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CRACKS OF DON: Losing Lafreniere Sweepstakes very disappointing for Ottawa fans, team

Alexis Lafreniere is expected to be the top pick of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
Alexis Lafreniere is expected to be the top pick of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

“I’m disappointed for our fans.”

— Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray, April 18, 2015

Five years ago it was the Buffalo Sabres who were favoured to win the NHL draft lottery, but despite the 20 percent odds, the balls didn’t fall their way.

They lost the Connor McDavid Sweepstakes. They had to settle for the next best pick, Jack Eichel.

“If you could have one or two, you would naturally want one,” Buffalo GM Tim Murray said at the time. “I’m disappointed for our fans.”

Naturally.

Murray went on to acknowledge Eichel’s potential greatness, but it was too late. Eyebrows were raised. Feelings were hurt.

How could he be at all “disappointed” in landing such a talent?

Maybe because McDavid was the better player then, as he is now, as he will be going forward? Maybe because over five seasons, he has played three fewer games and racked up 125 more points than Eichel? Maybe because if they both have 20-year careers, McDavid’s on pace to score or assist on 500 more goals?

Damn right that’s disappointing.

Five years later, there was a very confusing reaction from Ottawa’s local NHL team (OLNHLT) when it wound up with picks No. 3 and No. 5 in the 2020 draft lottery after having the best shot (25 percent) at No. 1.

It started with the suggestion by a spokesman that the owner was “thrilled with the results.” Huh? A typo maybe? Was “thrilled” supposed to be “livid”?

The very worst they could have drawn was No. 5 and No. 6. The night wasn’t a complete disaster, but it wasn’t far off.

GM Pierre Dorion also had an unbelievably positive spin.

“In picking three and five, it’s great for both the Senators organization and for our fans,” read his statement. “We are going to draft two players who we know are going to be impactful players for many years to come.”

That’s quite likely, but they were going to get impactful players heading into the lottery. That was already set. But with picks three and five, neither is going to be Alexis Lafreniere.

Not even close.

He’s a generational player.

He’s this year’s McDavid.

“Lafreniere has been the projected 2020 No. 1 since the first time he put on a jockstrap,” said one scout, exaggerating only slightly.

Five years from now, Lafreniere is going to be counting his NHL trophies and sipping from the Stanley Cup. Maybe OLNHLT will be thrilled for him while looking on. But we suspect otherwise.

We suspect that OLNHLT has had its eye on the bilingual Lafreniere, a superstar in the making, for some time. We suspect that he was the end goal of “the plan”, a total rebuild that included the trading of stars who were demanding to be paid market value when their contracts expired.

Players and coaches don’t tank. They’re playing for their jobs. Franchises tank. By using players who don’t belong at the top level.

OLNHLT tanked for three years to get Lafreniere. It didn’t work out. What can you do?

Meanwhile, we’re certain the owner and the GM and the entire organization were very disappointed they didn’t win the lottery. Just as they should be. There’s nothing wrong with saying it. There’s nothing wrong with being livid when you lose. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with honesty. Especially with your fans, with whom you are trying to repair a fractured relationship.

They were as disappointed not to get Lafreniere as Sabres fans were in not winning the McDavid Sweepstakes five years ago.

TOP OF THE ORDER

Just to reinforce how ridiculous the NHL’s draft lottery is — Ottawa was the only Canadian team this season that did not have a .500 record or better, and Ottawa now is the only Canadian team that does not have a shot at Lafreniere … Deciding not to play in a 2020 baseball season shortened to 60 games by coronavirus are Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and pitcher Joe Ross, both citing “the personal health and safety of themselves and their loved ones”. With almost 45,000 new cases reported in the U.S. on Monday alone, don’t be surprised if other MLB players follow suit … Zimmerman, 35, was the Nationals’ first draft pick after the team moved from Montreal …

PERSONALLY SPEAKING

As a hockey player and a person, Marian Hossa is a true first-ballot Hall of Famer … When I was 16, I thought in retirement I’d play golf every day. Last week I played golf every day and wished I still played like I did when I was 16 …

ON THIS (June 30) DATE

Exactly 91 years ago, Bobby Jones won his third U.S. Open title, defeating Al Espinosa by 23 strokes in a 36-hole playoff at Winged Foot. What drama … Exactly 58 years ago. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax threw his first no-hitter. He wound up becoming the first hurler to pitch four of them. It’s still almost unbelievable to think Nolan Ryan had seven in his 27-year career … Happy 55th birthday to former OLNHLT defenceman Steve Duchesne … Exactly 38 years ago New Jersey’s NHL franchise was named the Devils, by fan balloting, after the legend of the Jersey Devil, a creature that allegedly inhabited the Pine Barrens of South Jersey. Who knew? … Exactly 26 years ago the U.S. Figure Skating Association stripped Tonya Harding of her national championship and sentenced her to a lifetime ban for her part in an attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan. Talk about unbelievable. Tell that story to your kids.

FINISHING TOUCHES

Cancelled because of COVID-19 this year is the prestigious and popular Ottawa Valley Hockey Old Timer’s Golf Tournament, which would have been celebrating its 50th anniversary with plans of honouring Hall of Famers Doug Wilson and Larry Robinson. The next tournament is already scheduled for Aug. 6, 2021 at Hylands, pandemic permitting … Did you hear that OLNHLT is going to do well with picks three and five in the entry draft? It’s in all the papers … Our deepest condolences to former junior hockey coaching legend Archie Mulligan, who on Saturday lost his wife of 54 years, Carolynn, after her courageous fight with cancer …

dbrennan@postmedia.com

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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