By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
In a move that could honestly only happen in 2020, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft will go to a team to be determined, the league’s draft lottery determined Friday night.
This absurd twist that almost doesn’t pass a smell test happened against all the odds, too. I mean, the league-worst Red Wings had a 18.5 percent chance at the No. 1 pick (they ended with the No. 4 overall pick), and the Ottawa Senators had a combined 25% chance at the No. 1 overall pick between their two first-round picks (they ended with the No. 3 and No. 5 overall picks). Team TBD? They had a 2.5 percent chance of grabbing the No. 1 overall pick… and they did. Crying conspiracy, however, assumes the NHL is clever enough to pull off a scheme like this when they’re basically Dennis Nedry fleeing Isla Nublar with a hollowed out can of Barbasol.
So what you actually got here is really just complete and utter chaos.
This ‘TBD’ next to the No. 1 overall pick will have to be solved following the end of the NHL’s play-in round, which will see the bottom eight teams in each conference play against one another in a best-of-five series. Those eight losers will then have equal odds at the No. 1 overall pick (12.5 percent), which be solved with what the league is calling “a Phase 2 draft lottery.” Example: Let’s say the No. 12 Canadiens upset the No. 5 Penguins in the play-in round, the No. 5 Penguins will then have the same chance at the No. 1 overall pick as the rest of the play-in round losers. You read that right: Should the fifth-best team in the conference falter, they will have a nearly a great chance at the No. 1 overall pick. It’s chaotic. At its very best.
This also feels like a swift kick in the genitals for the teams told to stay at home following the league’s pause in March. That’s a whole lot of sufferin’ for nothin’ if you’re the Sens, Wings, and Devils. (Detroit seems especially haunted in the lotto, too, as they dropped from their projected spot for the fourth straight season.)
So, with all that in mind, I gotta admit that I’m not crazy about this. You’re essentially letting both the Blackhawks and Canadiens — two teams that weren’t much better than those you told to stay at home and pray for ping-pong ball bounces — simultaneously compete for both the Stanley Cup and No. 1 overall pick. You’re letting the entire play-in field compete for this, actually. These teams are all in what now feels like a no-lose situation, and not all of them were deserving of such an opportunity. Clearly. And this really doesn’t feel fair to those who were told to stay home. “Hey, thanks for coming. Oh, you’re not coming back and no, we won’t make it worth your time, losers. But these losers? They can try for both.”
It unintentionally created a slanted play-in structure. If the No. 1 overall pick was at play, everybody should’ve had a chance to return to play. This wasn’t by design, we know (or very strongly believe), but it absolutely blew up in the NHL’s face. Badly.
It hurts even more when you consider the prize at play with the No. 1 overall pick this year: Canadian forward Alexis Lafreniere.
A 6-foot-1 wing, Lafreniere is coming off QMJHL campaign featuring 35 goals and 112 points in 52 games. Over the last two years, Lafreniere has totaled 72 goals and 217 points in 113 games for Rimouski Oceanic. SHEESH. He’s also won the CHL Player of the Year Award in back-to-back seasons, making him the first player to accomplish such a feat since Sidney Crosby.
(In case you’re wondering, the Bruins will not have a chance at the No. 1 overall pick. Not only are they not participating in the play-in round — they’ll be playing in a three-game, round-robin for seeding while others are playing for their playoff lives — but they shipped their 2020 first-round pick to Anaheim in a deadline deal that shed the David Backes contract and brought Ondrej Kase to Boston.)