Columnist image
Frank Seravalli

TSN Senior Hockey Reporter


And the winner is …TBD?

Better yet, that sentence should have an exclamation point on the end.

Because if you’re a fan of pure, unadulterated chaos, buckle up. The NHL’s best-of-five play-in round is about to be bonkers for a whole new reason.

The eight teams who fail to advance to the first-round of the Stanley Cup playoffs will all have an equal chance (12.5 per cent) to select No. 1 overall in the 2020 Draft.

Good thing presumptive top pick Alexis Lafreniere added a “hopefully” in his pre-lottery interview on Friday night when saying he was looking forward to learning where he might be heading.

He’ll have to wait at least another six weeks. Until then, he is a member of the nondescript ‘Team E.’

That’s because ‘Team E,’ one of the eight placeholder teams representing the losing play-in teams, won the Draft Lottery on Friday night on a 2.5 per cent shot. Yes, ‘Team E’ had just 25 winning combinations out of a possible 1,000 lottery draws – the first time a team from outside the bottom seven regular-season finishers will pick first overall in Draft Lottery history.

Seriously, how else did you think the Draft Lottery would play out in 2020?

“It’s a unique year,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said, in the understatement of all-time. “That means we’re going to have a unique Draft Lottery.”

The real irony is that the NHL decided to conduct its first league event since hockey hit pause 106 days ago on March 12 as a way to give the play-in round’s seven non-participating teams something to be excited about.

Among those teams, the only winner was in Los Angeles, where the Kings moved up two spots from four to two. The Ottawa Senators had one of their picks remain in the third spot. The Detroit Red Wings, who had the worst record in the league this season, will pick at No. 4 overall, the same position Hall of Famer and GM Steve Yzerman was selected in 1983.

"Things worked out," Yzerman said.

Waiting until after the play-in round was completed would have eliminated a lot of confusion.

Kings president Luc Robitaille said it took him a minute to understand what was happening when Daly flipped over a card with the NHL shield on it for the No. 1 pick.

“We were trying to figure out what it all means,” Robitaille said.

It means the true excitement is now in the theatre ahead. Imagine entire fan bases openly rooting against their team in the best-of-five qualifying round. Losing means a 12.5 per cent shot at Lafreniere, odds that could only normally be earned by finishing in 30th place over a full 82-game season.

The second draw of the Draft Lottery – dubbed Phase 2 – will be conducted between the play-in round and the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, likely in August. 

The idea was to disconnect those eight eliminated teams from the regular-season standings and give them equal footing. The reason for that was in case a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins – who had the fifth-best record in the league this season – lost in the play-in round when they would’ve pretty much been guaranteed a playoff spot in any other normal season.

If the NHL’s bid to finish off the 2019-20 season is shut down, the plan is to still conduct that second lottery by giving the bottom four play-in qualifying teams in each conference (based on points percentage) equal odds. That includes Montreal (.500), Chicago (.514), Arizona (.529), Minnesota (.558), Winnipeg (.563), New York Rangers (.564), Florida (.565) and Columbus (.579).

Yes, that means Taylor Hall still has a chance to work his magic as the MVP of the Draft Lottery once again. The Arizona Coyotes traded that pick to New Jersey for Hall in December, but it is lottery protected, so Hall could help his team somehow win the lottery for the sixth time in 10 years.

As it stands, more teams now have a shot at the No. 1 pick (16) than do not (15). The Winnipeg Jets would have been the team with the same ‘Team E’ odds in a normal year’s Draft Lottery format (based on points percentage).

Friday’s draw was dramatic, but not exactly surprising. The eight placeholder teams did have the second-best collective odds (24.5 per cent) to win the No. 1 pick.

The Ottawa Senators had the best collective odds (25 per cent) for that pick – and still the best odds after the first three balls were drawn – but settled for the third and fifth picks. Their own pick landed fifth overall after a 30th-place finish; the San Jose Sharks’ pick from the 2018 trade for Erik Karlsson brought the third pick.

That the Sharks were in lottery territory at all meant there was no way Ottawa could lose on Friday night, not with a draft class this deep in impact talent.

“We’re going to draft two players that we know are going to be impactful players for the Senators for many years to come,” GM Pierre Dorion said in a post-lottery Zoom call with reporters. “With the trades we’ve made, getting that No. 3 pick and No. 5 pick, we can continue to do the rebuild the way we’ve planned.”

Ottawa will become the first team in 20 years to draft twice inside the top five and the first since the New York Islanders took Rick DiPietro (No. 1) and Raffi Torres (No. 5) in 2000. Dorion said the Senators were “very happy” with the results on Friday night.

That was unusual, but par for the course in maybe the strangest hockey season ever.

“We’re living through something totally different,” Dorion said. “We all knew this could happen. Makes total sense to us.”

Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli​