.  It was just too bad."

"The third goal was a backbreaker," said coach Ken Hitchcock. "The bench was still fine. Our team had great spirit at the start, great spirit for the first and second period. We played as well as we've ever played in this building the way we played the first two periods. The third goal? 'Whoosh' The air went right out of our bench."

Miller then gave up a deflection to Andrew Shaw at 7:30 and Duncan Keith beat him on 2-on-1 at 17:05 to close the scoring. It's the second straight year the Blues have won the first two games of their first-round series and lost the next four; the same thing happened last year against the Los Angeles Kings.

It also means Miller and former Sabres captain Steve Ott will head into free agency. 

"We're through with the hockey part now," Miller said. "We'll have to see where we're at. See how they feel about me. I definitely like St. Louis. I like the guys. I like the team. We'll see what they feel about the playoffs."

"I don't know what my situation is," said Ott. "It's way too early to even think about that. I don't want to think about that. I'm still thinking I'm running for a Cup right now."

Click below to hear full postgame audio from Miller, Steve Ott and Hitchcock. There's some silence at the start of the Miller clip but be patient. He's standing among us taking a few seconds pondering his answer to the first question.

Ryan Miller

Steve Ott

Ken Hitchcock

Hawks specialize in closing, Blues dealing in spooky coincidence

By Mike Harrington

CHICAGO -- The Blackhawks have everything in their favor going into Game Six today against the St. Louis Blues in the United Center (TV reminder: 3 p.m. Eastern on NBC and CBC).  Chicago has won three straight in the series, the last two in OT, and has a history of coming through in the clutch late in a playoff series, which I documented in my column for today's editions.

The print version of the column included the following chart, which pretty starkly shows how good the numbers are.

------------

BLACKHAWKS AT CRUNCH TIME

Analyzing the Chicago Blackhawks' playoff record the last five seasons:

Series record: 8-2
W-L record: 40-23
Games One-Three: 16-17
Games Four-Seven: 24-6
Overtime: 13-9
OT Games One-Three: 4-7
OT Games Four-Seven: 9-2

---------

Meanwhile, the Blues are dealing with some incredibly bizarre history comparing  this series  to last year's loss to the LA Kings, a six-gamer that saw St. Louis also win the first two at home and then collapse. Look at what's happened in BOTH years. Wow

Game One: Alex Steen scored overtime winners.
Game  Two: Barrett Jackman scored the game-winning goal, this year’s coming in overtime.
Game  Three:  The Blues outshot the Kings and Blackhawks by nine but lost by shutout.
Game  Four:  The Blues blow a late 3-2 lead and lose, 4-3, to even the series.
Game Five (both years, remember!): Alex Pietrangelo scores the game-tying goal, his first of the playoffs, and gets assisted by Jaden Schwartz. But the Blues lose in OT, 3-2.

Last year in Game  Six, the Blues lost to the Kings, 2-1, and were eliminated. If they lose here today, 2-1 .... that would just be theater of the absurd.

Trade Refresher: What's in it for the Sabres if Blues lose?

By Mike Harrington

CHICAGO -- Got flooded with inquiries Friday night about what the Sabres get for Ryan Miller if the Blues don't find a way to beat the Blackhawks and move on, a distinct possibility now with St. Louis in a 3-2 hole and Game Six set for Sunday afternoon in the United Center. The Hawks, of course, posted a 3-2 overtime victory last night on Jonathan Toews' overtime goal.

(Apologies to all the folks who asked and got ignored. Sometimes you gotta watch the game. The draft is in June.)

Pretty much everybody knows the Sabres get St. Louis' No. 1 draft pick if the Blues advance to the Western Conference finals. But the haul is quite a bit less if they don't.

Courtesy of Sabres PR stat and draft man extraordinaire Ian Ott,  here's a refresher on the breakdown. Technically, the Sabres still could get that first-round pick if the Blues lose but those are two unlikely scenarios (St. Louis signing or trading Miller prior to the draft).

