Despite finishing dead last and having the best odds of winning the draft lottery, the Sabres ended up with the No. 2 pick and decisions to make.
It doesn't matter which NHL team you root for. Your heart has to be breaking just a little for Tim Murray.
Murray, the general manager of the Buffalo Sabres, drove to Toronto Saturday night hoping the hockey gods would smile on his beleaguered franchise and grant him the chance to select Connor McDavid, the most coveted prospect since Connor McDavid.
"I watch him too much and I think too much about him,” Murray told The New York Times last month. “I wish I could help myself.”
By virtue of a lost season during which the Sabres finished dead last, he had a 20% chance of winning that pick.
He also had an 80% chance of losing.
The guy's from Buffalo. You knew how this was going to play out.
The town that can't win didn't. Again. Instead, the Edmonton Oilers, with just an 11.5% chance, won the NHL's Draft Lottery. And now, barring some unimaginable twist, the league's most dysfunctional franchise will make McDavid their fourth No. 1 pick since 2010. He'll join Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov on a team that's loaded with promise but hobbled by failed management.
Poor McDavid. He may be the only person more defeated by this result than Murray.
So now the pressure is on Edmonton GM Craig MacTavish. McDavid isn't just a prize for the Oilers, he's a responsibility. MacTavish can't dither any longer with an endless rebuild. He can't let the next Face of the League languish for years on a cellar dweller. He has to surround the youngster with legitimate NHL talent. That means finding veteran help for his top six, solidifying his defense and upgrading his goaltending. If that means spending money and parting with some young or future assets so be it. Waiting around and hoping for the best just won't cut it any more.
But the eventual arrival of McDavid also means that the Oilers become a more appealing destination for free agent players. And it might give them an edge as they search for their next coach. Todd Nelson did a terrific job on an interim basis this season, and there was a good chance he'd return next year. But now that they can dangle the chance to work with The Next One, maybe Edmonton attracts someone with more skins on the wall. A guy like Mike Babcock might have been an impossible dream before this. Now? He might have to get in line.
MacTavish isn't the only one with tough decisions to make. Now that he's been relegated to the second selection, Murray's on the clock as well. Maybe he spends the pick on Jack Eichel, the 2015 Hobey Baker winner whose skill set earns comparisons to Anaheim Ducks star Ryan Getzlaf. That's certainly the safe play, and the most likely. The 17-year-old American would join 2014 second pick Sam Reinhart and All-Star Zemgus Girgensons and give the Sabres enviable depth down the middle for the next decade.
But that's not his only option.
Murray has said he's not inclined to trade the pick, but other GMs have made similar pronouncements and changed their minds. We know this much for sure: the Sabres have plenty of organizational needs. Murray already has shown an interest in accelerating the process with the trade that sent Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford and other assets to Winnipeg for Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian. And don't overlook the fact that Eichel just accepted the alternate captaincy of Boston University for the 2015-16 season. The assumption is that he's ready and willing to turn pro but what if he isn't quite ready to forgo the college experience? What if the idea of competing for a national title next season, especially after losing the final to Providence earlier this month, is more appealing than trying to drag the Sabres out of the cellar?
If another team is willing to ante up (and you can be sure he'll get calls) it makes sense for Murray to at least explore his options.
That second pick is a terrific asset, but he's not married to it. Not like he would have been with McDavid.