We have a framework. Though many of the dates for the NHL’s Return to Play are still up in the air, we do know that the draft lottery will happen on Friday, June 26 and we know the draft itself will commence after the playoffs are finished. The format is interesting and could be drawn-out depending on the results, so let’s take a look at the rules and potential avenues of intrigue therein.
To begin with, Phase 1 of the lottery will consist of three draws, involving the seven teams left out of the 24-team field that will return to the ice some time late in the summer, plus eight ‘placeholders’ that represent the teams that will lose in the best-of-five qualifying round. Here’s what that looks like, complete with odds:
Detroit 18.5 percent
Ottawa 13.5 percent
Ottawa (from San Jose) 11.5 percent
Los Angeles 9.5 percent
Anaheim 8.5 percent
New Jersey 7.5 percent
Buffalo 6.5 percent
Team A 6 percent
Team B 5 percent
Team C 3.5 percent
Team D 3 percent
Team E 2.5 percent
Team F 2 percent
Team G 1.5 percent
Team H 1 percent
If none of the placeholders win a top-three slot, then things are simple. Picks 4-7 go to the named bottom-dwellers in inverse order of their regular season points percentage. Picks 8-15 will be given to the eight teams that lose in the qualifying round based on the same inverse points-percentage principle.
Where things get tricky is if a placeholder wins one or more of the Phase 1 lottery. In that case, there will be a Phase 2 lottery between the eight qualifying round losers – and only those eight teams. In this lottery, each team has the same odds.
When the three top picks are established, the remaining 12 selections will be slotted based on inverse points percentage.
So what does it all mean?
First, it means a team cannot win the first overall pick and the Stanley Cup, something GMs had been concerned with. There is intrigue, however.
For example, Detroit still has the best odds of getting No. 1, but there is the very real possibility that the Ottawa Senators get the first and second picks overall, thanks in part to the trade that sent Erik Karlsson to San Jose. In that case, not only would the Senators get smashing left winger Alexis Lafreniere, but also the first crack at powerful centre Quinton Byfield. For an Ottawa franchise that already has a very strong prospect system, such a windfall would boost the Senators’ future dramatically. Worst-case scenario, the Sens and Detroit lose all three lottery positions and Ottawa receives the fifth and sixth selections overall. Given how deep the high-end is for the 2020 draft, this wouldn’t be the end of the world, though admittedly, it would be another indignity for Sens fans.
One scenario sure to enrage 30 of the league’s 31 fan bases? Edmonton could get the first pick overall if the Oilers lose to the Blackhawks in the qualifying round. That would put Lafreniere on the same team as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl – potentially on the same line, for that matter (or at least the same power play). The odds of that happening aren’t great, but they are mathematically possible.
Similarly, if Pittsburgh loses to Montreal in the qualifying round, the Penguins could net that No. 1 spot and have Lafreniere ride shotgun with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Pittsburgh traded its first-rounder to Minnesota for Jason Zucker, but the pick is conditional and can be bumped to 2021 if the Penguins miss the playoffs.