The graphic below is clickable for a little bit easier view.

Millerdeal

Painting the town to support the Blues' run for the Stanley Cup

By Mike Harrington

ST. LOUIS -- As I previously posted, Steve Ott is certainly stoked about the Blues-Blackhawks series. And they're painting the town blue in support of their team.

They even changed the fountains of Kiener Plaza, in the shadow of the 1857 Courthouse and Gateway Arch, to blue in honor of the Blues. They've made these red for the Cardinals during my trips here for the World Series in 2004, 2006, 2011 and 2013. Click on the video below to stop and start it!

Ott on Blues-Blackhawks series: 'This is why we play this game'

By Mike Harrington

ST. LOUIS -- I had a chance to sit down with Blues forward and former Sabres captain Steve Ott today following the pregame skate for Game Five against the Blackhawks, and he was as stoked as you can imagine about getting a chance to play in a series like this.

Ott, remember, has not been in the playoffs since the Dallas Stars' 2008 run to the Western Conference finals.

"I've been waiting for that moment for a long time," he said.  "To have that jump-started and get back after it, this is why we play this game. This is why we fight so hard for 82 games, to scratch and claw and get a chance in the playoffs. Now with the parity in the league, it doesn't matter where you finish as long as you're in the playoffs."

Here's a look at Ott's series to date, listing goals-assists-points, plus/minus, ice time, shots on goal, hits and faceoffs

Gm# G-A-Pts +/- TOI,  SOG,  Ht, FO
Gm1 0-1-1 Ev 30:53 3/3/7-3
Gm2 0-0-0 -1 15:05 2/3/7-4
Gm3 0-0-0 -1 20:05 2/8/14-6
Gm4 0-1-1 + 2 18:11 0/7/9-12
------------------------------------
Tot  0-2-2 Ev 21:05* 7/21/37-25
(*21:05 is Ott's average in the four games)

So you can see,  especially from hits and faceoffs, that Ott has been pretty active in this series. And he had the primary assist on Alex Steen's triple-overtime winner in Game One.

"I started feeling ... my game coming along because of the transition finally happening in the last 5-8 games," Ott said. "It's where I staarted to feel comfortable with structure and situations. It's kind of led into the playoffs, where now I feel totally comfortable like I have anywhere else in my
career."

Ott had a good laugh when I told him that Patrick Kane's overtime winner for Chicago in Game Four was probably the first time in his career the South Buffalo native had some folks back home fretting over his exploits. There are certainly a lot of Ryan Miller fans in Buffalo, plus Sabres fans hoping the Blues win this series and draw closer to giving Buffalo their No. 1 draft pick for Miller.

"We all know there's a lot to cheer for with this St. Louis team for the people in Buffalo," Ott said. "It's great to have that kind of recognition there in Buffalo for myself and Ryan."

Be sure to look for more from Ott in my story in Saturday's editions of The News.

A look at the Amerks' playoff series with Chicago

By John Vogl

ROCHESTER -- The Rochester Americans, including three of the Sabres' top defense prospects, begin their playoff series tonight at home against Chicago. The seventh-seeded Amerks have been bolstered by players who were in Buffalo, but they'll still have a lot of work to do to beat the second-seeded Wolves.

The AHL put together a look at the series, and here it is.

14cqf_chi_rch

Blues waiting on Backes, Hawks looking for more offense

By Mike Harrington

ST. LOUIS -- The daily David Backes question is hanging over the pivotal Game Five between the Blues and Blackhawks tonight in Scottrade Center, as the teams are tied at two wins apiece.

Will the St. Louis captain play after taking the suspension-causing hit from Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook in Game Two? It appears the answer is no, as Backes did not take the morning skate today.

But this is the cloak-and-dagger show known as the playoffs and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is keeping people guessing.

"Like I said in Chicago, there's lots of rinks here in St. Louis too so you never know," Hitchcock said wryly. "He might just jump on the ice and be there skating in the warmup. Then you can all press 'send' on your tweets and away you go."

