Columnist: This might be the worst Sabres team in a decade

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With the Sabres nine points out of a playoff spot and riding a 11-game road losing streak, Buffalo News scribe John Vogl is wondering if this team is as bad as the one he started covering 10 years ago.

“I’ve been covering the Sabres for a decade,” he writes. “The worst team was the first team. This year’s squad is giving that one competition.”

The 2002-02 Sabres went 27-37-10-8, good enough for 12th in the East and 26th in the NHL.

The current Sabres are 19-23-5, good enough for 11th in the East and 23rd in the NHL.

Vogl goes on to highlight several similarities between the two teams. Both had troubles scoring goals and equal trouble preventing them; both lacked, as Vogl puts it, an “embraceable player to latch on to, the kind you believe can carry a team by himself.”

Another similarity between the 2002-02 and 2011-12 Sabres is the reliance on minor league call-ups. The 02-03 Sabres featured appearances from the likes of Norm Milley, Jason Botterill, Jaroslav Kristek and Doug Houda (okay, Houda only played one game) while the 11-12 Sabres have been forced to call up the likes of Derek Whitmore, Joe Finley, Colin Stuart and Paul Szczechura due to a myriad of injuries.

That said, there is one key difference between the two teams. Owner Terry Pegula spent big bucks assembling the current Buffalo squad and expectations were sky high coming into the year.

The bar for the 2002-03 team was set much lower.

There was little hope. Bankruptcy was coming, and no one knew who’d be in control of the team.

At least in 2002-03, the Sabres knew they were bad. They traded Chris Gratton, Stu Barnes, Vaclav Varada and Rob Ray to try and build for the future. One prize was Danny Briere, who did indeed help the future.

This year’s squad keeps saying it will be better when healthy. There’s no talk of building for the future.

Vogl warns of what’s to come should the Sabres fail to improve when they get healthy.

“If they don’t,” he writes, “the question of the worst team in a decade becomes a no-brainer.”

The NHL Draft Lottery is tonight, here are the odds for every team and TV information

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Saturday night is going to be a big night for the 14 NHL teams that did not qualify for the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs because one of them will be the lucky winner of the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery, giving them the No. 1 pick in the draft.

While there probably isn’t going to be a Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews at the top of this year’s class, the top-two prospects (Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier) both have huge potential.

The Colorado Avalanche, owners of the NHL’s worst record in 2016-17, have the best odds at winning the lottery. The Avalanche last selected first overall in 2013 when they picked Nathan MacKinnon. New York Islanders have a less than one percent chance of winning.

The expansion Vegas Golden Knights have a 10.3 percent chance of winning the top pick.

Here is everything you need to know about tonight’s lottery

When: 8 p.m. ET, just prior to faceoff of Game 2 of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Washington Capitals second-round playoff series

TV: NBC

Odds for every team in the lottery:

Colorado Avalanche — 18.0%

Vancouver Canucks — 12.1%

Vegas Golden Knights — 10.3%

Arizona Coyotes — 10.3%

New Jersey Devils — 8.5%

Buffalo Sabres — 7.6%

Detroit Red Wings — 6.7%

Dallas Stars — 5.8%

Florida Panthers — 5.4%

Los Angeles Kings — 4.5%

Carolina Hurricanes — 3.2%

Winnipeg Jets — 2.7%

Philadelphia Flyers — 2.2%

Tampa Bay Lightning 1.8%

New York Islanders — 0.9%

The NHL draft will be held on Friday, June 23 (first round) and Saturday, June 24 (rounds two through seven) at United Center in Chicago.

Paul Carey replaces Brett Connolly for Capitals in Game 2

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After dropping Game 1 of their second-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night, the Washington Capitals are making a minor lineup change on Saturday for Game 2 of the series when Paul Carey replaces Brett Connolly on the team’s fourth line.

Carey, 28, appeared in only six games for the Capitals this season and did not record a point. He has one goal and one assist in 32 career NHL games with the Colorado Avalanche and Capitals, and appeared in three playoff games for the Avalanche back in 2014.

Given how Connolly’s ice time has been decreasing over the past few games this postseason it probably should not be too much of a surprise that he is now being removed from the lineup. After logging at least 10 minutes of ice time in each of the Capitals’ first three playoff games, he has not played more than 6:12 in each of the past four.

Coach Barry Trotz said on Saturday that he likes Carey’s speed in the lineup against the faster Penguins.

Connolly scored 15 goals in 66 regular season games for the Capitals this season.

In other Capitals lineup news, there is no change in the status of defenseman Karl Alzner as he will remain out of the lineup. He has been sidelined since Game 3 of their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs with an upper-body injury. Nate Schmidt will continue to take his place.

Scott Darling trade ‘worth the risk’ for Hurricanes

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The Carolina Hurricanes made a somewhat surprising move on Friday night when they acquired goaltender Scott Darling from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a third-round draft pick in 2017.

On the surface it looks like a good move for both the team and the player. Goaltending has been a major thorn in the Hurricanes’ side for several years now, while Darling has probably earned the opportunity to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL after performing extremely well as Corey Crawford‘s backup in Chicago.

The risk for the Hurricanes is that Darling will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and they will have to get him signed to a new contract before then to avoid potentially losing him (and the third-round pick they sent to Chicago) for nothing.

Shortly after the trade on Friday, Hurricanes general manager Ron Francis said all of that was worth the risk because the team has accumulated so many draft picks in this year’s class.

“This is a bit of a gamble but one we believed was worth taking,” Francis told Chip Alexander of the News & Observer. “This is why we accumulated these picks and we still have 10 left. It was worth the risk.”

He added that they would “like to get something done sooner rather than later.”

The duo of Cam Ward and Eddie Lack finished the 2016-17 season with a .901 save percentage, 26th in the NHL. The Hurricanes have finished higher than 25th just once in the past five years. The Hurricanes have solid young core of talent in place and a defense that allowed the fifth fewest shots on goal in the entire league this season. Solidifying the goaltending position would go a long way toward ending the team’s current eight year playoff drought.

 

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Saturday, April 29

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The second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoff continues on Saturday with a pair of games on NBC.

All of the action starts at 3 p.m. ET when the New York Rangers try to even their series against the Ottawa Senators. Later, the Pittsburgh Penguins look to take a 2-0 series lead against the Washington Capitals at 8 p.m. ET.

Here is all of the information you need for today’s games.

New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators

Time: 3:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBC (Stream Online Here)

Announcers: John Forslund, Brian Boucher

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBC (Stream Online Here)

Announcers: Mike Emrick, Ed Olczyk, Pierre McGuire