If Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin are the top three amigos for the 2015 NHL draft, the Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes and Calgary Flames are their top three suitors.
Yesterday, my esteemed boss Jason Kay wrote a blog wondering if the Sabres killed their chances of winning the McDavid sweepstakes by filling out their roster with established veterans Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, Andrej Meszaros and Cody McCormick. No need to worry, the Sabres aren’t going anywhere other than 30th place.
Those newcomers are fine players and the Sabres are teeming with young up-and-coming talent, but even if Buffalo increased its anemic offense by 25 percent and won another dozen games, the outlook is still unquestionably bottom three. Remember, the Sabres finished 14 points behind Florida and 15 behind Edmonton and both the Panthers and Oilers made moves to ensure they will improve. (More than Edmonton’s moves is the expected maturing of a young, skilled roster). Calgary was 25 points ahead and will probably tread water or maybe regress slightly.
McDavid is the marquee prospect for the 2015 draft, but Eichel and Hanifin are projecting to be franchise-caliber players as well. There’s a drop-off after the top three so finishing bottom two will be the discreet, unspoken quest for teams that are not yet close to being playoff contenders.
After Buffalo in the No. 30 slot, I have Carolina taking a step backward and finishing 29th. The Hurricanes are talent-thin beyond their top four or five players and who knows what kind of season the Staals will have.
Calgary is the pick of a lot of scribes to fall to 30th, but I think the Flames re-built roster will surprise people and be competitive enough to finish 28th. It should be noted Calgary had the 12th best record in the league after the team-unifying brawl with the Canucks in Vancouver Jan. 18. And the Flames improved their goaltending with the signing of Jonas Hiller.
Web editor Rory Boylen think the Florida Panthers made enough off-season moves to be considered a playoff contender. I see them as a house of cards destined to fall – we have a bet riding on it – and 27th seems about right.
Other teams in my bottom 10 are Edmonton, Phoenix, Winnipeg, Ottawa, New Jersey and the Islanders.
The team finishing 30th has just a 25 percent chance of winning the draft lottery, but a 100 percent chance of picking no worse than second.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN