Depending on your rooting interests, Friday’s NHL Draft Lottery yielded either the best-case scenario or the worst outcome imaginable.
Fans of the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators are understandably unhappy, while suddenly those rooting for one of the 16 qualifying-round teams in the NHL’s return-to-play plan just got a whole lot more interested in the odds as we shift our focus to the play-in round followed by the Second Phase of the Draft Lottery.
If you were rooting for chaos, you were Friday’s biggest winner.
There are so many possible outcomes now, as we look ahead to the Second Phase, which will following the qualifying round once the NHL resumes play.
We’ve got sixteen teams, eight of which will be officially headed to the playoffs while the losing clubs could ultimately change their franchise fortunes with a 12.5 per cent chance at landing the first-overall draft pick this year.
Each possibility comes with a mixed bag of reaction. So, we ranked them — in order of outrage.
“YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.”
Pittsburgh Penguins, Edmonton Oilers [sidebar]
First, a disclaimer: No hockey fan in their right mind isn’t at least a little curious to witness the wide world of puck possibilities that would open up by putting Alexis Lafreniere on the wing of one of two all-time great centremen. Seeing the likely first-overall pick suit up beside Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid would be a constant highlight reel… But it would also be a constant reminder of the biggest flaw of this year’s lottery system, gift-wrapping the sport’s best prospect to a team that needs him the least.
Three losses to Chicago this summer would give the Oilers an even better shot at Lafreniere than they had at getting McDavid.
Hockey Twitter might actually burn to the ground.
The Penguins, meanwhile, are still living off the riches of the ultimate lottery prize from 2005, when they landed Crosby. Three Stanley Cups later, Crosby & Co. sit fifth in the Eastern Conference and seventh league-wide.
We knew this lottery system couldn’t be perfect. But this outcome would just make the rich much richer.
SORRY, SENS FANS.
Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Islanders
The 2020 NHL Draft was supposed to belong to the Senators.
Between their second-last place finish in the standings and the San Jose Sharks’ third-best lottery odds (via the Erik Karlsson trade), the club went into Friday night’s draft lottery with a combined 25 per cent chance of landing the No. 1-overall pick. It was looking entirely likely that they could emerge from the draws with two top-three picks. As we all know now, they instead wound up with picks Nos. 3 and 5.
In a wild twist of fate, the Senators’ first-round pick that could still actually win the lottery wouldn’t end up being theirs after all.
As part of their deadline deal with the Islanders that sent Jean-Gabriel Pageau to New York, the Senators received a 2020 first-round pick – a lottery-protected first-round pick. Should the Islanders – who, at the time of the season hiatus in March, were just one point out of a wild card spot – lose their play-in series against the Panthers and go on to win the Second Phase of the lottery with that very pick… that might just be too much for one fanbase to handle.
And in a wild twist of the knife… the Senators’ provincial archrival in Toronto now has better odds of landing the No. 1 overall pick than they do.
NOT EXACTLY FAIR… BUT DEFINITELY FUN
Calgary Flames, Nashville Predators
After strings of success, both Calgary and Nashville find themselves in the mushy middle of the league’s standings in 2019-20 and in need of a shakeup. While neither should be in a position to claim the top pick, it feels like a lottery victory for either club wouldn’t register the amount of outrage as, say, the Penguins or Oilers or Maple Leafs.
Dropping a young playmaker into either of these rosters would be just the ticket to jump-start one of these win-now clubs to, well, win now.
THE HOCKEY GODS HAVE SPOKEN
Winnipeg Jets, New York Rangers
Those who dug a little deeper into the lottery results on Friday learned that it was, officially, Team E that won the No. 1 overall selection.
If you were to (very unofficially) line up the March 12 standings to the lottery odds, Team E would technically be the Winnipeg Jets. A loss and an ensuing Second Phase win for Winnipeg would mean the Hockey Gods aren’t messing around.
Swap “hockey gods” for “league marketing gods” and you’ve got a New York Rangers victory. To see a soon-to-be NHL star help bring an Original Six franchise back to contention would be a best-case scenario for the NHL – and it would be a great fit for Lafreniere, too, as another piece that can drastically speed up New York’s rebuild.
A SNEAKY-FUN OUTCOME
Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes
From the league’s standpoint, the Panthers aren’t exactly a dream destination for the NHL’s top prospect considering Florida’s status as a smaller-market club. But in strictly hockey terms, this might actually be a strong fit. The Panthers look a little like they’re caught between contending and rebuilding, and landing Lafrieniere would suddenly give them permission to go all-in on their young prospects coming down the pipeline, like Grigory Denisenko, Owen Tippett, and Aleksi Heponiemi – especially at a time when two of the team’s top goal-scorers (Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov) are approaching free agency. GM Dale Tallon hasn’t been afraid to make bold moves, bringing in goalie Sergei Bobrovsky last year, and would suddenly have a cap-friendly star he could work around.
Though Carolina is in much better shape to win now than Florida is, seeing Lafreniere suit up and storm surge with the Hurricanes would be incredibly fun to watch. The young, fast-paced team won over the hockey world last season and one of the the game’s smallest markets would continue to grow with the top young prospect joining its ranks.
SOME GUYS HAVE ALL THE LUCK
Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks
After acquiring Taylor Hall from the Devils in search of a Stanley Cup run, it’s quite possible the Coyotes get the No. 1 overall pick instead.
After being a first-overall pick himself for Edmonton in 2010, Hall watched his Oilers land back-to-back top picks (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011 and Nail Yakupov in 2012) and was still there in 2015 for the McDavid sweepstakes. His luck accompanied him to New Jersey, where his Devils won big at the lottery in 2017 and 2019.
The Chicago Blackhawks, meanwhile, can double up on their lottery luck and get a streak of their own going if they wind up winning the top spot. They jumped into the third overall spot last year with the 12th-best odds – the same odds “Team E” had this year.
OK, THEY ACTUALLY KINDA DESERVE IT
Vancouver Canucks, Columbus Blue Jackets
The Canucks haven’t exactly been known for their lottery luck these past few years. In 2017, they went from having the second-best odds to picking fifth, and fell back a spot in each of the past two draft lotteries, too.
It would be a pretty bold reversal to see the Canucks, should they lose their qualifying round series, finally see the balls bounce in their favour. Plus, put Lafreniere on a team with Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Quinn Hughes and we’re counting down the days ’til 2020-21.
While the Blue Jackets haven’t been burned in the lottery, they’ve experienced some big losses on the free agency front. Columbus could’ve folded last year, with pending UFAs Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky heading out the door, but instead they loaded up at the deadline and gave us one of the wildest first rounds we’ve ever seen. They could’ve folded this year, too, after watching their three biggest stars walk away for nothing, yet even despite a string of injuries the blue-collar club was fighting for a playoff spot down the stretch. The No. 1 pick would be the ultimate reward for not giving up.
LOGIC WINS OUT
Montreal Canadiens, Minnesota Wild
Imagine if, after all this, an actual lottery team wins the top pick? Suddenly, all would feel a little more normal, right?
The NHL’s 24-team return-to-play format and two-phased draft lottery wreaked havoc on Montreal’s lottery luck, would-be owners of the eighth-best odds at the time of the season stoppage. It might work out after all. You’ve got to admit, it would also be a great story – local kid lands with the home team, in a draft that was supposed to be hosted in Montreal. It just kind of feels right… right?
Another deserving Second Phase scenario would be Minnesota – though, the Wild actually had a pretty hot streak going down the stretch before the season shut down, it wasn’t enough to catch up to their Central Division peers in the wild card race. A boost of youth for the aging club would go a long way in this hockey market.