Bill Daly stood in a TV studio in Secaucus, New Jersey, to announce the results of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery on Friday. The NHL Deputy Commissioner held a square blue card with a white "1" on it.
"The No. 1 overall selection in the 2020 NHL Draft …"
He flipped over the card, revealing the NHL logo.
"… belongs to a team …"
He tapped the bottom of the card on the table.
"… yet to be determined ..."
Of course. Since the NHL paused the season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, this has been a crazy, complicated, unique situation. Why would we expect the draft lottery to be any different?
Turns out, this was the First Phase of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery. The Second Phase will come between the Stanley Cup Qualifiers and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. One of the eight teams that loses in the qualifiers will win the No. 1 pick, ostensibly the right to select left wing Alexis Lafreniere from Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Each team will have the same odds.
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It's important to remember how we got here, why the lottery was structured this way and what it means in the end.
This was not the plan. The lottery was supposed to have happened by now. Heck, the Stanley Cup was supposed to have been awarded by now. Lafreniere should have walked across the stage at Bell Centre in Montreal in the first round of the draft Friday. We should be gearing up for the second day of the draft, not the second phase of the lottery.
The pandemic ruined the plan. The NHL had to come up with another, and the goal was to keep the integrity of the original.
Together with the NHL Players' Association, the League came up with a Return to Play Plan featuring a 24-team tournament. Why 24 teams? Mainly because that's the number of teams that had a realistic shot at making the playoffs when the season was paused.
The top four teams in each conference will play a three-game round robin for seeding in the playoffs. In other words, because of what they accomplished in the regular season, they have made the playoffs already. They just need to play meaningful games to sharpen for the playoffs.
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The other eight teams in each conference will play best-of-5 series to qualify for the playoffs. In other words, they have not made the playoffs yet. The best-of-5 series replace the stretch run.
Normally, the 15 teams that miss the playoffs would enter the lottery for the No. 1 pick. The odds would descend from 18.5 percent for the last-place team to 1 percent for the last team to miss the playoffs.
In essence, nothing changed.
The last-place team, the Detroit Red Wings, still had an 18.5 percent chance to win the No. 1 pick. The odds descended the same way they would have before. The difference was that we knew seven of the 15 teams that would miss the playoffs, and to hold the lottery now, the NHL used placeholders for the other eight. Instead of logos, we had Teams A through H.
Team E, No. 12 with a 2.5 percent chance, won the lottery and moved up to No. 1.
It would have felt more natural if the winner were, say, the Winnipeg Jets, who were 20th in points percentage (.563) at the pause and would have been in the 12th spot had the season ended that way.
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But the end result will be essentially the same as it would have been: One of the teams that will miss the playoffs will end up with the No. 1 pick. (It could still be the Jets, if they lose their series against the Calgary Flames and win the second phase of the lottery.)
No team has leaped more than four spots to No. 1 before, but teams have made big leaps into the top three. The Philadelphia Flyers jumped from No. 13 to No. 2 in 2017, the Carolina Hurricanes from No. 11 to No. 2 in 2018, the Chicago Blackhawks from No. 12 to No. 3 in 2019.
That's how the lottery balls bounce.
Who knows how this will turn out? The Colorado Avalanche dropped from No. 1 to No. 4 in 2017 and ended up with defenseman Cale Makar, a candidate for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year this season. In 1983, the Red Wings missed out on Pat LaFontaine, whom the New York Islanders selected No. 3. At No. 4, they had to settle for some guy named Yzerman.
"Maybe it seems that way today, but ultimately, let's see in a few years," said Yzerman, the Red Wings' general manager. "We'll see how the draft shakes out and who becomes a good player. We're going to get a great prospect, and how good of a player he becomes, time will tell."
First, there is the draft lottery. Then, there is the lottery that is the draft.
"The system is what it is, and it's the same for all the teams, and we're going to get a great prospect," Yzerman said. "We're going to do everything we can to develop him, and you know what? Maybe we will get lucky."
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