Down Goes Brown: NHL Draft Lottery power rankings

Auston Matthews was taking in the sights and sounds of the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday, and spoke about how it was the Coyotes that made him a hockey fan.


The NHL Draft Lottery will be held on Saturday night. It marks the debut of a new format — one in which separate drawings will be held to determine each of the top three picks, with all 14 non-playoff teams eligible to win one of those spots.

The stakes are high. Presumptive top pick Auston Matthews may not be a Connor McDavid-level sure thing, but he’s considered an elite prospect with the potential to be a franchise player.

So as we wait for the ping pong balls to start bouncing, let’s set the stage with some pre-lottery power rankings. You already know how the 14 non-playoff teams are ranked in terms of their actual lottery odds, so instead let’s try a few slightly more subjective categories.

The “Who Actually Deserves It?” Rankings
If there’s any justice in the hockey world, here are the teams that should be smiling at the end of the night. (Note: There is no justice in the hockey world.)

No. 5: Toronto Maple Leafs – Hey, they finished last, right? And the fanbase hasn’t had anything good happen to them in roughly 30 years, so they’re probably due.

No. 4: Carolina Hurricanes – A bad team that overachieved all season relative to expectations, then wound up with nothing to show for it besides lousy lottery odds. Besides, it would be nice to see a super longshot win one of these things someday. No, not you, Bruins.

No. 3: Columbus Blue Jackets – You have to give them credit: The Blue Jackets never tank. Oh, they’re always bad. They just never do it on purpose. There’s a certain honour in that.

No. 2: Arizona Coyotes – Matthews is a hometown kid, and we all assumed that the Coyotes would spend the season doing everything short of scoring into their own net to make sure they had the best odds at landing him. But they didn’t. Much like the Jackets and Hurricanes, there’d be a sense of karma behind seeing them rewarded.

No. 1: Buffalo Sabres – They finished dead last in each of the last two seasons, then lost the lottery both times. Sure, they still wound up with Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel. But it could have been Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid. A basic sense of fairness says they’re due.

The “Who Needs It Most?” Ranking
Yes, of course, everybody wants Auston Matthews. But who really needs him?

No. 5: Toronto Maple Leafs – Granted, they don’t actually need a first-line centre, since they’re signing Steven Stamkos this summer and John Tavares in two years. Still, depth is always good, right?

No. 4: Montreal Canadiens – These days, it’s hard to remember that it was just a year ago that the Canadiens looked like real Stanley Cup contenders. Now, some are wondering if they’re on the verge of wasting Carey Price‘s prime. Winning the top pick would wipe out a year’s worth of negativity in an instant. (For a day or two. It’s still Montreal.)

No. 3: Arizona Coyotes – From a prospect perspective, the Coyotes’ rebuild is already further along than most (especially up front), so Matthews doesn’t feel like an absolute must-have. But the sales and marketing department might beg to differ.

No. 2: Winnipeg Jets – They’re coming off a lousy season, they’re stuck in a brutal division, and they have a terrible time attracting elite talent on the free agent or trade markets. So where can a Jets fan find hope these days? From young talent. They already have a ton, but Matthews could be the guy around whom all the other pieces fall into place.

No. 1: Vancouver Canucks – The Canucks’ biggest challenge right now is uncertainty. Are they rebuilding? Reloading? Do you they need to blow the whole thing up, or can they get away with tinkering on the fly? The answer seems obvious, even to many Canucks fans – it’s time to bite the bullet and hit the reset button. But the brain trust doesn’t seem convinced. Landing a teenaged prodigy to anchor the rebuild would be the forceful shove in the right direction that this franchise seems to desperately need.

The “Conspiracy Theories Are Fun” Ranking
Let’s be clear: The NHL does not rig the draft lottery. Even the most paranoid fan had to give up that whole concept after last year. But it’s fun to pretend that they would, and these results would be the ones that would have hockey fans reaching for their tinfoil caps.

No. 5: Calgary Flames/Ottawa Senators (tie) – Oh look, it’s another lottery win for a team looking to nail down a new arena. How interesting…

No. 4: Toronto Maple Leafs – A big market headed up by a former league employee. Plus, Lou Lamoriello does have a history of getting Gary Bettman to see things his way.

No. 3: Boston Bruins – With just a 1 per cent chance of winning, any Bruins win would raise eyebrows. Factor in Jeremy Jacobs being a loyal Bettman lieutenant, and you have ammo for a generation of lottery truthers.

No. 2: Arizona Coyotes – The long-struggling franchise is handed a once-in-a-generation marketing bonanza in the form of the best local prospect to ever come along. It’s almost too obvious, right? In fact, you were probably expecting them to be ranked No. 1. And they would have, if it weren’t for…

No. 1: Montreal Canadiens – Remember when Marc Bergevin made that weird John Scott trade, then cryptically referred to “a reason that I can’t really tell you”? Sure, in hindsight that seems to be an obvious reference to the Jarred Tinordi suspension. But if the Canadiens win one of the lottery spots, we’ll all forget about that and pretend it was Bergevin’s promised payoff for helping make Scott disappear.

The “Unintentional Comedy” Ranking
We all love a good laugh. Here are the results that would give us one.