Former Sabre Derek Roy skated this morning in the middle of a top line, between Jaden Schwartz and T.J. Oshie, but stayed on the ice with scratches and continued to skate -- which is quite odd. Roy was still on the ice when the media left the Blues locker room to speak to Hitchcock, so Roy could be the stop-gap if Backes can't go.

As for the Hawks, they continue to look for offense from Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa -- who both are goal-less through four games after finishing 1-2 on the team in the regular season with 34 and 30, respectively.

"I'll take all the chances I can get," Sharp said. "It means I'm creating something and doing something good out there. Sooner or later they're going to start going in." 

"I'm happy to play my 200-foot game," added Hossa, who has still done some good defensive work in the series. "I want to keep contributing there and my chances will come."

Hawks coach Joel Quenneville put Patrick Kane (team-high three goals) back with Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell this morning. Kane was not in the Hawks' crowded room when the media was inside. Hossa had been in that spot in Game Four.

Both coaches marveled at the intensity of the series and how big Game Five will be. The Blackhawks are 0-4 here this year and all four have been excruciating defeats.

"This is the advantage game, not the elimination game," Hitchcock said. "But we want the advantage."

Said Quenneville: "There's been some serious twists and turns inside of games here."

Hockey's hardest lead to keep: Roll call of playoff failures

By Mike Harrington

ST. LOUIS -- It's hard to fathom how teams are bolting to leads during the first round of the playoffs but failing to seal the deal. When I asked Blues coach Ken Hitchcock about the trend Thursday, he simply said the first round is "chaotic." That's a pretty good description of a lot of the games we've seen so far.

There have been 12 games -- including at least one in all eight series -- where one team had a lead of at least two goals and let that slip away. In nine of the 12, the team blowing the lead lost the game. 

Stat heads say "score effects", which means teams that are ahead tend to let up and teams that are behind press. That's true, but I still say "goaltending effects." There's been terrible goalie play all over the place and it's been hard for anybody to lock a game down.

Here's the list of all the blown leads thus far in the postseason with a link to the boxscsore of each.

Columbus vs.  Pittsburgh
Game 1: Columbus led, 3-1.  Pittsburgh won, 4-2.
Game 2: Pittsburgh led, 2-0 and 3-1. Columbus won in 2OT, 4-3.
Game 3: Columbus led, 2-0 and 3-1. PIttsburgh won, 4-3.
Game 4:  Pittsburgh led, 3-0. Columbus won, 4-3, in OT.
(First series in NHL history where a lead of at least two goals was blown in each of the first four games)

Boston vs. Detroit
Game 4: Detroit led, 2-0. Boston won in OT, 3-2.

Montreal vs. Tampa Bay
Game 4: Montreal led, 2-0 and 3-1. Tampa tied it, 3-3. Montreal won, 4-3.

New York Rangers vs. Philadelphia
Game 2: NY Rangers led,  2-0. Philadelphia won, 4-2.

Chicago vs. St. Louis
Game 2: St. Louis led, 2-0. Chicago tied and led. St. Louis won, 4-3, in OT
Game 4: Chicago led, 2-0. St. Louis led, 3-2. Chicago won, 4-3,  in OT

Colorado vs. Minnesota
Game 1: Minnesota led, 4-2. Colorado won,  5-4, in OT

Anaheim vs. Dallas
Game 4: Anaheim led, 2-0. Dallas won, 4-2

Los Angeles vs. San Jose
Game 3: Los Angeles led, 2-0. San Jose won, 7-2

Kane beats Miller twice, including in overtime, as Chicago evens series with Blues

By John Vogl

Patrick Kane obviously doesn't care if the Sabres get another first-round draft pick.

The Buffalo native scored twice Wednesday night, including the overtime winner, to give Chicago a 4-3 win over St. Louis. The Blackhawks have won two straight to even their first-round, best-of-seven playoff series at 2-2. The next game is Friday.

"We kind of have the momentum now," Kane said. "We know it's going to be a tough game in Game Five in their building. They're going to be fired up, and that's always a tough place to play, preseason, regular season or playoffs. So we'll expect them to get better, and we'll get better, too."

Ryan Miller finished with 30 saves for the Blues. As part of the trade to get Miller, St. Louis has to give Buffalo its 2014 first-round pick if it reaches the Western Conference final. Depending on other conditions, the pick could fall to a second- or third-round selection.

"All these games could have been won by one of these two teams, so we're just going to have to keep battling, keep playing good hockey," Miller said. "It's a seven-game series. We knew it was going to be tight. These guys have shown their resiliency in winning last year. We have to show we're resilient and bring the game to beat them."

Continue reading "Kane beats Miller twice, including in overtime, as Chicago evens series with Blues" »

Polls: What do you think the Islanders will do? What do you want them to do?

By John Vogl

The Inside the NHL column in Sunday's paper will examine the New York Islanders' options regarding their first-round picks. They have to give either their 2014 or 2015 selection to the Sabres as part of their trade to get Thomas Vanek.

This year's pick is No. 5 overall. There's no telling what the 2015 pick could be. Given the Islanders' history, they'll miss the playoffs and it'll be another high pick with Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel available in the lottery. Given New York's roster, the club might make the postseason and the pick would be later in the first round.

The Islanders have until June 1 to decide. You get to do it now.

Turd Burger can't match the Slug as Sabres fail to crack Top 25 in jersey sales on NHL website

By John Vogl

When the Sabres rolled out radically different jerseys in 2006, fans didn't really like the "slug" design. It didn't stop them from buying them, though, as the Sabres dominated the sales chart on NHL.com.

A redesign failed to work this time.

The Sabres rolled out new third jerseys this season, and they were met with insults and sales apathy. Dubbed the "Turd Burger" after Sabres President Ted Black said he'd put them on a bun and eat them if sales failed, the dual-colored sweaters failed to make the Top 25 on Shop.NHL.com, according to the league's media relations department.

Jerseys

While the jersey itself failed to capture the fans' imagination and pocketbooks, sales were also doomed by a lack of stars in Buffalo. Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, Ryan Miller and Maxim Afinogenov were among those who had legions of jersey-buying faithful in 2006-07, when the Sabres went to the Eastern Conference finals for a second straight time. The key players in Buffalo this season were Miller, Steve Ott and Thomas Vanek, but it was clear they wouldn't be with the rebuilding organization for long. Fans had no clear-cut favorite to put on their back for the long term.

Sabres making coaching changes as ax falls on Nolan's assistants

By John Vogl

There was no question Sabres coach Ted Nolan would want his own assistants. He has room to add them because the holdovers are out.

Buffalo announced today that assistants Joe Sacco, Teppo Numminen, Jerry Forton and goalie coach Jim Corsi will not be back in their roles next season. Sacco and Forton have been offered other jobs in the hockey department. Corsi has been let go and Numminen will not have his contract renewed.

Nolan took over for Ron Rolston during the season and inherited the former coach's assistants. Though there were no outward signs of struggle within the staff, it was assumed Nolan would want to hire his own people.

The Sabres said Nolan is not available to comment on the changes.

Corsi was the longest-tenured member on the Sabres' coaching staff. He just completed his 16th season in Buffalo, and he's worked with Dominik Hasek and Ryan Miller. The affable coach is also known for inventing the Corsi Rating, a common hockey analytics tool that compares the shots directed at the opposition's net to the attempts taken on the team's own net.

Numminen, who finished his long NHL career on the Sabres' blue line, just finished his third season as a coach. He spent the first two in the press box talking to the other coaches on a headset, and he was promoted to a bench job this season.

Sacco and Forton were in their first year in the organization. Sacco spent the previous four seasons as head coach in Colorado, where he was a Coach of the Year finalist in 2010. He will be an assistant for the U.S. world championship team this spring.

Forton came to the Sabres with no prior NHL experience and worked in the press-box role.

