Unlike previous seasons’ NHL Entry Draft lotteries, the winner of the lottery for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft has yet to be decided and is by these standards a mystery. The “mystery team” in question will be the winner of a special lottery, to be conducted among the teams who lost their play-in series for the right to participate in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In this piece, NoVa Caps takes a look at who could land the favorite number one pick prospect Alexis Lafreniere.
The lottery draw to determine the winning team is set to take place on Monday, August 10 at 6:00 P.M. EST. Each of the teams up for the lottery will have a 1 in 8 (12.5% ) chance of winning the lottery. This piece examines each of the possibilities and how “outrageous” the idea of each of those teams winning the lottery is and acquiring Alexis Lafreniere would be to opposing teams and/or fans, and why.
Pittsburgh Penguins – The possibility of a Pittsburgh Penguins team that features a prominent former number one pick in Sidney Crosby would be the most outrageous scenario, for a few reasons. For starters, the Penguins are by no means lacking in success. They finished the 2019-20 regular season with the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference and were just four points behind the division front-runner, as well as holding the seventh-best record in the NHL, overall. The idea of a team this good winning the lottery would have the potential of giving the perennially-contending team the possibility of an even more potent status. The prospect of that would be egregiously outrageous to fans of either the Washington Capitals or Philadelphia Flyers, especially given the Penguins have won three Stanley Cups since and including 2009, and the last thing a team’s main rivals would want to see is an even tougher challenge of winning such a competitive division or a playoff series. Historically, it seems that whenever the Penguins have hit a snag competitively, there is always a generational player just waiting for them to draft, such as Mario Lemieux or Crosby, with supporting elite talents to complement their generational players, such as Jaromir Jagr or Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins blatantly tanked for the right to draft Mario Lemieux and the NHL saw fit to change the draft sequence to a lottery to discourage teams from tanking. (See Hockey Graphs.com for an analysis of their tank of 1983-84.) The draft rules of the 2005 NHL Entry draft, the year Crosby was first eligible to be selected, seemed to favor the Penguins by making it easier for the Penguins to win than for their competition, especially punishing the two teams who had won the lottery in the two years immediately prior to 2005 (the Florida Panthers and the Washington Capitals). Consequently, the Panthers had held the first overall pick, but had traded down in the draft since the consensus number one pick was a goalie, a position that was not an area of need for the Panthers at the time.
Edmonton Oilers – The Oilers are no stranger to getting the puck rolling in the draft, having held the first overall pick three consecutive years early in the last decade (Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov) and were unable to build a good team around them. Their record was bad enough in 2014 and 2015 that they were able to get a third overall pick to select elite young forward in Leon Draisaitl, and yet another first overall pick to draft a franchise player in Connor McDavid. At the time of the NHL pausing the regular season due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Oilers were second in the Pacific Division (a relatively weak division), and fifth overall in the Western Conference. There would be a fair amount of scrutiny directed at Edmonton between the fact that they’ve held so many early draft picks for much of the past decade, along with the fact they are in the Top 5 of their conference.
New York Rangers – The Rangers are a large market team (not to mention an Original Six franchise) currently in the midst of a rebuild. However, their rebuild has appeared to be faster than expected, given their attraction as a desirable free agent destination even in a rebuilding year. The team managed to lure star forward Artemi Panarin, the most desirable free agent in 2019, into town with a lucrative free agent deal last summer, and they seem set in goal for the future, as rookie Ilya Shestorkin appears to have earned the job of longtime netminder Henrik Lundqvist’s replacement. Getting LaFreniere would accelerate the Blueshirts’ advancing rebuild even more. They are a major media market and playoff games involving a team lined with young, elite talent would be a popular viewing option.
Nashville Predators – For the Predators, the 2019-20 regular season was a “down” year, compared to recent seasons, in which they reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 2017, won the Presidents’ Trophy for the 2017-18 season, and finished first in the Central Division during the 2018-19 season. While the team has yet to win the Stanley Cup, their division rivals (St. Louis, Colorado, Dallas, and Winnipeg) would find the fact that a strong rival was getting an obvious boost to be disadvantageous.
Winnipeg Jets – The Winnipeg Jets, like Nashville, also has a “down” year in 2019-20 compared to more recent years. In each of the last two seasons, the Jets finished in second place in the Central Division and solidly made the playoffs. In their history, the team has never won the Stanley Cup and has only made the Conference Finals just one time, the only time in franchise history that the team has even advanced past the first round of the playoffs. Their franchise history in both Winnipeg and in Atlanta, prior to the relocation in 2011, has been most unfortunate. The outrage for the Jets in winning the lottery would be relatively low, except possibly among their main Central Division rivals.
Minnesota Wild – The Wild had consistently made the playoffs since the 2012-13 lockout, a streak that ended with the 2017-18 season. Their core players, including Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, and Eric Staal, are aging, as all three are 35 years of age or older. The team has made it to the Conference Finals just once in franchise history, an appearance that came all the way back in 2003. The outrage for the Wild in winning the lottery would be relatively low, except possibly among their main Central Division rivals.
Florida Panthers – Aside from this season, in which the team participated in the play-in series, the Panthers have made the playoffs just five times, including a Stanley Cup in the third year of their existence (a series they lost). Other than that highlight of a postseason, they have failed to advance past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The outrage for them winning the lottery would be relatively low, as none of their division rivalries have been particularly intense in play.
As of this writing, either the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Columbus Blue Jackets could win the play-in series. As the two teams finished with the exact same number of points in the exact same number of games (81 points in 70 games), it is fitting that their series would go the distance as they are an even matchup, though Toronto recorded three more wins and Columbus accumulated points from losing in overtime. The “outrage” will depend on one’s feelings towards the teams and the personnel on the team.
Toronto Maple Leafs –After many lean years, the Maple Leafs returned to being a playoff-caliber team, but have the misfortune of being in the same division as the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins and as a result, have not been able to get past the first round of postseason play. The Maple Leafs are one of the Original Six teams and famously have not won a Stanley Cup since the year before the surge in NHL expansion (1967). Prior to their recent rise, they had been consistently bad since the lockout of 2004-05.
Columbus Blue Jackets – Until the 2016-17 season, when the Blue Jackets began making the playoffs consistently, they were a relatively poor performance team. Prior to 2016-17, they had made the playoffs just twice in franchise history. The 2019 postseason was the first season in which they advanced past the first round of playoff competition. The outrage would be low, except among Columbus’ main division rivals.
Fun Fact: The literal meaning of the last name “LaFreniere” is “place of ash trees”. In 2002, the Blue Jackets drafted forward Rick Nash with the first overall pick. The surname “Nash” means “at the ash tree”.
The main draft “outrage” for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft is that whatever team wins the lottery, regardless of who it is, would get the opportunity to draft a better player than any of the teams that did not qualify for the play-in games and the selecting team could be jump-started into contention. Animosity about this year’s lottery process might be greater if the team that wins the right to select number one overall finished higher in regular season standings.
By Diane Doyle