No. 5: Ottawa Senators – Come on, what could be better than seeing the Maple Leafs write off an entire season, only to get passed in the lottery by the Senators?

No. 4: Montreal Canadiens – Oh, right.

No. 3: New Jersey Devils – Mainly just to see the look on Lamoriello’s face.

No. 2: Buffalo Sabres – Four words: Tim Murray victory speech. (No, really, Tim Murray’s victory speech would last for four words.)

No. 1: Calgary Flames – If the front page of every Canadian newspaper the next day wasn’t a photo of Brian Burke and the headline “They won a goddamn lottery” then I don’t know what to tell you.

LISTEN: Ryan Dixon and Gare Joyce host a live version of the Tape II Tape podcast on the Sportsnet radio network Saturday night at 10:00 ET/ 8:00 MT with full coverage of the NHL Draft Lottery. Listen now | iTunes | Podcatchers

The “Who Should Fans Be Rooting For?” Ranking
Obviously, if your favourite team is one of the 14 in play here, then you’re going to be rooting for them. But if not, or if you’re looking to hedge your bets with a backup plan, here are your best options.

No. 5: Anyone but the Maple Leafs – Oh, all of you were already there? Have been all season long, you say? Great. Enjoy the lottery, jerks.

No. 4: Colorado Avalanche – Let’s phrase this as nicely as possible: The Avalanche front office dynamic these days is… interesting. If Matthews ends up there, who knows what other talent might shake loose from a roster that’s already loaded with young talent up front? A very good player or two would have to go, right? And your favourite team might just be able to land them for a handful of magic beans.

No. 3: Uh, hold that thought – The No. 3 pick needs its own section, which we’ll get to in a minute.

No. 2: Arizona Coyotes – Yes, a lot of hockey fans (especially in Canada) have mixed feelings about the league’s insistence on sticking it out in Arizona over the years. But they have, and now they have a shot at landing the first ever locally-produced superstar. That’s a good story right there. In fact, there’s only one better.

No. 1: Winnipeg Jets – The credit for this movement goes to Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek, and it’s an irresistible one if you enjoy a good tale of revenge. Back in 1996, the state of Arizona lured the original Jets out of Winnipeg. Two decades later, Winnipeg has a chance to even the score by making off with the one and only top blue chip prospect the state has ever produced. You stole our team, we steal your children. It’s perfect.

OK, so about that No. 3 ranking. Let’s all take a deep breath. This is all in good fun and there’s no reason to put your fist through your screen when you read what comes next. Everyone stay frosty. We can do this. It’s going to be fine.

Ready? OK, here we go.

OK, yes, on the surface the idea of the Oilers winning this year’s lottery seems like the absolute worst-case scenario for literally everyone outside of Edmonton. (Oilers fans, it goes without saying, would love it, and would spend the rest of the summer laughing hysterically while sipping from champagne flutes filled with the rest of the hockey world’s salty tears.) But an Oilers win on Saturday would have three things going for it:

1. See how mad you are just thinking about it? Literally every non-Oiler fan would feel that way. An Edmonton win would mean utter chaos. And utter chaos is usually pretty entertaining. Besides, it would be the only time in the last decade that hockey fans actually agreed on something. Sure, that something would be “hating the world,” but it’s still something.

2. As Sportsnet’s Mark Spector has pointed out, the Oilers may be the only team where it might actually make sense to at least consider actively shopping the first overall pick. The top pick hasn’t been traded before the draft since 2003, so modern fans are used to the idea being completely off the table. But it used to be relatively common – it happened four times in six years starting in 1998. The Oilers probably wouldn’t end up actually doing it, but the slim chance that they might would add some extra fun to the weeks leading up to the draft.

3. If you’re one of those fans who’s tired of the current draft system and want to see a radical change – a lottery with flat odds, The Wheel, the Gold Plan, whatever – this is your very best chance to get it. Remember, the NHL never changes anything, no matter how obvious the problem, until the absolute worst-case scenario plays out. This would be it.

See? Not so bad, right? And if you’re still not on board, remember: There’s an 86.5 per cent chance it won’t happen. You’ll be fine.

Speaking of which…

The “What’s Actually Going to Happen?” Ranking
Stop reading now if you want to be surprised.

No. 5: Columbus Blue Jackets – I wonder if whoever they pick will need another year of junior, or be ready to make the leap directly into John Tortorella’s doghouse.

No. 4: Toronto Maple Leafs – After three decades of never finishing last, the Leafs finally bottom out in the exact year that the league changes the rules, proceed to lose the lottery three times, and end up picking fourth in a draft with three franchise players. Literally every Maple Leafs fan has known this would happen since August.

No. 3: Vancouver Canucks – Hey look, practice makes perfect!

No. 2: Arizona Coyotes – Call it optimism, but in a sense this would be one of the best possible outcomes, since it opens up the possibility of the Coyotes making a dramatic move to trade up to get Matthews. Moving up the seventh or eighth pick would be nearly impossible (especially of Oliver Ekman-Larsson is off the table.) But from No. 2? That’s doable, under the right circumstances. It would all depend on who held the top pick, and that could be anybody. Anybody at all!

… ah, who are we kidding?

No. 1: Edmonton Oilers – Just accept it.

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