There's no word on who Nolan will hire as his assistants. One likely addition will be Randy Cunneyworth, a longtime friend of Nolan who is already in the organization as liaison between the Sabres and their minor-league club Rochester. Nolan, who is also the coach of the Latvian national team, has spoken highly of Latvia's goalie coach, Arturs Irbe. The longtime NHL goaltender left his job with the Washington Capitals in 2011 to spend more time with his family.

Penguins' Crosby heads list on NHL awards ballot

By John Vogl

The ballots for the NHL's top awards are due today. Most awards are voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, and it has encouraged its members to publish their votes. So, here you go.

HART TROPHY ("to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team")

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim
Semyon Varlamov, Colorado
Jamie Benn, Dallas
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia


NORRIS TROPHY ("to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position")

Shea Weber, Nashville
Zdeno Chara, Boston
Ryan Suter, Minnesota
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles
Duncan Keith, Chicago


CALDER TROPHY ("to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition")

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado
Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay
Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg
Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay
Frederik Andersen, Anaheim


LADY BYNG TROPHY ("to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability")

Ryan O’Reilly, Colorado
Patrice Bergeron, Boston
Patrick Marleau, San Jose
Jason Pominville, Minnesota
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay


SELKE TROPHY ("to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game")

Patrice Bergeron, Boston
Jonathan Toews, Chicago
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles
Ryan O’Reilly, Colorado
Joe Thornton, San Jose

Sabres lose draft lottery, will select second overall; Florida gets No. 1

By John Vogl

SCARBOROUGH, Ont. – Tim Murray sat expressionless as NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly unveiled the Florida Panthers as the winners of the draft lottery. The Sabres’ general manager had played out the scenarios in his head during the drive north from Buffalo, and he figured someone would leapfrog his last-place club and draft first overall.

He was right. The Sabres lost all season on the ice, so it’s little surprise they lost a lottery, too. They’ll pick in the No. 2 slot at the NHL Draft on June 27 in Philadelphia.

“I’m not disappointed,” Murray said Tuesday night in a Canadian television studio. “It’s kind of what I was expecting.”

Despite the continuing run of bad luck, Buffalo will select in the top five for only the second time since 1987. They took Thomas Vanek fifth overall in 2003.

“We’ll get a good player, and I think there’s a great chance we could get a guy that we have No. 1 on our list,” Murray said. “I think with the way the draft sets up, we probably have a better chance of getting the guy that we have No. 1 than we had a chance today of getting the first pick.

“To me, it’ll all work out.”

There’s a chance the Sabres could have two of the top five picks. The New York Islanders own the No. 5 selection, but they have until June 1 to decide whether to give it to Buffalo or deliver their 2015 first-round pick to the Sabres as part of their October trade for Vanek.

“We haven’t made our mind up yet,” said Trent Klatt, the Islanders’ head amateur scout.

New York GM Garth Snow did not attend the lottery.

“I certainly know staying at five there’s a better possibility of us getting their pick versus if they had moved to one,” Murray said. “There’s a 50-50 chance that we’ll have two picks in the top five, and we’ll be prepared for that.

“I don’t have a preference. If it’s this year, we know where they are this year. We know it’s a top-five pick this year, so we know we’re going to get a hell of a player. There’s a lot of uncertainty about next year. I’m not a big fan of uncertainty, so we’d be quite happy with it this year.”

The NHL has been conducting a draft lottery since 1995, but it revamped the rules last year to give all teams that fail to make the playoffs a shot at the No. 1 selection. The team that finishes last has a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery and retaining the top pick. The rest of the first round is conducted in reverse order, so last-place Buffalo had a 73.5 percent chance of falling to No. 2. It did.

(New Jersey, which had a 1.5 percent chance of winning the lottery, was ineligible because of a salary cap violation. Another lottery would have been conducted had the Devils won.)

Buffalo became the 13th last-place team in 19 lotteries to lose the weighted contest. Florida finished at the bottom last year, but Colorado won the lottery to bump the Panthers to second. They’ll get the top spot this year.

