The NHL’s second draft lottery drops tonight with the eight eliminated Stanley Cup Qualifier teams holding equal 12.5% odds to land the first overall selection.
Maybe it was just me, but the minute the league announced that they’d be using placeholder spots for teams in the qualifying round, I knew one would wind up winning a top three pick. That feeling of inevitability wasn’t due to suspicion of foul play or some sort of fixed lottery but simply from knowing this league has perfected over complicating practically everything.
In and of itself, awarding lottery odds to eliminated teams wasn’t a poor choice. Given the gift on hindsight, the league probably would’ve been smarter to do a single drawing with the original odds once the qualifying round was done. Splitting the lottery was an odd choice which really only opened the door for complaints from fanbases (and probably some GMs) around the league. It will only become more unpopular if one of the stronger teams in tonight’s drawing wins the first pick.
The drawing itself if rife with potential controversy. You can expect a wave of negative reactions if Toronto, Pittsburgh or Edmonton win this evening. Even the Rangers, fresh off picking second last year after some lottery luck, would be a fairly unpopular result. There are also some very obvious Sabres-related pitfalls that could come out of tonight. A Leafs win would be, let’s say, inconvenient. As would a Panthers win. Really any Eastern Conference win would create challenges for the Sabres. With that in mind, let’s rank the potential lottery winners based on how it could affect the Sabres and though the additional lens of my personal preferences.
1. Winnipeg Jets
The Jets are pretty harmless playing out in the West. They boast a pretty impressive lineup which would receive a nice boost with the addition of Alexis Lafreniere and they’re a team I enjoy, so I’d have no qualms with them winning tonight. There’s also an outside chance that plugging LaFreniere into the Winnipeg lineup would make one of their other forwards expendable. If winning the lottery made it even 1% more likely that Nikolaj Ehlers could be acquired by the Sabres, I’d take it.
2. Nashville Predators
The Preds are another nice, harmless Western Conference team which the Sabres would really only have to worry about seeing a couple of times a year. There’s the outside chance of seeing any of these Western Conference teams in a Stanley Cup Final but given the state of the Sabres, that’s one of the last things that should be on anyone’s mind. As for the Preds’ chances tonight, I might argue that they’re one of the most deserving teams of this group. Their roster doesn’t boast a whole lot of elite offensive talent and you could argue that’s been the one thing that’s been holding them back for so many years. Lafreniere (or even one of the centers) changes that dynamic for the Preds.
3. Minnesota Wild
The Wild also rank high on the most deserving metric, having never picked first overall. They too could use a dynamic game breaking talent to add to a balanced but generally underwhelming forward group. Sticking Lafreniere out in Minnesota helps out a club which definitely could use the help while keeping him out of the East. Win-win in that case.
4. Edmonton Oilers
If took you a poll of teams who would piss off the most people should they win the lottery, the Oilers would get a whole lot of first place votes. But from my seat, I’d be perfectly happy to see the Oilers win the first pick. They’re in the West, so I don’t need to worry about seeing the Sabres deal with him in the regular season or in the opening rounds of the playoffs (if they ever find their way back). I have no lingering frustration from the McDavid/Eichel lottery and neither should you, Sabres fans. Further, there is a level of high comedy that would accompany the Oilers winning the lottery. Yes, plenty of fans would be annoyed and frustrated by this club winning another first overall pick. But it would be great to see the NHL go out of their way to try and fix the lottery only for one of the teams which inspired the change to win the first pick.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins
I’m guessing this may be my most unpopular slot given the Penguins history. Winning multiple first overall picks, including the Sidney Crosby lottery, riding that core to multiple Cups and enjoying a reign of success that’s nearly two decades long. The reason I’d welcome a Penguins win tonight is that I feel that of the Eastern Conference entries, they’re really the most harmless. They’re still going to be good with or without Lafreniere and while he’d certainly help keep their Cup window open, I’d argue that it’s still going to start closing pretty soon. Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are 33 and 34, respectively. They’re certainly gifted to the point that they’ll outperform age trends but the reality is that they’re creeping up on the end of their careers. While LaFreniere gives the Penguins some new life, I think their aging core plays a larger role in their long term outlook.
6. New York Rangers
The Rangers got some lottery luck just last year, I don’t think they need more so soon after. Let these guys take a beat. It also wouldn’t hurt for the Rangers to miss out tonight as they’re compiling a pretty hefty pool of young talent. If the Sabres are ever going to get back to respectability, it will help if there are fewer lottery talents to compete with in the East.
7. Florida Panthers
Seeing a first overall pick go to a division foe would be a tough pill to swallow. The Panthers have made some odd roster choices in recent years but the top of their lineup is still extremely talented. Adding Lafreniere to that group would make it that much more formidable. The Sabres don’t need any more teams in the East getting a boost. They especially don’t need any teams in their division getting that sort of help.
8-99. Licking a running lawnmower blade
100. Toronto Maple Leafs
Division foe, regional rivalry, plenty of recent draft success. The last team you want to see win tonight’s lottery. Which, of course, means they’ll win.