Connor McDavid sits out the first week of a five-to-six week hand injury and many of the teams with the best chance at drafting him first start to win a few games. Coincidence? Yes. Totally. But there is something to be taken from this recent success of previously dreadful squads: the Sabres are now firmly in control of last place (and the subsequently the best odds on the first overall pick).
Even after a 6-2 thumping of Toronto Saturday, the Sabres are clearly the worst team in the NHL. With teams playing a different number of games and point totals still being so low this early, it may not appear like Buffalo has separated itself. But that is the case.
At this point, there are seven teams on pace to finish with less than one point per game: Arizona (77 points), Colorado (73), Dallas (73), Edmonton (64), Columbus (62), Carolina (62) and Buffalo (43). Buffalo is scoring nearly half as often as Arizona, a team with the second-most losses in the Western Conference. Toronto, an average team, is on pace to score 255 goals this season, nearly six times more goals than the Sabres. And Tampa Bay, the NHL’s hottest offense, makes Buffalo look like a juniors team
But it goes beyond that. Each team, aside from Buffalo, has reason to continue to separate themselves from Buffalo, even if it hurts them in the long run.
The Avalanche have plenty of young goal scoring talent and, Jesus, they can’t be this bad all year, can they?
Arizona hasn’t been all that bad so far – 17 points in 18 games. They’re really not a terrible team – not enough depth or top end talent to compete with the big dogs but not bad enough to be consider a McDavid contender.
Edmonton really shouldn’t be competing for last overall and I should really floss more often. But it would be genuinely surprising if they finished within 15 points of the Sabres.
Columbus has had some injury issues but they’ve won two in a row and have Sergei Bobrovsky back. They won’t be terrible all year.
Dallas has been a shock to everyone – they made the playoffs last year and spent money in the offseason (most notably grabbing Jason Spezza and Alex Hemsky). They seemed poised to compete in the West. A quick look at their PDO (98.6 – very low for a team with their scoring talent) and low team save percentage seems to indicate that even if they won’t compete for a top seed, they won’t be this bad all year either.
Carolina is legitimately bad. But now that the Hurricanes are healthy, it’s clear they’re better than the Sabres. They have the best chance at competing with the Sabres for the first pick, but that won’t be easy to do with young guys like Riley Nash, Elias Lindholm and Justin Faulk starting to play well.
But there is no hope for the 2014-15 Sabres to get better. No positive regression coming. No injured difference makers to pine for.
Starting goalie Michal Neuvirth has been very solid. Young defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov have been surprisingly good. Zemgus Girgensons is already a solid two-way forward at 20 years old.
None of this has made much of a difference thus far. The team has been outscored 68-30 thus far. According to War on Ice, the Sabres have the worst Fenwick Close (37.64 %) since 2002-03 – as far back as data goes. In fact, the other 359 teams from that period have all finished between 42.72 percent and 59.23 percent.
Best team – 59.23 percent 357 teams – 42.73- 59.22 percent Worst team – 42.72 percent Sabres – 37.64 percent
That’s mind blowing. It’s astounding. It’s difficult to wrap the mind around.
That, along with all the aforementioned reasons, is why there is no real rankings this week. The Sabres are numbers one through five until something changes.
Unless 1983 Wayne Gretzky descends from a cocaine-and-hair-metal-induced vortex, that change isn’t coming.