“Very good day for the Panthers,” said Travis Viola, the vice president of hockey operations. “We’re still just evaluating what we really want.”

There are three players considered worthy of being drafted at the top: defenseman Aaron Ekblad and forwards Sam Bennett and Sam Reinart. Viola said the Panthers boast their best depth up front. That might lead them to take Ekblad. The Sabres were far and away the worst offensive team in the NHL and have a good corps of defense prospects, so forward might be their desired selection.

Buffalo’s scouting staff will meet in May to rank the prospects.

“We have a forward that we have somewhat of a consensus in the group that is at the top of the forward list,” Murray said. “We’ve got a lot of needs. We’re just going to take the best player available, whether we feel that’s a forward or a defenseman.”

The rebuilding Sabres are expected to be a lottery team again next year. The NHL is discussing whether to make changes to the process.

“I still believe in that concept that the worst overall team should have a chance to get better, so that’s not going to change,” Daly said. “What the managers have asked us to do is take a look at it and see if further tweaks might be appropriate. Having said that, we’re satisfied with the way the draft lottery system works now.”

Panthers win NHL Draft Lottery; Sabres will select second overall

By John Vogl

SCARBOROUGH, Ont. – The Sabres lost all season on the ice, so it’s little surprise they lost a lottery, too.

Last-place Buffalo will not pick first overall pick in the NHL Draft after the Florida Panthers won the draft lottery tonight. There were 13 non-playoff teams eligible of earning the No. 1 selection, and the 29th-place Panthers won while having an 18.8 percent chance.

The Sabres had the best chance at 25 percent.

The draft will be held June 27-28 in Philadelphia, and Buffalo will select in the top five for only the second time since 1987. They took Thomas Vanek fifth overall in 2003.

The NHL has been conducting a draft lottery since 1995, but it revamped the rules last year to give all teams that fail to make the playoffs a shot at the No. 1 selection. The rest of the first round is conducted in reverse order, so Buffalo had a 73.5 percent chance of falling to No. 2. It did.

(New Jersey, which had a 1.5 percent chance of winning the lottery, was ineligible because of a salary cap violation.)

Buffalo became the 13th last-place team in 19 lotteries to lose the weighted contest. Florida finished at the bottom last year, but Colorado won the lottery to leapfrog the Panthers and bump them to second.

There are four players considered worthy of being drafted at the top: defenseman Aaron Ekblad and forwards Sam Bennett, Sam Reinart and Leon Draisaitl. The Sabres were far and away the worst offensive team in the NHL and have a good corps of defense prospects, but General Manager Tim Murray wouldn’t rule out taking Ekblad, if he’s available.

“We could if he’s the best player,” Murray said. “I’m not saying he’s the best player, but he’s in the group of three or four guys when we get together in May that will be discussed as the No. 1 pick. He’s in the group. I’m not going to say he for sure is the No. 1 player on our list, be he will be in the discussion. There’s no question.”

The Sabres could end up with two picks in the top five. The New York Islanders own the No. 5 selection, but they have until June 1 to decide whether to give it to Buffalo or deliver their 2015 first-round pick to the Sabres as part of the Thomas Vanek trade.

Isles GM Garth Snow did not attend the draft lottery, so his thoughts will have to wait.

“He’s got to say yes or he’s got to say no. It’s not maybe,” Murray said. “Next year in a really good draft, if he decides to keep it this year, then you have an extra pick. It’s a win-win situation.”

Murray calls season 'completely unacceptable' and says he's not planning on five-year rebuild

By Mike Harrington

The Buffalo Sabres' rebuild starts in earnest tonight with the NHL Draft Lottery in Toronto,  after what General Manager Tim Murray admitted was an "unacceptable" last-place season.

Murray and coach Ted Nolan met with reporters today in a wrap to the Sabres' 21-51-10 trainwreck of a season, the worst by an NHL team in 14 years. And Murray was frank in his assessment of what happened and what he'll do going forward. He said he pulled no punches when he met with his players yesterday prior to the taking of the annual team photo.

