As we inch closer to the eventual resumption of the NHL season (pending an agreement between the league and players’ association), Friday night will give hockey fans a little theatre when Phase 1 of the Draft Lottery is conducted.
Like everything else right now, this year’s version is going to operate a little differently.
Fifteen teams will still be involved in the lottery and the overall odds will not change from recent years. The bottom-seven teams, those not returning to play this season, will be directly involved in the lottery, though remember, Ottawa holds San Jose’s pick.
There will also be eight “placeholder” teams to represent those who get eliminated in the best-of-five play-in series to come at a later date. So there’s a chance we won’t know which team picks first, second or third after Friday.
Due to the unusual circumstances, this year’s potentially two-phase lottery could result in a wild order at the top of the draft. Teams that otherwise wouldn’t have sniffed the lottery now have a small chance to end up with the first-overall pick.
So, with that in mind, in this week’s Sportsnet NHL newsletter we wanted to note a few of the wilder possibilities that could result from this year’s lottery.
1. Edmonton Oilers win another one
Oilers fans would prefer that “winning another one” would refer to Stanley Cups and not No. 1 picks, but here we are. Edmonton famously held the first-overall selection three years in a row and then won the Connor McDavid lottery in 2015 to give them the top selection in four of six drafts from 2010 to 2015. If that’s all you knew about the situation, you’d probably assume the Oilers were a multi-championship powerhouse by now.
They’re not there yet, though Edmonton did take a big step this year. By standings points, they were the fourth-best team in the Western Conference at the pause, but did not get a top-four bye since those were measured by points percentage (the Oilers had played two more games than Dallas).
So now Edmonton will meet Chicago in the play-in round. If a placeholder team wins the No. 1–overall selection on Friday and Edmonton loses to the Blackhawks, they would then have a 12.5 per cent chance to pick first, and what a game-changer that’d be. Leon Draisaitl has two comfortable, supremely skilled wingers alongside him right now, but the Oilers are still searching for a permanent fit next to McDavid. If Alexis Lafreniere were to fall into their laps, it would be easier to swallow a defeat and make the team that much stronger going forward.
2. How about the Penguins?
Pittsburgh was even better than Edmonton this season and had the seventh-best points percentage in the league at the pause, but were fifth-best in the East so they narrowly missed out on the bye as well.
Already with multiple Cups from this core, the Penguins will remain all in so long as Evgeni Malkin and/or Sidney Crosby are on the roster. We’re not counting down an imminent end to their days of contention, but all of the key players here are over 30 now. How much could a window be extended by adding Lafreniere to Crosby or Malkin’s wing?
Lafreniere became just the second player to ever win back-to-back CHL Player of the Year honours this season, joining — you guessed it — Crosby. The 18-year-old prospect is also coming out of the same Rimouski Oceanic organization that Crosby did. The odds of this happening may be extremely long (the Pens would need to lose to the Canadiens first), but it might be worth it for the reaction gifs alone.
3. The Rangers could win the Cup and the first pick
There’s only one team this could possibly happen to, and it would take nothing short of a miracle. But here goes…
The Carolina Hurricanes technically hold two first-round picks — their own and Toronto’s. They sent one of those conditionally to the Rangers in a trade earlier this season, in which New York will get the lower of the two picks. However, the Leafs’ pick is top-10 protected, so if it does end up inside that top three, Toronto will keep it and send next year’s to Carolina instead.
Here’s where it gets interesting: If two placeholder teams win a top-three spot in Friday’s lottery, and if in the second lottery phase Carolina’s pick ends up being first overall and Toronto’s follows (they’d need to lose to Columbus to be in it), then New York would get No. 1, Toronto would retain theirs, and Carolina would be left out of it.
Adding another wrinkle to this is that New York faces Carolina in the play-in round and would need to eliminate them for this to be at all possible. From there, New York could go on a miraculous Cinderella run, win the Stanley Cup against great odds, and still pick first overall.
4. Ottawa wins or loses big
Though Detroit has the best individual shot at winning the first-overall pick as the last-placed team, Ottawa has the best chance to pick first overall. That’s because not only do they hold their own pick (which comes with the second-best odds) but also San Jose’s, which comes with the third-best odds. Ottawa has a 25 per cent chance of ending up with Alexis Lafreniere and are very much in the running to land both of the top two spots.
If that happens, the Senators would instantly speed up their rebuild.
This could go another way, though. What if Ottawa doesn’t win any of those top three picks? Heck, what if each of the top three picks are won by placeholder teams?
In the latter scenario, Ottawa would be left with picks five and six — that’s still not a bad spot to be, but certainly not a preferred outcome.