The 3-2-1

The plan, the three first round picks, and the big question

Jeremy White
January 03, 2019 - 2:31 pm

Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig - USA TODAY Sports


Here are three (not-so) quick points on the Buffalo Sabres, laid out in a 3-2-1 format to raise awareness on how badly the NHL needs a 3-2-1 point format.

Three red-hot takes comin' at ya:


3.) The problem with a "plan"

I think there’s a little too much talk about plans. Jason Botterill has a “plan”. The Bills have a “plan” for Josh Allen. Funny thing is that we’ve seen both franchises go through some entirely unpredictable (maybe) scenarios that they would now say have played out for the best. The Bills' plan was to start Nathan Peterman and have Josh Allen learn behind him and perhaps eventually get some game action. The Bills' reality turned into Peterman being cut, Allen playing and then sitting behind Derek Anderson and Matt Barkley, and now each of them has signed on for more time to work with Allen. What have the Bills said about Allen playing in Year 1? It’s really great that it happened.

And who would disagree, right? We got to see some of the kid. We got to see more of Allen than the Bills initially planned, and that turns out to have been the best case scenario.

The Sabres certainly did not have a plan to finish in DFL last season. They did not plan on pushing Ryan O’Reilly out the door and acquiring a couple extra draft picks. They sure didn’t plan on having the best lottery odds in the NHL, nevermind winning it, and snagging wunderkind Rasmus Dahlin. Getting Dahlin is about the same as pulling your tee shot on a short par-three, dead left, hitting a maintenance shed, and having it roll into the cup for your first hole-in-one. Congrats! Right?

Turned out pretty great! Hey whatever, it counts.

These sports teams like to talk like they are in total control of every circumstance, but in reality, there’s a lot of randomness and chaos that thrusts itself into your season. When we talk about the Sabres potentially seeking some help for this season, to steady the ship at the No. 2 center spot, there’s often some pushback that will shout “But what about Botterill’s plan?!?!”

What about it? What is it? Was it to have Patrik Berglund quit? Was Vontae Davis a planned departure? The Sabres likely didn’t plan to jump into first place in the NHL either, but no one seemed to be shouting that it was out of line with the predetermined course this team should be taking, right?

I’m sure that both Sabres general manager Jason Botterill and Bills general manager Brandon Beane each has a vision how his respective team should be built, but the mission is to find your way there one way or another. There is no magic formula, and there certainly is no poison move that will kill it all. 

This week, Beane said that drafting for need can set a franchise back a few years. What? Who? Where? When has that ever happened? When has a team ever walked to the podium and said “we had lots of other guys higher, but we just had to have this guard.” Never. Of course the Bills will draft for need this year, and of course they'll tell us that every player was both the highest player on their board, and, shockingly, they can't even believe that he was still available!   

Tim Murray used to employ this tactic of claiming that one crazy move could offset everything, saying “I’m not gonna trade a Sam Reinhart for some rental”. Yeah, no kidding, Tim. No one expects you to do that. However, Murray’s last sin as general manager of the Sabres was watching a team that needed help, die on the vine.

I know, Murray made some trades that didn’t work out… that doesn’t mean the Sabres can’t make trades ever again. The job of the general manager is to build this team smartly, and that can absolutely mean helping in January or February. One quarter of the way into the season it turns out the Sabres' plan to finish with about 85-90 points got off track when they tracked a lot closer to 100. Regression was going to come for them, and we knew that. Botterill knew that too. Perhaps rather than accept it, he should find a way tweak the roster so that any regression is closer to… a better team.

And that’s why I hope he’s not overvaluing… 



Jason Botterill made a good number of changes to last year’s team, and they fell dead flat. He made even bigger changes to this year’s team, and they ran out to a great start. Sure, there was puck-luck involved, but the Sabres positioned themselves to make the playoffs off a strong start. Should he move a first round pick for an established player that is not a “rental”?

Of course.

Trading a first round pick for a good, established, NHLer is always a good bet.

Just when do you think these draft picks are going to be showing up in Buffalo? Let’s guess, conservatively, that the Sabres draft pick is about 12th-14th. The Blues has to be outside the Top-10, or else they’re going to keep it. San Jose’s will likely be in the 20s.

Let’s go all in and say the Sabres get the Blues' pick at 11, the 14th pick (first team out of playoffs), and the Sharks' pick at 24.

These players are not showing up in Buffalo until… 2020-21? More likely 2021-22? Hopefully the Sabres are good by then and can ease these players into the lineup, right? Ideally, actually, they’ll be in Rochester getting seasoning and supplementing the roster as the Sabres are good enough to keep some players in Rochester to get that seasoning.

As they show up, you’re now out of Dahlin and Mittelstadt’s entry-level deals, so you’re going to want some good young cost-controlled talent, so I’m not making a case to sell off all of those parts… not at all.

How will they add NHL talent between now and when this class of picks is ready? You make moves like… the Skinner deal. Skinner, is a rental. Seems to be going pretty well, right? So well that he might want to stay! Skinner cost a second, a third, a sixth, and Cliff Pu. This sure looks like the "bag of pucks" we talk about a lot. I’m not sure you can ever find a better deal, but I’ve got to think that one of those first round picks over the next two years can fetch you some cost-controlled help. It’s no guarantee, but I hope, and I do believe that Botterill would pull the trigger.

If you’re talking about those picks as such a huge haul… that’s fine. Just make sure you know the timeline for when that actually pays off. This team is well past the time to be good. The last two lottery winners went to the playoffs the very next year, and it’d have been three if McDavid doesn’t get hurt in his rookie year. Edmonton went the next year. When that happens to those teams, you inevitably hear “well they had some pieces in place.” Yeah, so does this one!

Ugh. I’m just restless. Do Something Darcy!!!


1.) The 3-2-1 IN the 3-2-1

I love the 3-2-1 point system, even when it’d hurt the Sabres. Three points for a regulation win, two for an overtime win, one for the OT/SO loss, and zero for the regulation loss. Don't @ me, it's perfect and there is no other option. If the NHL had it right now… Buffalo would most definitely be out of the playoff picture. Subtracting overtime wins from their “ROW” wins and here’s how the East looks…

Regulation wins:

  • Tampa Bay - 23
  • Toronto - 21
  • Columbus - 19
  • Washington - 18
  • Pittsburgh - 18
  • Montreal - 17
  • Boston - 17
  • NY Islanders - 17
  • New Jersey - 14
  • Buffalo - 13
  • Carolina - 13
  • Ottawa - 12
  • Philadelphia - 12
  • Florida - 11
  • NY Rangers - 11
  • Detroit - 8 

Overtime is fun… but the 3-2-1 tells helps you tell who is actually good.

So with all three points on the Sabres here… I understand that the 10-game win streak got them a little ahead of themselves. Now we're dealing with this "well... we knew they weren't a division contender, didn't we?" Yes. We did. But... average is all anyone asked, and average from that high mark should be good enough to get them in. It was the question in Tim Murray’s second season, Botterill’s first, and now in Botterill’s second: Acknowledging that the future continues to look bright… when will it be time to actually be… good?

After that win streak, the Sabres put themselves in position to be average and make it. Even that appears to be in trouble. Perhaps the plan is to just wait for No. 26 to take over a true top defenseman role, and Mittelstadt to grow into the second-line center. That, of course, could work, and is likely to happen in time.

But...plans change.

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