TORONTO — There was dancing in Toronto, smiling in Winnipeg, and cursing in Calgary. Fresh for 2016, all three top draft spots were up in the air, which created plenty of tension among 14 fan bases.
In honour of the lucky final lottery ball, here are 13 things we learned on NHL Draft Lottery night.
1. Good things can happen to Toronto sports in April
Yes, the much-hyped Blue Jays lost again (fourth place in the American League East) and the Raptors… ugh. But the last-place Toronto Maple Leafs won the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft Saturday night.
“The whole city needed a win at some point,” said president Brendan Shanahan, who didn’t bring his lucky shamrock this year. “Even if it’s just a lottery draft, we’ll take it.” Cue the streamers!
2. Being a GM who flies all the way to Toronto just to sit on stage and watch the local guy and odds-on favourite win must be torture
Unlike last year’s lottery night, in which the camera was trained on Connor McDavid‘s face, this year we got to watch office men squirm in their suits and team-coloured neckties.
Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said the most nerve wracking part was waiting for the No. 9 spot — his worst possible outcome — to pass.
“We were all kidding around,” Shanahan said. “They made us all sweat.”
3. A screen grab is worth 1,000 words
When the Flames were revealed in the No. 6 spot, meaning the Jets had leaped up and Calgary had dropped, the looks on the faces of Brian Burke and Kevin Cheveldayoff were priceless. Even more priceless: Molly Burke’s tweet.
4. The Maple Leafs will be keeping their No. 1 pick a secret
Even though Burke says it’s a foregone conclusion that Matthews goes first overall, Shanahan is keeping his cards close to the vest.
But when you consider the Leafs haven’t had a true No. 1 centre since Mats Sundin, the answer is obvious.
“I think we have a good idea who that player is,” Shanahan said. “We’ll discuss it as a group and confirm some of the things we already think.”
The president insists No. 1 won’t be a saviour and was rather low-key when it came to describing the 18-year-old from Arizona.
“He’s played a lead role his whole life. He’s got good size. He plays centre,” Shanahan said. “I feel like he can score from the perimeter but also has a knack for going to the net and banging in some garbage goals as well.”
5. Auston Matthews wasn’t exactly thrilled with the outcome
The consensus No. 1 and longtime Arizona Coyotes fan said he felt “mixed emotions” after Toronto won the ping-pong game.
“It’s the hockey mecca of the world,” Matthews said of his likely new home. “They have one of the best coaches in the league.”
6. Poor Anthony LeBlanc is 0-for-2; blame Coyotes hater Paul McCartney
The Coyotes co-owner and lottery representative for the second year running was listening to Wings’ “With a Little Luck” before the big reveal, but had none. (Sample lyric: “Can’t you feel the town exploding?”)
7. Edmonton came thisclose to winning again, if you can believe it
Toronto won the lottery with the combination 6-8-5-13. That lucky 13 ball (Mats Sundin!) was the only one the Leafs had in the hopper for the fourth pull. Edmonton had two balls that would’ve given it the win, including the combination 6-8-5-14.
Peter Chiarelli said he wouldn’t feel guilty if he won: “I have no ill feelings about it.”
8. Landing Matthews affects the Leafs’ plans to pursue Steven Stamkos in free agency
Shanahan says draft order won’t affect the Maple Leafs’ free agency plans, but with Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Nazem Kadri (now locked up long-term), Toronto is suddenly flush with intriguing young talent up the middle.
“I really don’t think it has an impact, whether you pick 1 or 4, what you intend to do in free agency,” Shanahan said. “We’ll know as we get closer to free agency who’s available and who fits into our plan and our vision.”
9. At least one guy thinks the new lottery format deters tanking
Cheveldayoff, whose Jets jumped from 6 to 2, says he noticed fans getting upset with his club’s end-of-season victories. They feared the wins decreased their odds of landing a top-three pick.
Still, he was proud of Paul Maurice and the players for fighting to the finish. Remember, it was Winnipeg that fed L.A. to the Sharks.
“I guess that’s what the lottery is there for,” he said.
10. Patrik Laine could be payback for losing Teemu Selanne
Cheveldayoff flew overseas to watch the Finns win gold at the world junior championships. He recently caught Jesse Puljujarvi at the U-18 world championships and is heading off to IIHF World Championship in Russia.
He views both Finnish wingers as “world-class players” who could go No. 1 and says there isn’t a bad decision to be made in the top three. He loves those Finns.
“Teemu is still someone who is revered for what he has done in the city and the community and how he embraced it,” Cheveldayoff said.
“We have a good story with Auston Matthews, too. He grew up playing hockey because of the Phoenix Coyotes, which were [at] one time the Winnipeg Jets.”
11. Laine is one, um, relaxed and confident young man
FaceTiming Hockey Central from a bed somewhere in Europe, the No. 2-ranked prospect gave an incredible interview. Laine said he thinks by putting on a strong performance at the worlds, he can catch Matthews as the No. 1.
“I know what I’m capable of,” Laine said.
Interesting that most GMs spoke of the “big three” at the top of the draft, but Columbus Blue Jackets president John Davidson mentioned two players he’d consider for No. 1. Jumping up to the No. 3 slot, Columbus’s Finnish GM, Jarmo Kekalainen, will likely land Puljujarvi.
12. Vancouver’s Trevor Linden brought the best lucky charm
Oops, Pat Quinn has a Leafs connection, too.
13. The Oilers and Flames are ready to deal
Both Burke and Chiarelli said they would be willing to move their top-six picks for the right offer. It’s free to listen, Burke noted.
“I’m open to anything,” Chiarelli said. “There’s a lot of good players available. There’s not a lot of premier defencemen available.”
Let the trade rumours begin.