Jack Eichel

NHL Power Rankings: Top Draft Lottery memories

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Hockey fans will get something to obsess about on Friday, June 26, as the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery will air on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET. If one of the NHL’s bottom seven teams wins the first draw, we might know where Alexis Lafrenière is headed (assuming, reasonably safely, that he goes first). As promising as Lafrenière is, history shows that winning a draft lottery isn’t the only part of putting together a championship team — if you even get that far.

I mean … don’t get me wrong, as this list shows, it often helps. A lot.

The latest PHT Power Rankings list breaks down top memories that have come from draft lotteries. Sometimes we’ll see big winners, losers, or both. Sometimes there will be tragic comedy, or incredible luck (*cough* or both).

The experience of seeing your team’s luck swing on the bounces of lottery balls can be agonizing. It also makes just about every experience a personal one. So, if you have draft lottery memories that didn’t make the cut, absolutely share them.

Try not to ruin your day going over such memories, though.

[How the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery will work. It could get complicated.]

1. Penguins land Crosby in strange 2005 NHL Draft Lottery

You know it’s an odd, memorable draft lottery when Sports Illustrated gives it the oral history treatment.

Sidney Crosby also ended up justifying the hype, making the 2005 NHL Draft lottery possibly the most pivotal since the format began.

On one hand, the Penguins received some of the best odds to win. They received three of the 48 lottery balls in the NHL’s strange setup, ranking among four teams with the most. Even so, they had a 6.3 percent chance to win the Crosby sweepstakes. (Somewhere, Brian Burke is still fuming about this.)

You can probably set off a brushfire of hockey debate by asking how much the Penguins’ success hinged on luck — not just landing Crosby, but Evgeni Malkin second in 2004, and a bucket of other high picks — and how much hinged on solid management. There’s no debate that the Penguins came out of the lockout with two enormous additions.

You can also entertain yourself with some Ducks alternate history. What if they did land Crosby? Imagine if Burke’s alleged aims to trade for Joe Thornton worked out? Would Burke still be challenging Kevin Lowe and others to barn brawls as Ducks GM to this day?

*Loosens tie over the whole thing*

Also:

  • The Canadiens only received one lottery ball, yet eventually drafted Carey Price fifth overall.
  • The Sabres had three lottery balls, but chose (*moves imaginary glasses from forehead to eyes*) … Marek Zagrapan? Oof.

That 2005 NHL Draft tops the list of lottery memories. There are plenty of other dramatic swings to mull over, however.

2. Blackhawks lose big in 2004, then win big in 2007

It’s easy to zero in on the top pick of a draft versus the second when you look back at draft lottery swings. But don’t sleep on the third pick, and on, because that’s where the deepest belly laughs and cringes often lurk.

Consider 2004. The Capitals rocketed back to relevance thanks to Alex Ovechkin. Malkin served as the first of the Penguins’ two superstars (but far from the only high picks, as the Penguins marinated in those during a run of profound ineptitude).

The Blackhawks? They chose Cam Barker third overall. Brutal.

Luckily, the Blackhawks ended up trading Barker for a future building block in Nick Leddy. Amusingly, fourth overall pick Andrew Ladd also helped Chicago down the line.

But most luckily, the Blackhawks landed the top pick in 2007 despite having the fifth-best chances (8.1 percent). Chicago selected Patrick Kane, pairing him with Jonathan Toews on their way to three Stanley Cups.

The Flyers suffered through a miserable season, yet instead of drafting Kane, they ended up with James van Riemsdyk. There’s a kinship, oddly, between JVR and Bobby Ryan: two New Jersey natives, who were second overall picks, and enjoyed bumpy-but-productive careers that probably didn’t soothe the wounds of those who were mad about draft lottery results.

Did we mention they were from New Jersey? (Crowd boos.)

[NHL Mock Draft: Lafreniere head of the 2020 prospect class]

3. The Oilers land McDavid, McDavid makes classic McDavid face

Compared to the Sabres’ 20-percent chance, the Oilers were underdogs to land Connor McDavid with the third-best odds (11.5). But the Oilers’ rain and reign of first overall picks continued.

As you may remember, McDavid looked thrilled.

There’s a sound argument for this rankings second, not third, among draft lottery memories. After all, McDavid ranks as the biggest star to emerge first overall since Crosby.

He also made that face.

But the other factor that looms large is the deep failure of the Oilers and the Sabres. Edmonton achieves borderline art in poor development (Nail Yakupov, first in 2012) and poor decisions (trading Taylor Hall, first in 2010) to squander so much good fortune. Only now are the Oilers flirting with the success they were practically gifted, and that hinges a ton on McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

The Sabres have been a mess for about a decade. They can’t pin that on getting Jack Eichel instead of McDavid, even if they clearly tanked for McDavid.

Hockey fans might want to attribute the success of teams like the Penguins and Blackhawks to premium picks alone. Yet, the Sabres and especially Oilers show us that you can squander such riches.

4. Taylor Hall, lottery ball specialist

Taylor Hall, one-time MVP and himself the top pick of 2010, became a good luck charm for his teams — at least when it came to draft lotteries. The biggest win came when the Oilers won the McDavid sweepstakes in 2015, while the Devils also landed Nico Hischier and most recently Jack Hughes in lotteries with Hall in the fold.

Hall hasn’t just shown a good sense of humor about it. He’s done so multiple times.

In 2015, McDavid:

After 2017, when the Devils eventually added Hischier:

Hall still provided some great barbs in 2019, though he wouldn’t spend much time with Jack Hughes:

So, a question: do we gauge Hall’s continued lottery ball dominance based on where the Coyotes draft, or if he signs with a different team in free agency? This is important, I think.

[PHT Roundtable: Draft Lottery format reactions]

5. Flyers make biggest jump ever

Heading into the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery, the Flyers held the 13th rank. Despite that standing, they jumped all the way to the second pick. Philly had a 2.4 percent chance to do that.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem like a Blackhawks Barker-to-Kane flip. Early in his career, Nolan Patrick has been some combination of inconsistent and injured (his career outlook is still foggy because of migraines).

Patrick’s health issues make it seem way too harsh to throw the word “bust” around. But that jump to No. 2 definitely didn’t deliver for the Flyers quite like they dreamed.

The next three picks turn the knife deeper for Flyers fans. The Stars drafted a defensive pillar in Miro Heiskanen. Then the Avalanche got a pillar of their own in Cale Makar. Finally, the Canucks might have drafted the “real” top pick in Elias Pettersson.

Ouch.

Honorable mention NHL Draft Lottery storylines and memories

To reiterate, good draft lottery luck doesn’t always translate to the standings. Sometimes it doesn’t even mean you’ll choose the right player.

  • The Thrashers (Patrik Stefan) and Islanders (Rick DiPietro) followed back-to-back blunders, and made blunders around those moves. Trading Roberto Luongo, giving DiPietro a ruinous contract, and so on showed that winning the lottery isn’t everything. Granted, Atlanta eventually struck gold with Ilya Kovalchuk (2001) — at least for a while.
  • Buffalo suffered some bad luck, but they need more than lottery wins. Rasmus Dahlin (2018) looks legit, yet he hasn’t been able to solve the Sabres’ problems. That takes multiple shrewd moves … and, yes, some luck.
  • You could rank the Canucks among the teams that have been burned by bad draws. Even so, some of their best recent picks came outside the true no-brainer range. They selected Elias Pettersson fifth in 2017, and he’d probably be the top pick in a re-draft. The Quinn Hughes pick (seventh in 2018) looked smart then, and brilliant now.

MORE POWER RANKINGS:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Can Kevyn Adams overcome inexperience to succeed as Sabres GM?

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Fair or not, it’s difficult to avoid the “inexperience” question regarding the Sabres handing the GM keys to Kevyn Adams.

Keith Jones, Patrick Sharp, and Liam McHugh discussed that subject, along with other Sabres issues, in the latest edition of “Our Line Starts.” While Sharp provided some glowing words for Adams, and Jones expressed optimism about holdover head coach Ralph Krueger, the larger Sabres picture is unsettling.

