Friday evening’s NHL Draft Lottery was supposed to be an opportunity for the seven teams not invited to the league’s new 24-team postseason play-in to take some organizational steps forward, while making positive, newsworthy waves in their individual markets.
News was certainly made, but not the news that anyone anticipated.
With the rules for the draft lottery changing this offseason to feature weighted percentage points for the seven teams not participating in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as well as the eight teams that will eventually lose their qualifying round matchup, a recipe for potential ‘disaster’ was on the horizon.
‘A recipe for disaster’ might not be the most appropriate phrase to use for the ownership and fan bases of the eventual franchise earning the right to select first overall in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft (which will be set for some time in October). But to the teams originally poised to be in a heavily-favoured battle to chose first overall that now no longer have that shot, the events of Friday night will long be remembered as a failure for prime organizational growth, despite the statements given by the individual clubs following the lottery. See the Twitter feed of Full Press Coverage’s Murray Pam for more.
The Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators had a combined 43.5 percent chance to land the first overall pick. With Detroit ranked first (18.5 percent), Ottawa (13.5 percent) second, and Ottawa (via San Jose, 11.5 percent) third, a hefty advantage was given to the two teams that exhibited some of the worst play during the 2019-20 NHL season. Los Angeles (9.5 percent), Anaheim (8.5 percent), New Jersey (7.5 percent), and Buffalo (6.5 percent) followed shortly thereafter, with the odds slowly decreasing amongst the non-playoff participants.
Just below the seven teams not moving on to the qualifying round were eight ‘placeholders’ – AKA, the eight eventual losers of the play-in round. As a reminder, the top-four teams in both the Eastern and Western Conference will battle for position in a round robin-styled tournament during the time of the qualifying round (set to begin in late-July). Percentage points for these eight placeholders varied from six percent down to one percent.
Detroit – which had an 18.5 percent chance of picking first overall – will now be choosing fourth. Yes, the team that had the worst points percentage (.275) in all of hockey since the implementation of the salary cap (2005-06), not only fell from No. 1 to second overall, they dropped three positions and out of the top three. Friday was not a good day for general manager Steve Yzerman and the Wings.
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“I am not surprised,” Yzerman said via Zoom following the completion of the lottery. “We had an 18.5 percent chance of winning the first pick. The eight playoff teams had a 24.5 percent chance combined of getting the pick, so the odds were better that the first pick went to the bottom eight than to us… But they have to do what they have to do. Anything else I say is going to be self-serving. They have to do what they have to do.”
Also troubling for Yzerman and Co. is the fact that star forwards Alexis Lafreniere, Quinton Byfield, and Tim Stutzle will most likely be off the board by the time of Detroit’s selection at No. 4. Los Angeles jumped up two positions to select second overall, while Ottawa got the third and fifth selection, to which Senators owner Eugene Melnyk issued the following statement:
“Today our team begins an exciting new chapter with one of the coveted top three overall draft picks in one of the most transformational drafts in NHL history,” the statement read. “It’s a major step forward for our carefully laid plan to build a perennial Stanley Cup contender — and champion. Senators fans have a reason to celebrate and we can’t wait until we can all gather together to support our exciting team and community.”
Now back to the main event.
The placeholder team that landed the first overall pick was ‘Team E’, or more informatively, the team positioned 12th out of 15 teams with a 2.5 percent chance of success. Based on end-of-season points percentage, that team would have been the Winnipeg Jets, should the NHL have decided to proceed with a 16-team postseason as per normal, non-COVID-19 lottery structure.
In ‘lucking out’ at the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery, moving up from sixth seed to second and earning the right to select Patrik Laine at No. 2, Winnipeg has had its share of good fortune surrounding lotteries. However, with the placeholder teams not actually tied to a certain playoff team, the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery will require a second phase to determine the team eventually selecting first overall.
That team will come from the qualifying round. Of the 16 teams set to do battle in the league’s first-ever postseason play-in, eight will move on to round one of the playoffs, while eight will go home… err, move on to Phase II of the lottery. With each of those play-in, best-of-five series-losing teams given an equal 12.5 percent chance at earning the first pick, another lottery will occur following the qualifying round.
Other than the top-four teams in each conference (Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas, Dallas) each of Pittsburgh, Carolina, New York Islanders, Toronto, Columbus, Florida, New York Rangers, Montreal, Edmonton, Nashville, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Minnesota, Arizona and Chicago will have the potential to land the first overall pick. The eight losing teams in the best-of-five play-in round will see ping pong balls embossed with their logos entered into the lottery machine. While the eight winners will move on to the first round of the postseason.
Those teams that do end up missing out on the playoffs will not only be in a draw for the first overall selection but also the remaining picks (No. 9 through 16) before playoff success determines draft positions 17 through 31.
Should a team such as Edmonton, Toronto or Winnipeg fail to move on past the qualifying round in its respective matchup, it would have a 12.5 percent chance of picking first overall, or the right to choose consensus No. 1 selection Alexis Lafreniere. Although many in Ottawa and Detroit may be calling the current lottery system ‘flawed’, the factor of surprise has predominantly taken over at least one of the top-three selections in recent NHL Draft Lottery memory.
In 2019, the first overall selection went to the New Jersey Devils, which was ranked third in the first overall percentage. 2018 saw Montreal (ranked fourth) jump up to third overall selection. 2017 may have been the wildest, with the top-three selections going to the fifth, 13th, and eighth-ranked teams. Winnipeg jumped from sixth to second in 2016, while Columbus moved up to the third pick from fourth in the same year.
“We’ll still have to wait a little bit,” Lafreniere said following the conclusion of Phase I of the lottery Friday evening. The 2020 NHL Entry Draft was originally scheduled for Friday evening at Bell Centre in Montreal – a short 40-minute drive from Lafreniere’s hometown of Saint-Eustache. Unfortunately for the Rimouski Oceanic forward, the wait continues to see which club earns the right to select him first overall.
Should the presumptive return-to-play scenario not pan out due to the continued spread of COVID-19, the league has a policy in place to ensure that the draft lottery is continued. Teams such as Winnipeg, Minnesota, Arizona, Chicago, Columbus, Florida, Montreal, and the New York Rangers would still be entered into an eight-team poll, as the lowest-seeded of the 16 play-in teams.
There is a plan in place, but it just might not be the end result that some owners and fans had hoped for. But with the obscure events of past years’ lotteries serving as a baseline, the results of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery should have come as no surprise. With picks two through eight now having been determined, the league will reconvene following the qualifying round for selections nine through 16 and of course, the highly-coveted first overall placement.