Welcome to the hell dimension! A place where cats bark and dogs meow. A place where The Big Bang Theory is on season 37. It’s also a place where the NHL continues to make bizarre choices to complicate every single aspect of their league.
The latest proof is the draft lottery that took place last night, where somehow, the NHL backed itself into a weird, confusing, and overall just chaotic corner. The Detroit Red Wings, off the back of one of the worst seasons in NHL history held a 18.5% chance of winning the first overall pick. They’ll draft 4th overall. The Ottawa Senators were counting on the first-round pick from the Sharks to give them one of the top two picks and they held a 25% chance of winning the lottery. They’ll now draft 3rd and 5th overall. I know that lots of great players are drafted in the top five, but damn, just another sting to the backs of two franchises at rock bottom.
But now it’s official: One of the losing teams from the play-in round will win the first overall pick. Prepare the battlefield and arm the trenches, because here come the tanks. You could actually hear the smacking sound of hockey Twitter’s collective jaw hitting the ground as Bill Daly announced that a mystery team would choose first overall last night.
Instead of a team with actual issues getting a shot to improve their team by drafting consensus first-overall pick Alexis Lafrenière of the Rimouski Oceanic, a team with certified superstars like Edmonton, Toronto or Pittsburgh could be adding generational talent to their team.
This league is so weird.
So here we are; in a world where the Edmonton Oilers, Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators, Arizona Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, Minnesota Wild, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets, Pittsburgh Penguins, Montreal Canadiens, Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Columbus Blue Jackets all have an equal shot 12.5% shot at the first overall pick if they lose their play-in series.
Those odds are wayyyy better than the odds that most of these teams have to win the Stanley Cup. So if you’re a team that barely snuck into the play-in round like Montreal or Chicago, why wouldn’t you try to go for the first overall pick instead of gearing up for a grueling playoff run? Montreal finished with the 24th best record in the league. Normally, that spot has a 6% chance of winning the draft lottery. Now, their odds have literally doubled.
That being said, the play-in teams had the second-best collective odds (24.5 per cent) to win the No. 1 pick, because why not. If you’re the league, why even have this as an option this year? It makes little to no sense, and it’s choices like this that have hockey fans scratching their heads at most of what the league does.
Oh yeah, and all of this rides of the assumption that the play-in series will even happen. Aside from the playoff bracket, there’s not much more concrete plans that have been confirmed yet. The league hasn’t chosen a hub city yet, we don’t have specific dates on when the league will start back up, more and more players are testing positive for COVID-19. Maybe the NHL will look towards the NBA to see which parts of their return-to-play policies they may want to use.
So, Oilers fans, there’s now a very real possibility that your team could pull off the Herculean feat of winning FIVE draft lotteries in the last 11 seasons. I would never say to plan the Lafrenière Parade yet. But just imagine if you will, an already potent Edmonton power-play featuring Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl adding a player who won back-to-back QMJHL MVPs while putting up a *checks notes* holy shit 297 points in 173 junior games??
Now also imagine that same player joining Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and John Tavares in Toronto. Or joining Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh. Objectively, that would be the most poetic choice. Lafrenière and Crosby are probably two of the best players in QMJHL history.
So here we are. Instead of a historically bad Red Wings team, a fallen-from-grace Kings team, or overall dismal Senators organization getting a chance to boost their roster, there’s a very good chance Alexis Lafrenière ends up joining a powerhouse. Which admittedly, would be a lot of fun because who wants to see great players wasted on bad rosters (speaking of which, anyone check on Jack Eichel recently?), but defeats the purpose of the draft.
The only cherry on this dirt snack is that the Taylor-Hall-draft-lottery-streak now has some incredible odds in its favour, which as fans of hockey, I think is the chaotic neutral choice we need to rally behind right now.