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NHL draft tanking battle ready to rage in wake of trade deadline

Sabres and Coyotes GMs ready for Connor McDavid-Jack Eichel NHL draft tank battle after trade deadline moves.

In case you missed it, Eric Otters center Connor McDavid scored his 100th point of the season during the weekend.

The 17-year-old sensation hit the century mark in just his 38th OHL game, a prodigious pace that only enhances the argument that he is the top prospect available this June and, quite possibly, the best draft-eligible player since Sidney Crosby in 2005. The NHL team that is lucky enough to step up first to the podium and call his name will acquire a player around which it can build a Stanley Cup contender.

Little wonder then that the two clubs that are most likely to procure his services, Buffalo and Arizona, spent the past few days stripping themselves down to their foundations in order to improve their chances at drafting number one. Or at least finish 30th to protect themselves from a capricious lottery and guarantee a shot at Jack Eichel, another undeniably exceptional young talent.

Trade grades for NHL deadline day's major moves

Of course, it's going to take a lot of losing between now and April 11 to make that happen. And since the players who are currently employed by the Sabres and Coyotes would never embrace the concept of rolling over as part of a strategy for winning long term, their general managers are doing it for them. Both Buffalo's Tim Murray and Arizona's Don Maloney put on their helmets and dove head first into the tank on Monday, sending core players to contenders and accepting magic beans in exchange. In a race to the bottom, they shamelessly shed their integrity right along with all that talent.

Not that they saw it that way. Murray, speaking to the media after sending red-hot goaltender Michal Neuvirth to the Islanders in exchange for failed backup Chad Johnson (he of the .889 save percentage for a team that has spent most of the season in first place in the Metro Division) sold the day's moves as the proper action given the environment.

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Tanks? Not in Buffalo, according to Murray.

"I don’t want to have anything to do with [tanking],” he said. “I don’t even want to speak to it. I’ve got great confidence that if we [finish] 28th, we’re going to get a hell of a player. If we’re [finish] 25th, we might get a hell of a player. If we don’t get one of those two guys, we’ll find a way to get a top center.”

[daily_cut.nhl]"Our game plan is to acquire the best young assets," Maloney explained after sending his top center (Antoine Vermette) and defenseman (Keith Yandle) packing in separate weekend deals.

And who can blame these guys? As a course of action, being really bad does more to expedite a rebuild than being pretty bad. Especially this year. The reality is that only the team that finishes dead last has a 100% chance of landing either McDavid or Eichel. Finish 29th and you have a 66.6% chance of picking third. Remember who was picked third behind Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin back in 2010? Erik Gudbranson. Nice player, but a complementary piece, not a star. Or how about Cam Barker? Taken right after Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin in 2004, a solid choice at the time who is now a middling blueliner in the KHL.

Picking third could yield a much better prospect this time around, but nothing like McDavid or Eichel. Neither of these teams wants third.

So Murray and Maloney will fill out their decimated rosters with AHL hopefuls under the guise of an audition for next season and take a steady stream of beatings from now through April, all in the name of a brighter future. At least until they meet each other in Buffalo on March 26 and then in Glendale on March 30. Then we'll really see which snake is best at eating its own tail.