You can watch and listen to the full “Our Line Starts” podcast in the video above. The episode is also included at the bottom of this post. Here’s the specific clip discussing Adams and the inexperience issue:

Sabres present a colossal challenge for GM Adams, even ignoring inexperience

It’s amusing that Kim and Terry Pegula leaning on “E” buzzwords, especially efficiency, in making this change, being that they’re going with a third inexperienced GM in a row.

Let’s be honest, if there’s an “E” you’d use to describe this Sabres era, it would be “erratic.”

Adams represents the fourth GM the Sabres hired since the Pegulas came into the picture in 2013. Ralph Krueger ranks as their sixth head coach. Both Tim Murray and now Jason Botterill only received three years to make their marks as Sabres GMs.

To be frank, it’s difficult to guess what kind of vision Adams has as GM. In a lengthy discussion with The Athletic’s Tim Graham (sub required), Adams emphasized communication. And, yes, the word “efficient” went around a lot.

But there weren’t a lot of specifics. Just about every team claims that they want to emphasize speed and character, two things Adams did key on.

Adams did indicate that he’ll be working closely with Krueger. There can be some drawbacks to coaches having a lot of say in personnel matters, but considering how disjointed the Sabres are right now, having two top front office members on the same page is a plus.

(Yes, the Sabres are absolutely dealing in small victories right now. That’s what happens when you’re rudderless amid a nine-year playoff drought.)

Can Adams rebuild — not just the roster, but also the front office?

Botterill getting fired and replaced with Adams grabs the headlines. Yet, the Sabres absolutely dismantled their staff, almost top to bottom.

The Athletic’s John Vogl captures how scorched-earth the Sabres “barren” system currently looks (sub required), illustrated quickest in his tweet:

Yikes.

It’s not particularly promising that Adams doesn’t just qualify as inexperienced as a GM. He hasn’t served as an assistant GM, either. He was just promoted to vice president of business administration in September.

To be fair, many of us roll our eyes at NHL teams constantly hiring “retreads.”

Still, this situation makes you wonder if it’s really ideal for a novice. Sabres fans aren’t exactly overflowing with patience right now. Neither is superstar Jack Eichel.

Adams isn’t merely being asked to unearth prospects, or clean up the salary cap. While the Sabres’ messaging hinges on “doing more with less,” they’ll need to restock their front office — at least eventually.

Frankly, I view going short-staffed as short-sighted, at least in the longer term. It’s easy to look at a large staff as bloated. However, a savvy team can save millions merely by investing in an analytics staff that would tell people “No.”

Could a larger analytics emphasis have averted disastrous free agent signings over the years? Possibly. Maybe they could have salvaged more from trading Ryan O'Reilly, if that was unavoidable? It’s pretty easy to see how relatively cheap staff members could save teams millions.

The Sabres do still employ an analytics director (Jason Nightingale), but that doesn’t mean it’s an area of emphasis. I personally believe that is where a team can be more “efficient” than old-school, bigger spending teams.

Sabres at least have time to search for answers

Overall, there are a lot of troubling signs for the Sabres, with the inexperience of Kevyn Adams merely being one of them.

That said, it’s crucial to remember that the Sabres will probably look quite different whenever the 2020-21 season kicks into gear. (Or, gulp, 2021-22? Just 2021, then 2022? We live in uncertain times.)

The key is for important people, particularly the Pegulas, to learn from mistakes. Not even going through a GM search ranks as yet another troubling sign, but maybe inexperience won’t matter as much as some think regarding Adams?

It will be fascinating, and maybe a little frightening, to watch it all play out. Speaking of playing out, enjoy the latest episode of “Our Line Starts” below.

Start-12:45 Breaking down the front office overhaul in Buffalo
12:45-16:35 What will life in the “bubble” be like?
19:10-22:50 Discussion on potential hub cities as the official announcement nears
22:50-34:30 Handicapping some of the major awards

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

MORE ON ADAMS, SABRES:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Our Line Starts podcast: Sabres cleaning house reaction; NHL Awards talk

Liam McHugh, Patrick Sharp, and Keith Jones address the big news out of Buffalo, as GM Jason Botterill and numerous others in the hockey operations department were let go. Can the new regime under Kevyn Adams finally build a winning team around Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin? Plus, the guys pick their winners for the Hart, Vezina, Calder, Jack Adams, and Norris trophies – a discussion that includes Jonesy calling John Carlson “miles ahead” of any other d-man.

