Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Monday Musings… Draft Lottery Wasn’t A Big Surprise

The Detroit Red Wings were the biggest loser during Friday’s draft lottery. The Wings won 17 of 71 games this past season, and had the lowest points percentage (.275) in the NHL since 2000, when the expansion Atlanta Thrashers won 14 of 82 games and finished the season with a .238 points%. The Thrashers were in their first year of existence, while the Red Wings just finished their 93rd NHL season.

The 2019/2020 Red Wings struggled, but the lottery did them no favours as they dropped three draft positions and now own the fourth overall pick.

This wasn’t the worst edition of the Red Wings. That distinction belongs to the 1985/1986 team which went 17-57-6 (.250%), and the 1977 Wings who posted a putrid .256 points%. The 1986 Wings drafted Joe Murphy first overall. Murphy had a solid NHL career, posting 528 points in 779 games. He finished with the eighth most points from his draft class. Vincent Damphousse, sixth overall, and Brian Leetch, ninth overall, were easily the best forward and defenceman from this class and they finished first and second in points.

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The 1977 Wings drafted Dale McCourt at #1. McCourt had a productive, but short, NHL career finishing with 478 points in 532 games. He led Detroit in scoring in three of his first four seasons, and finished second once. But the Wings only made the playoffs once and management felt he wasn’t doing enough (sound familiar?), so they traded him to Buffalo. He spent two seasons with the Sabres, before being claimed on waivers by Toronto five games into the 1983/1984 season. He finished the year with the Leafs scoring a total of 20-27-47 in 77 games. But he never played another game in the NHL. In his seven NHL seasons he scored 33, 28, 30, 30, 33, 20 and 20. He had a back injury, but he went to play in Switzerland for the next seven seasons and HC Ambri-Piotta retired his jersey as he scored 207 goals and 362 points in 243 games.

Many expect Alexis Lafreniere to be the #1 pick in the upcoming draft, but we won’t know for many years who becomes the best NHL player. But on paper, the Red Wings and Ottawa Senators (dropped from second to fifth) were the two biggest losers.

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Some hockey people were upset with the outcome, as were some fans and media people. I understand the frustration, but I also ask if those same people hadn’t looked at the odds prior to the lottery. The 8-15th teams had a combined 24.5% chance to win — the second highest behind Ottawa’s 25% due to having the second and third picks. It might not be ideal for some, but if they didn’t like the format they should have been much more vocal prior to the lottery.


Oct 29, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Edmonton Oilers right wing Alex Chiasson (39) checks Detroit Red Wings center Frans Nielsen (81) in the third period at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t believe the Red Wings tanked, they simply weren’t that good, which is often the case for teams who finish last. You could make an argument the 1984 Pittsburgh Penguins, and the 2015 Buffalo Sabres tanked to finish last, but the Sabres, as you well know, didn’t win the 2015 lottery. They moved down to #2 and watched the Edmonton Oilers select Connor McDavid.

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The question we should ask is: did the NHL go overboard with the draft lottery?

Recently, we have seen the 13th seed move to #2, the 12th seed to #1 and #3 and the 11th seed has moved to #2. It is obvious that those teams weren’t tanking.

It is very difficult to tell players not to try their best, so I don’t believe players would ever lose on purpose. Management might give their coach a less talented roster, but no self respecting player is going to the arena planning on losing. I don’t believe players tank, but having a lottery to prevent management from icing a less skilled roster on purpose has some validity to it. (And no players in the qualifying round are thinking about losing on purpose just so they have an 87.5% chance to lose the lottery for the #1 pick.)

Does the current model go too far?

The original draft lottery rules from 1995-2012 allowed a team to only move up a maximum of four spots. And teams would only move down a maximum of one spot. In 2013, they changed the rule to allow any team to win the lottery. Then in 2016 they added a lottery for the top-three picks.

In 2016 the Toronto Maple Leafs finished in last place, but they won the lottery and selected Auston Matthews.
The 2017 Colorado Avalanche were terrible, winning 22 games and finishing with 48 points. But they lost all three lotteries and dropped to fourth. The Vancouver Canucks also dropped three spots from second to fifth. However, the Avs drafted Cale Makar fourth and the Canucks landed Elias Pettersson fifth. Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick went #1 and #2, while Miro Heiskanen went third to Dallas who had moved from eighth to third. Four years later they were the biggest benefactor, while the Avs and Canucks are pretty happy with their picks. Would they have made the same picks had they had the #1 or #2 selections? We will never know.

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The 2018 Buffalo Sabres finished 31st, but they won the lottery and maintained the top pick. Carolina was a huge winner moving up to #2 and selecting Andrei Svechnikov.

Last season the Ottawa Senators finished dead last, but Colorado owned their pick from the Matt Duchene trade. The Avs dropped to fourth, once again, while New Jersey moved from third to first, the Rangers went from second to sixth and Chicago jumped up from 12th to third. It is too early to say who among the top-five picks — Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kakko, Kirby Dach or Bowen Byram or Alex Turcotte — is the best player.

For the third time in four years the #1 and #2 picks moved down to fourth and fifth during this year’s lottery.

What unfolded on Friday night was not outside the norm, other than there will now be a fourth lottery among the eight losers of the qualifying rounds. If the Penguins, Hurricanes, Oilers, Maple Leafs or Flames win the lottery, then I can see people being upset, as those five teams had a 78-93% chance of making the playoffs when the season was postponed. But if any of the other teams win, I don’t see it being any different than when the 2017 Flyers and their .537P% moved up from 13th to second.

Is that too much of a punishment, or do you like the current model?