By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Apr. 18) — For eons, it has required minimal effort to stir the delusion of hockey fanatics in this city. Every year, all available players through trade or free agency are headed to the Maple Leafs. All players, every year, land someplace else. As such, Connor McDavid parties — spawned by these fertile imaginations — are bound to be in abundance for the National Hockey League’s annual draft lottery tonight; Maple Leaf wishers disdaining the 90.5% odds against winning first prize.
Down the pike, in Buffalo, hockey rooters await calamity.
Having fully plummeted in the NHL’s overall standings, the Sabres own the 20% “best” chance of winning the lottery and cannot finish lower than second. Which guarantees that one of McDavid or Jack Eichel will be wearing blue and gold next season. In western New York, however, the word “guarantee” is a misnomer. “The Sabres cannot win the draft lottery; those things don’t happen in our sports city,” griped an otherwise cheerful resident of Buffalo seated near me at a Toronto Blue Jays game this week. “The more we dream about McDavid, the less chance there is for McDavid. We know the curse. We accept the curse.”
OH, HOW THEY DREAM HERE IN THE BIG SMOKE.
Ahhhh… Buffalo fan.
Four consecutive appearances in the Super Bowl.
Four losses in the Super Bowl.
The “Music City Miracle.”
And now… Connor “Mc–Not.”
Whatever happens with the lottery balls tonight, the prevailing team will land more than a franchise–altering prospect. McDavid could have a powerful effect on luring top management figures to his NHL club. Buffalo has general manager Tim Murray in place but is looking for a coach after Murray fired Ted Nolan. Would either of Mike Babcock or Todd McLellan jump at the chance to coach McDavid? It would surprise no one if McLellan and general manager Doug Wilson mutually parted in San Jose, where McLellan has coached for seven years. Babcock still hasn’t re-upped in Detroit and is looking to become the highest–paid coach in NHL history. If McDavid lands in Buffalo, would owner Terry Pegula offer mega–bucks for Babcock to leave the Red Wings?
Here in Toronto, the GM and coaching positions are both vacant, as Brendan Shanahan’s housecleaning last Sunday included David Nonis and Peter Horachek. I wrote a blog shortly afterward wondering if the Maple Leafs would offer Babcock control of hockey operations to leave Detroit. That notion was with the understanding that Toronto will probably not win tonight’s draft lottery (Sportsnet, 8:00 p.m. EDT). If, however, the Leafs are to get extremely lucky at 9.5%, would Babcock be content merely coaching McDavid in blue and white? Surely, the appropriate compensation and term could be made available from the bursting vault at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Undetermined, of course, is MLSE’s level of interest in Babcock should the two–time Olympic gold medal–winning coach not re–sign with Detroit.
Much more than Toronto fantasy and Buffalo trepidation is on the line tonight. We’ll know McDavid’s destination shortly.
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