Start-12:45 Breaking down the front office overhaul in Buffalo
12:45-16:35 What will life in the “bubble” be like?
19:10-22:50 Discussion on potential hub cities as the official announcement nears
22:50-34:30 Handicapping some of the major awards

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

Plenty of questions for Kevyn Adams as Sabres GM

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The Sabres stunned many on Tuesday by firing Jason Botterill, and naming Kevyn Adams as their new GM.

The move accomplished the interesting task of making the inevitable feel shocking. Yes, Botterill seemed like he was on borrowed time as GM. But considering Kim Pegula’s vote of confidence from late May, the Sabres signaled that now was not the time. And then they changed course.

As messy as all of this is, the truth is that it might work out for the best. Why head into this long, unusual offseason with a GM you don’t believe in? Every prime year from Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin is precious, so why waste them if Botterill really isn’t the best choice?

Of course, what happens next hinges on Kevyn Adams. Can he finally get the Sabres on track as the franchise is mired in a nine-year playoff drought? Let’s look at the monumental task(s) Adams has in front of him.

Adams faces key decisions (big and small, short and long-term) as Sabres GM

As cathartic as it might be to move on from a GM or coach that didn’t work out, there’s also a risk that the new people in charge will make the wrong changes, sometimes merely to show that they’re not just sitting idly.

For better (Jack Eichel) and worse (Jeff Skinner, Kyle Okposo), the Sabres have a lot of big contracts they really can’t move. Rasmus Ristolainen stands as the biggest piece — even literally — that they actually could conceivably remove.

It feels like Ristolainen has been subject to trade rumors for ages, even though he’s merely 25. Either way, it makes you wonder if Botterill wanted too much for Ristolainen, or if the market really is just that cold on him.

Frankly, the Sabres might be better off cutting their losses, even at a discount rate. By most measures, including this multi-season RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey, Ristolainen seems like an overall drag on his team:

Kevyn Adams Sabres GM should trade Rasmus Ristolainen
via Evolving Hockey

If the Sabres traded Ristolainen, it might help solve their Rasmus Riddle.

On one hand, Ralph Krueger really helped improve the Sabres on defense. Consider his isolated impact via Hockey Viz:

Kevyn Adams Sabres GM should keep Ralph Krueger
via Hockey Viz

Yet, while Krueger bumped down Ristolainen’s ice time, the tall defenseman still topped the Sabres in ice time. Meanwhile, Rasmus Dahlin actually saw a dramatic drop in ice time from his rookie campaign (21:09) to his sophomore season (19:18).

That’s puzzling. I can’t help but point out that the “free agent” market for coaches is unusually robust, featuring choices ranging from Bruce Boudreau and Gerard Gallant to Peter Laviolette and even Mike Babcock.

Overall, though? It seems like Krueger is a good coach, maybe a very good one. Adams should probably trade away that one bad habit in Ristolainen, though.

RFAs need addressing

Take a look at the Sabres’ long-term outlook for a longer list, but Buffalo is brimming with RFA decisions to make.

Some of the most important names include breakout rookie sniper Victor Olofsson, goalie Linus Ullmark, baffling trade acquisition Wayne Simmonds, Brandon Montour, Michael Frolik, and Jimmy Vesey.

While the Sabres have $25M devoted to Eichel, Skinner, and Okposo alone, the slate is reasonably clean for Kevyn Adams to make his own mark as GM.

He’ll need to make the right calls not just with who to bring back, but also who to add.

Ullmark played pretty well this season, but not necessarily to the point that he silenced all questions about Sabres goaltending. Should Adams stick with Ullmark and Carter Hutton, who’s worked on vision problems and has one year remaining? Should the Sabres instead plunge into a pretty promising goalie market, and either try to trade away Hutton or even eat the cost of sending Hutton to the AHL?

Go big in free agency or aim more modestly?

