While the second round of the playoffs gets under way tomorrow, there’s another big date coming up on the NHL calendar. The annual draft lottery will be broadcast from Toronto on Saturday night. This will be the second year of the league’s new lottery system, in which we’ll get separate drawings for each of the top three picks.
As always, the 14 non-playoff teams have been slotted in based on their regular-season finish. This time, there’s also a 15th team in the mix, as the expansion Golden Knights enter the fray. And while there’s no Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews waiting for this year’s winner, presumed top pick Nolan Patrick would still give a nice boost to the long-term prospects of any team that gets its hands on him.
You can find the full list of odds for every team right here. But we like to go a little deeper around here, so today let’s offer up some draft lottery power rankings from a few different angles.
The “Who Actually Deserves It?” Rankings
OK, “deserves” might be too strong. Nobody really deserves to win a lottery, especially one that awards the best odds to the teams that have done the worst job of winning. But every year, there are certain results that would leave most hockey fans nodding and thinking, “Yeah, I guess that’s fair.”
Not ranked: Los Angeles Kings: They may be in rough shape now, but they’ve still won two of the last five Stanley Cups. Not them, please.
No. 5: Vancouver Canucks: With just about everyone predicting an awful season, Jim Benning and company could have gone into fire-sale mode and taken a knee. They didn’t, at least at first, and maybe that was a mistake. But they earned 29th place (and the second-best odds) the old fashioned-way – by being terrible.
No. 4: Carolina Hurricanes: They’re just about always bad, missing the playoffs for an eighth straight year. But they never tank, and if you’re an old-school type, you’d like to see that rewarded.
No. 3: Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes have had some rough lottery luck over the years, dropping to third in a year with two franchise players in 2015 and then losing out on local boy Matthews in 2016. Maybe this is the year they get some karmic payback.
No. 2: Colorado Avalanche: They’re the worst team and have the best odds, so in that sense they deserve it most. And as bad as they were this year, it’s not like they tanked. They were just plain bad, and they could use the help. They did win the lottery a few years ago, so they’d be the only team other than the Oilers to win more than once in the cap era, but we can probably forgive that.
No. 1: Buffalo Sabres: Terry Pegula can insist that the Sabres never tanked, but everyone else knows better. The Sabres tanked hard in 2013–14 and 2014–15, finished dead last both years, then watched other teams win the lottery to jump past them for Aaron Ekblad and McDavid. They were actually trying this year, but a combination of injuries and poor play led to a disappointing season that ended with Pegula cleaning house. A lottery win this year might feel like too little too late, but you could make an argument that no team has suffered more from the whims of the lottery than the Sabres, and they could use some good news these days in Buffalo.
The “What’s Best for Nolan Patrick?” Ranking
Patrick isn’t a sure-thing to go first overall, but he’s the consensus choice heading into the lottery. What would be the best destination for him?
No. 5: Philadelphia Flyers: The high-risk, high-reward destination. They Flyers aren’t far from being a pretty good team, and if you can succeed in Philadelphia, the fans there will embrace you like just about no place else. But if not, it can get ugly.
No. 4: Vegas Golden Knights: Sure, the team will probably be terrible for most of your prime years. But I’ve heard that the city can be fun.
No. 3: Winnipeg Jets: They seem like they should be the top choice; after all, Patrick is a local kid. But that can be a double-edged sword, especially at a time when Winnipeg fans are starting to get a little antsy about the team’s lack of progress. He’d probably be embraced as a hometown hero and have a lot of success here, but there’s no situation where the pressure would be higher.
No. 2: Los Angeles Kings: It’s possible that the Kings could be facing some tough years as they dig out from the Dean Lombardi era. But L.A. represents just about the best possible combination of a great city and reasonably low-pressure environment.
No. 1: Tampa Bay Lightning: The good: You play for a great team that could contend for the Stanley Cup as early as next season, you’re surrounded by all-star players, the weather is great and the fans are cool. The bad: When your rookie deal is up, Steve Yzerman does that Jedi mind trick where you re-sign for way less money than you should.
The “Which Team Needs It Most?” Ranking
Every team could use the first-overall pick. But some teams could use it more than others.
Not ranked: Tampa Bay Lightning: No. Just no.
No. 5: Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes weren’t very good this year, and haven’t been for a long time. But they’re already reasonably flush with prospects, so they only barely crack the top five.
No. 4: Florida Panthers: Like the Sabres, they’re a team that could use some good news after a miserable season.
No. 3: Vancouver Canucks: There’s some risk here, since a lottery win could lead to Benning and Trevor Linden slapping a “Mission Accomplished” banner on the rebuild and shifting back into win-now mode. But the Canucks need prospects for the post-Sedins era, so let’s tentatively pencil them in.
No. 2: Vegas Golden Knights: They’re going to need all the help they can get.
No. 1: Colorado Avalanche: Not much question here. The Avalanche are coming off what may well be the worst season of the cap era, and they have needs all over the roster.
