Would the Buffalo Sabres trade their second overall draft pick in 2014? It’s an interesting question and its answer is likely a conditional one. Of course, plenty of GMs in the NHL could find enough in their coffers to trade for a pick as high as Buffalo’s, but would the Sabres want it? And would it be in their best interest?
The Sabres clearly need top, young players, but if they were offered a collection of slightly older (but still young and cheap) players and a few picks, would it be worth it for the Sabres to pass up on the chance to pick from the top of a draft that isn’t seen as particularly top-heavy? We’ll examine both sides of the argument and see where we land. Before we do, let’s discuss the aforementioned conditions that will play a heavy role in a big decision for the organization.
With those in mind, let’s Pro and Con the idea of trading a rare second overall pick in the draft.
Trade the pick:
Basically, everything starts here. We want this guy, and we really want him bad. Oh, you haven’t heard of him? Don’t worry. You want Connor McDavid, and if the Sabres trade this year’s jackpot draft pick for picks in 2015, you need to promise me you won’t get mad because it’s probably a good deal. I’ll explain.
Last summer, I wrote that there are two basic approaches to the NHL draft: Quantity and quality. The latter is much harder to predict since it’s being judged on 18 year olds who either haven’t fully matured or have taken a little too crazily to maturing. Eighteen is a rather fickle age. Unless of course you’re a can’t miss superstar like umm…oh, right. Cuz he’s compared to…yeah, that Crosby guy. Right. We do need a guy like that.
Even if the Florida Panthers pass on the exceptional Aaron Ekblad — considered the top skater in the draft — and give the Buffalo Sabres to chance to draft him, Buffalo will still only have one more piece of the puzzle, and not one who is particularly generational the way, oh you get it, I won’t say his name again.
In trading the second pick in the draft, the Sabres can put their many scouts to use to find a quality prospect later in the draft and use their added ammo to either keep building a large base of moveable pieces or load up for the alleged superior quality in next year’s draft.
Going back to our mitigating factors, if the Islanders surrender their pick in the 2014 draft, then Buffalo would almost be foolish not to try to trade back for potentially someone’s first round pick next year, in order to land in the money for next year’s lottery bonanza that features two potential franchise players in Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid. There are some snazzy forwards in the 2014 draft, but none match the potential of these two and possibly others in 2015. Even if the Sabres don’t have two picks in the first round this year, they could move down to the 5-8 range, pick up a few more picks (maybe 2015 ones?) and load up for a big first round in 12 months.
Often times we talk about draft luck not just in getting a top pick, but getting it in ‘the right year’. The Penguins didn’t get lucky because they got all their top five picks (they earned those through a concerted effort to suck as much as possible for years). They got lucky because they drafted in years when Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby sat the top of the draft (granted, the Crosby draft was a league wide affair with no standings-based odds thanks to the season-long 2005 lockout).
The Sabres can’t control the lottery balls, but they can control how many they have in the system. If GM Tim Murray and his crew agree with the general consensus that 2015 is a better draft year than 2014, then they should manipulate every valuable asset in their reach and move to dominate that first round and thus have the best chance to get a player like Connor McDavid.
If that means giving up a top pick this year, so be it. There will be more next year, and this isn’t a team that’s going to dramatically change overnight.
Keep the pick:
Top three picks don’t come along very often for any franchise, unless they hail from Edmonton. The talent found in the top three of any draft is often rare, even in an off year like 2014. The Sabres will have a shot at either Samuel Bennett, Sam Reinhart or a host of other top prospects who could surpass those top forwards. Shuffling the deck so it’s loaded for 2015 is an admirable idea, but anyone Buffalo drafts will need help. Drafting high end prospects several times in several years is a great way to start a true championship foundation.
A team as talent-starved as Buffalo should look to draft the best prospect they can get their hands on, let him play another year in juniors while the team continues to slog in the bottom of the heap, and let the chips fall where they may for 2015. You only get so many shots at blue chip talent for free. The Sabres shouldn’t be nearly as worried about finding a bunch of young players who serve replaceable roles — they already have a ton of picks. What they need are top end players. As many as they can get. For as long as it takes to build a solid team core. Then they can worry about maneuvering around to get the right guy. By then, hopefully, they’ll be only one player away.
I really think this one depends on Garth Snow or whoever’s in charge of the fate of the Islanders’ first round pick owed to Buffalo. If they are willing to pass on their own top five pick this year for a better shot at next year’s draft, then the Sabres would be remiss to not hear out suitors for one of their picks, and try to build a stable of assets to improve flexibility and the ability to quickly improve. Picking at 2 and 5 is a rare luxury any team so they can’t lose, but if the Isles forfeit their 2014 pick, I’d still say the Sabres should look to just take two top end prospects and still count on being a high pick in the mix for the top pick next year in the 2015 bonanza.
All that said, I don’t think the Islanders will pass on their pick this year. Top five picks are too rare, and the Islanders can’t expect to pick even higher next season (even if it’s likely from where we’re sitting). Buffalo will likely only have the second overall pick in this round, and they should stand pat and take the guy they most believe in. If they do just that, they’ll come out the 2014 draft a winner.