If the Sabres make the call to spend on a UFA goalie, they’d need to determine the right target. Braden Holtby boasts a big name, but he’s struggled in recent years, and would be expensive if he leaves the Capitals. It’s difficult to imagine Robin Lehner returning to Buffalo, but maybe Adams and the Sabres can identify the next Lehner?

Skaters represent interesting questions, too.

If Alex Pietrangelo becomes available, is it worth the risk of going top-heavy to improve in an area of need? Dahlin will need a contract after 2020-21, so the Sabres could see their breathing room collapse quickly if they signed Pietrangelo, only to receive diminishing returns.

Taylor Hall could give Eichel the sort of support he’s rarely seen, yet Hall’s shown serious signs of decline recently.

The Sabres have also gotten burned by more mid-range free agent signings, so there are risks if they swing for contact rather than for the fences.

Maybe the best path would be to call up, say, the Lightning or another cap-challenged team to shake loose some talent?

Even if Adams keeps his early moves modest, he still faces a lot of questions in taking over as Sabres GM. This team needs to add talent, and rebuild trust from fans. As we’ve seen from Botterill and others, it’s a job that can go wrong in many ways.

What would you do if you were in Adams’ shoes?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sabres fire Jason Botterill, name Kevyn Adams as new GM

Jason Botterill Kevyn Adams Sabres GM
Getty Images
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So much for that vote of confidence from late May. The Buffalo Sabres announced that they fired Jason Botterill on Tuesday, while also naming Kevyn Adams as their new GM.

Kim and Terry Pegula noted that, after “candid discussions” with Botterill, they determined that the sides had “philosophical differences” about how to run the Sabres.

“This morning, we informed Jason Botterill he will no longer be the General Manager of the Sabres,” Kim and Terry Pegula said in that statement. “This decision was made after many candid discussions with Jason during a full review of our hockey operation. We recognized we have philosophical differences regarding how best to put ourselves in a position to compete for a Stanley Cup. So, we decided to make this change.”

Interestingly, the Sabres did not seem to attach an “interim” title to Adams as GM.

“New General Manager Kevyn Adams and Head Coach Ralph Krueger already have a close working relationship and we are excited to see what they can do together as we re-configure our hockey operations,” The Pegulas said. “We have the benefit of this long 2020 pause to take time to reorganize and re-energize our hockey department. We recognize the importance of this offseason with so many player decisions to be made.”

Botterill gives way to Adams after about three years

The Sabres hired Botterill as their eighth GM in May 2017. That gave Botterill enough time to scramble and conduct Buffalo’s 2017 draft, including choosing Casey Mittelstadt eighth overall. (Mittelstadt represents the second debatable eighth overall pick in a row for Buffalo, as the Sabres chose Alex Nylander in that spot the year before.)

Much like Botterill, Phil Housley carried a pretty high league-wide perception into his job as Sabres head coach. To put things mildly, both Botterill and Housley saw such reputations plummet. Botterill stayed on long enough to see Ralph Krueger coach the Sabres for one season, but that’s it.

[RELATED: Plenty of questions for Kevyn Adams as Sabres GM]

Generally speaking, Botterill avoided huge free agent moves during his tenure, which seemed wise considering some of Buffalo’s biggest blunders.

Many of his biggest splashes came via trades. While acquiring Jeff Skinner was a big win, Skinner’s pricey extension negated most of that goodwill.

Will the revolving door stop for Buffalo?

The Sabres only managed marginal improvements in defense, goaltending, and depth scoring under Botterill. Despite changing GMs and coaches, the tune seems the same: the Sabres failed to surround Jack Eichel (and now Rasmus Dahlin, too) with much support.

Sabres fans get the change that some desired, at least at GM. You can’t “fire the owners,” so to speak, so plenty of people will grumble at decisions. We’ve seen plenty of examples of “re-arranging the deckchairs” on this sinking Sabres ship, too.

Will Adams find any more luck and success as GM than Botterill did? It won’t be easy. And Sabres fans might not be inclined to give Adams too much leeway.

UPDATE: The organizational changes continued Tuesday afternoon:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.