Sabres & Coyotes are in a race for last again

March 21, 2018 - 4:58 pm
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Joe DiBiase reporting
@DiBiaseWGR

It's like it's still 2015. Just over three years ago, the Buffalo Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes met as the worst two teams in the NHL. Today, it's nearly the same. The big difference is the stakes. Back then, last meant a guarantee at drafting either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. This year it's not nearly as valuable. 

The Sabres currently trail the Coyotes and the Vancouver Canucks by one point in the standings. Buffalo has 58 points in 72 games, Arizona has 59 points in 72 games, Vancouver has 59 points in 73 games. Of course with Vegas in the league last is now 31st, not 30th. What last place gets you now is the best chance to draft a generational player in Rasmus Dahlin. A Swedish defenseman who gets lots of Erik Karlsson and Nick Lidstrom comparisons. The lottery odds have not been released yet for this year, but last year the worst team had an 18% chance to draft first. Second last had a 12.5% chance. 

Last would also mean you couldn't drop below the fourth pick. In this year's draft it appears there is a drop off after the group of forwards Brady Tkachuk, Andrei Svechnikov, and Filip Zadina. Those three follow Dahlin in the majority of rankings. So, does last mean that much? No. Does it mean something? Yeah, a little bit. You won't hear fans cheering for a Coyote goal like in 2015. 

The Sabres and Coyotes have had different roads to this point. The Sabres finished last in 2015, thanks in part to the Coyotes win in Buffalo late in the season. Jack Eichel came to Buffalo and he's one of the top young players in the NHL. The Coyotes are still hoping Dylan Strome doesn't end up being a bust. It's very early, but Strome has played in just 19 NHL games collecting just two points. In the AHL he's roughly a point a game player. Strome's slow development compared to players drafted around him is not the main reason the Coyotes have been so poor for years. Inconsistency from young players thrust into key roles has been one. Bad goaltending has been another. 

Since that "Tank Bowl" in March of 2015, the Coyotes have finished with 70 and 78 points. Never close to the playoffs, both at the bottom of the standings. The Sabres have finished with 81 and 78 points. The Sabres were bad for different reasons. They hit the accelerator on the rebuild, trading many young assets to bring in proven players. Tim Murray left lots and lots of holes on the roster in the process. 

As we sit here today, both teams are once again hoping to turn things around. Both could really use a potential franchise defenseman like Rasmus Dahlin. Credit to the NHL for changing it's lottery rules so that we don't have an epic tank-fest like three years ago. 

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