When the NHL announced their intention to move the 2020 Entry Draft up to early June, part of the news release was that the league intended to change the rule for the draft lottery. Instead of holding three draws - one for each of the first three picks - the NHL would go back to drawing lottery balls for only the first overall selection. This system was last utilized by the NHL during the 2012 draft lottery.
This change benefits the teams at the bottom of the standings as it means the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators can only move down one pick and are guaranteed to be picking in the top three. This is in contrast to the past few years where the team at the bottom of the standings was able to move down to the fourth overall pick.
Twice in the last four years (2017 & 2019), the Colorado Avalanche went into the draft lottery with the best odds of winning the top prize. In both instances, they ended up being jumped by three teams and sliding as far down the order as possible. While not optimal, the had the Avalanche been guaranteed a top-2 pick in 2017, Cale Makar wouldn’t be a member of the Avs today, and no one would want that.
Further to holding only one draw, the NHL plans to go back to the old system where teams are only able to move up four spots in the draft order. This means that while someone outside of the bottom-5 can win the lottery, they wouldn’t move up to pick first. The winning team would move up the maximum allowable four spots.
By going back to the old system of only drawing for the first pick, the Red Wings are guaranteed to be drafting no lower than second overall, thanks to their positioning at the bottom of the standings. To further the benefit for Detroit, not only do they have an 18.5% chance of winning the lottery, they have an additional 38.5% chance of retaining the number one pick by way of a team outside of the top-5 winning the lottery.
Last Friday’s NHL memo let it be known that last year’s lottery odds would still apply, but only for the first pick. That would give worst team (DET) an 18.5% chance of winning the No. 1 pick but an additional 38.5% chance of retaining No. 1 if a team outside top 5 wins the lottery. That means they have a 57% chance of picking Alexis Lafrenière first overall.
The reason for this change is that the NHL plans to bring the season back with an extended playoff sometime late this summer. By changing the rules of the lottery, the league wants to ensure that a team can’t win the lottery and the Stanley Cup in the same season. Really, it’s just a convoluted way to guard against an outcome that could be guaranteed not to happen if the NHL held the draft at the proper time. That proper time is after the standings are finalized.
Detroit and Ottawa are the two teams that benefit the most from this system. The Red Wings are guaranteed to pick no lower than second while Ottawa will have two picks in the top-4. That said, they’re not the only ones who benefit from this system. With the re-worked lottery, no team in the Central Division can select any higher than fifth overall. Further, the odds are strongly in favor of no team from the Central selecting in the top-5.
The Chicago Blackhawks are the Central Division team with the best odds to win the lottery - those odds are 2.7%. That means the Blackhawks have a 97.3% chance of drafting ninth overall of later. In a draft that has a lot of elite talent at the top of the draft, that’s a big deal.
Unless something crazy happens, players like Lafrenière, Quinton Byfield, Lucas Raymond, Alexander Holtz, Marco Rossi, Jamie Drysdale, Cole Perfetti and Tim Stutzel won’t be going to teams in the Central Division. That is going to have a major impact on Colorado’s ability to stay at the top of the division during their contention window.
Things can still change, and likely will. During their call with the NHL’s Board of Governors on Monday, the league got a lot of push back and criticism for their proposed this new system for a fast-tracked draft.
As odd as it is that the NHL is pushing so hard to fast track the draft, it sounds as though they’re going to do it despite the protest of their teams. It’s just a matter of giving concessions on a number of details. Whatever the final result, we know the lottery is going to change for the 2020 Entry Draft and despite shortsightedness from the league, the new system is going to have a beneficial impact on the future of the Avalanche.