The “Conspiracy Theories Are Fun” Ranking
Would the NHL ever rig the draft lottery to give the first pick to a certain team? No they would not. But would they? Seriously, no, it’s a dumb idea. But would they? Wake up, sheeple, because if one of these five teams wins, we know the fix was in.
Not ranked: Arizona Coyotes: The league has spent two decades trying to make things work in Arizona, to the point where many fans would cry “fix” if the Coyotes ended up with the top pick. But let’s face it, if the league was going to rig a lottery for the Coyotes, it would have been last year’s Auston Matthews edition.
No. 5: Los Angeles Kings: Got to give those marquee markets a boost whenever you can, right?
No. 4: New York Islanders: They have less than a two–per cent chance, so a rigged drawing is pretty much their only chance. They also need a new home, and with the status of John Tavares up the in the air, might also need a new franchise player.
No. 3: Philadelphia Flyers: There’s no way Ed Snider isn’t still appearing in Gary Bettman’s dreams to order him around.
No. 2: Detroit Red Wings: Oh look, the big-market Original Six team that needs a quick turnaround to fill their brand-new arena won the lottery, how strange.
No. 1: Vegas Golden Knights: They’re the obvious pick. The NHL is taking a chance on the Las Vegas market; it could certainly pay off, but there’s also a non-zero chance that we’re looking at the league’s next Arizona-style debacle. Getting them off to a nice start with the top pick in their first-ever draft sure would be convenient.
The “Unintentional Comedy” Ranking
It’s always fun to point and laugh.
Not ranked: Carolina Hurricanes: Have the Hurricanes ever made anyone laugh, intentionally or otherwise? OK, sure, but other than this:
No. 5: Arizona Coyotes: Nolan Patrick is a hockey player from Winnipeg, so of course he’d have to wind up in Arizona instead.
No. 4: Colorado Avalanche: Just because it would be a cool moment when Matt Duchene met Patrick, shook his hand, pulled him in close and frantically whispered “Run while you still can” in his ear.
No. 3: Edmonton Oilers: At which point Bill Daly yells “WHOOPS, FORCE OF HABIT” and we have to do the whole thing over again.
No. 2: Detroit Red Wings: If you’re an Avalanche fan, the only thing worse than slogging through one of the most miserable seasons in modern history would be capping it off by watching your long-time rivals waltz past you at the lottery.
The “Maximum Chaos” Ranking
Here’s a good rule of thumb for hockey fans: First, root for your team. Second, root against your rivals. And third, root for whatever other result will cause the most chaos.
Not ranked: Arizona Coyotes: Every year, they get a high pick and there are rumours that they might be in the market to make a big move. Then they just keep the pick and take the best player available. You’re not fooling us again, Coyotes.
No. 5: Tampa Bay Lightning: They’re the best team in the lottery by far, and having yet another potential franchise forward dropped into their lap would be guaranteed to spur a few weeks of “It’s time to reform the draft lottery” hot takes.
No. 4: Florida Panthers: Patrick would be welcomed as the team’s next franchise player. And then their next coach. Then their GM. Then demoted to ticket-sales agent. Then, somehow, team owner.
No. 3: Colorado Avalanche: You’d think that drafting Patrick would all but guarantee a Matt Duchene trade. That may be close to a sure-thing anyway, but Joe Sakic keeps kicking the can down the road and NHL teams have a bad habit of talking themselves out of tough moves they need to make. An Avs win would give the off-season hot stove a nice boost.
No. 2: Buffalo Sabres: Mainly for when Tim Murray shows up on the draft floor to heckle their pre-selection speech for being too long.
No. 1: Dallas Stars: They already have a long-term No. 1 centre, they’ve got a franchise player in what’s probably the last years of his prime, their GM is under pressure to win now, they just brought back their Cup-winning coach to get them back into the playoffs quickly, and they desperately need help in goal and on the blueline. The top pick hasn’t been traded in the cap era, but if it was ever going to happen, this might be the situation.
The “Who’s actually going to win?” Ranking
Does it make sense to try to predict the results of a random ping pong ball drawing? Not at all. But given my track record when it comes to what will happen on the ice, maybe this is more my speed.
Not ranked: Buffalo Sabres: Every Sabres fan is nodding angrily right now.
No. 5: Detroit Red Wings: Remember, each team has three chances to win. Don’t the Red Wings at least feel like a sneaky “move up and pick third” team?
No. 4: Colorado Avalanche: Yes, they have the best odds. But if any team was going to pull off the dreaded finish last/draft fourth worst-case scenario, it’s this year’s Avalanche.
No. 3: New Jersey Devils: Never bet against Mr. Lottery.
No. 2: Vegas Golden Knights: Maybe it’s because they’re new and don’t come with the same sort of baggage as a team like the Sabres or Avalanche, but the Knights just seem like an easy pick. Nobody would even be mad, since none of us have any reason to hate them (yet). In fact, I almost had them in the top spot. But then I remembered one thing…
No. 1: Vancouver Canucks/Winnipeg Jets (tie): It’s Canada. We may not win Stanley Cups anymore, but the draft lottery is our house.