"This year was completely unacceptable," Murray said. "I told them it wasn't all on them. It was on management, it was on coaching staff. A lot of it was on injuries where we had to put people into positions that they aren't ready for. So that's out of our hands. As far as coming next year and being ready to battle for jobs, there's going to be competition and we're not going to hand jobs to come in unless they deserve it."

"A lot of nights it was hard to watch," Murray said a few minutes later. "A lot of nights we competed hard and just didn't have enough talent to put us over the top but other nights weren't pretty."

Murray said he's naturally impatient but will do what's best for the organization through the draft and free agency, and expects to sign a couple of veterans this summer to augment the roster.

"Are we going to improve in leaps and bounds or is it going to be increments?" he said. "But we will improve. We have to decide as an organization how we're going to get there. This is not going to be a five-year rebuild. ... When you tear it down, it doesn't happen overnight but I don't buy into five-year rebuilds."

Murray said the Sabres have several players on their draft board -- even Barrie defenseman Aaron Ekblad. The Sabres were the lowest-scoring team in the expansion era but aren't automatically taking a forward whether they draft No. 1 or No. 2. 

The New York Islanders owe the Sabres a top pick either this year or next year. If they win the lottery tonight, they would almost certainly give Buffalo the pick next year, another chance at the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. Would they really give up the No. 1 this year? Murray is pondering all options.

"I want to win the lottery. I want to win something here," Murray said, drawing laughs. "I do want to win the lottery. If I don't win it, I want Garth to win it and so at least there's a 50-50 chance we get that pick."

In other news from Murray and Nolan:

---NHL supplemental discipline: "I've had some talks with people in the league," Murray said. "We've had our pee-pee slapped once here so I've got to be careful what I say." The GM did say the league acknowledged his complaints about the five-minute major for interference Jake McCabe got Saturday in Boston.

---Coaching staff: Nolan said no definitive decision has been made on his assistants although sources maintain that Joe Sacco, Teppo Numminen, Jim Corsi and Jerry Forton will not be retained.

---Buyouts: Murray said it was less than 50-50 the Sabres would use both of their CBA-allowed compliance buyouts this June but pretty much admitted one will be used on goal-less forward Ville Leino. "It's not 100 percent but it's a very good possibility that's one of our buyouts," Murray sid.

---Injuries: Murray said he believes goaltender Matt Hackett needs surgery on his injured right knee while goaltender Michal Neuvirth has been seeing a specialist for a nagging hip problem. Marcus Foligno (shoulder) and Henrik Tallinder (ankle) are pondering minor surgeries.

Click below to hear the full question-and-answer session with Murray and Nolan

Murray-Nolan presser

A quick look at Hudson Fasching's freshman year at Minnesota

by Amy Moritz

It was an impressive freshman campaign for Hudson Fasching, which is good news for Buffalo Sabres fans.

The 6-2, 207 pound forward was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team. He played in 40 games for the Golden Gophers this season with 14 goals and 16 assists. He scored six power play goals and was a plus-17.

He scored in the NCAA championship game, a late tally for Minnesota which fell to Union, 7-4, in the on Saturday.

Fasching was aquired by the Sabres on trade deadline day as part of a deal with the Los Angeles Kings which also sent Nick Deslauries to Buffalo in exchange for Brayden McNabb, Jonathon Parker and two second-round draft picks.

At Minnesota, he was part of a high-scoring freshman class which scored 40 percent of the team's goals. The freshmen averaged 1.42 goals per game before the Frozen Four -- the highest ratio of any rookie class in the country this season.

Fasching was a big presence in front of the net (hey, that's something the Sabres could use more of) and over the course of the season learned how to use his size and physical game to his advantage. He scored the fourth goal for the Gophers in the title game -- a power play goal at 16:20 of the third. Check it out from the Minnesota highlight package:

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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl | jvogl@buffnews.com

About Sabres Edge


Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington | mharrington@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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