Well, now we’ve seen just how much of a lottery this is.
By pulling back the curtain and granting an unprecedented look into the process of determining which team selects No. 1 at the draft, the NHL underlined how lucky Edmonton was to win it.
The Arizona Coyotes, for example, finished 29th overall this season — behind the Oilers — but were out of the running for Connor McDavid before the lottery machine produced the fourth and final ball on Saturday night.
The lottery process was overhauled this season, and will be further changed next year, so that all 14 non-playoff teams had a chance at the first overall selection rather than just the bottom five. Each was assigned a certain number of random four-number combinations based on where it finished in the standings.
The last-place Buffalo Sabres owned 200 codes (out of a possible 1,000), the Coyotes 135, the Oilers 115 and on down the line.
With NHL commissioner Gary Bettman overseeing the process, not to mention team executives and a representative from accounting firm Ernst & Young, balls numbered one through 14 were placed in a machine. Four of them were pulled out at 10-second intervals.
The first two to come up were Nos. 5 and 14.
By that point the teams with the lowest odds of winning, Los Angeles and Boston, had already been eliminated. When ball No. 6 was drawn next, another seven teams were out of the running: Dallas, Florida, Colorado, San Jose, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Arizona.
The process unfolded so fast that team representatives wouldn’t have realized as much in real time. For those in the room, it would have been akin to holding the world’s biggest 50-50 ticket.
Prior to the drawing of the final ball, the Maple Leafs had the highest odds (36.36%) of winning. Buffalo (27.27%), Edmonton (18.18%), Carolina and Columbus (each 9.09%) also had a shot. Here are the combinations that were still in play:
1, 5, 6, 14 (EDM)
2, 5, 6, 14 (TOR)
3, 5, 6, 14 (BUF)
4, 5, 6, 14 (CAR)
5, 6, 7, 14 (TOR)
5, 6, 8, 14 (TOR)
5, 6, 9, 14 (CBJ)
5, 6, 10, 14 (EDM)
5, 6, 11, 14 (BUF)
5, 6, 12, 14 (BUF)
5, 6, 13, 14 (TOR)
The Oilers secured another first overall selection when ball No. 1 was drawn last. How fitting.
Next season the process will be even more uncertain, with the top three picks all determined by the lottery balls. The men that were part of this one appreciated how open it was.
“It was a very transparent process and we were all in the room, we were sequestered,” Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan told reporters afterwards. “They took our phones away and we sat and watched the whole process and then had to sit there and wait for it to be announced on TV before they would let us leave. That process was good and the idea of having a lottery for the top three picks instead of just the first pick overall, I think it creates a bit more fairness and the way the game is perceived as teams are coming down the stretch.
“It adds to the integrity of the process the way it’s going to go next year.”
It also adds to the randomness.