By John Vogl
PHILADELPHIA – The dream of seeing uber-prospect Connor McDavid in a Buffalo uniform was going to carry Sabres fans through another loss-filled season. The odds of the dream becoming reality are likely to change.
The NHL is ready to implement a pair of changes to its Draft Lottery. The first, which would go into effect for the McDavid draft of 2015, would give all 14 non-playoff teams a more even chance of winning the No. 1 pick. The second, which would be put into service in 2016, would increase the number of selections determined by the lottery system.
The NHL board of governors approved the changes Thursday, but the league's player association will have a chance to weigh in. The NHLPA board gathers July 14-18, and approval or rejection is expected before the end of the meeting.
The first change to the lottery could hurt the Sabres, who finished 30th this season and are expected to be at the bottom again next year. Under the present system, the chances of winning the Draft Lottery range from 25 percent for the last-place team to 18.8 percent for the 29th-place club down to 0.5 percent for the team that finishes 17th overall.
While the proposed new odds were unavailable, they would be compressed and give the 30th-place club a smaller chance of winning and the 17th-place team a greater chance.
Buffalo has already proved how tough it is for the 30th-place team to win the lottery. The Sabres lost to Florida and will pick second overall Friday at the 2014 NHL Draft in Wells Fargo Center.
General Manager Tim Murray had expressed hope that any changes to the lottery wouldn’t take place for several years.
“I’d rather not get into the specifics of voting,” Sabres President Ted Black, who represented the team at the board of governors meeting, told The Buffalo News. “Ultimately, anything that passes, we’re a member club in the league and when the league as a whole votes for something, we ultimately get behind it and support it.”
Black chose to take an optimistic view of the proposed change for 2015. Buffalo holds the first-round picks of the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues after trades, and if they all miss the playoffs then Buffalo’s overall odds of winning the lottery could increase.
Say, for example, the Sabres finish 30th, the Islanders end up 25th and St. Louis places 17th. Under this year’s lottery system, Buffalo would have a 31.7 percent chance of selecting first overall. The smoothing out between 30th and 17th could ultimately make it a higher percentage.
“For us, you won’t know until this time next year whether or not you benefited or you didn’t,” Black said. “The takeaway from me is if we have three picks, we may find out that all three became more valuable.”
It’s unlikely, however, that St. Louis will miss the playoffs and be a lottery club.
The second change would have a greater impact on the lottery. Under the present system, the process is used to determine only the No. 1 overall pick. The rest of the first round goes in reverse order of finish, so the 30th-place team is guaranteed to pick no worse than second.
While it's not yet clear how many spots would be determined by a lottery in 2016, previous reports suggested the top five selections could be up for grabs. Under that scenario, the team that finishes 30th could pick as low as No. 6.
The Sabres have an oft-stated plan to rebuild the franchise by selecting at the top of the draft. Dropping down the chart would impact the timetable for improvement.
The approved changes were designed to discourage “tanking,” the process by which teams lose with the knowledge that a high pick awaits.