Four myths (and one truth) about the 2020 NHL draft lottery

We still have no idea which team will land No. 1 prospect Alexis Lafreniere after the NHL draft lottery Friday night, but anyone who actually believes the process was rigged should give their head a very serious shake.
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Vincent Ethier/CHL

Vincent Ethier/CHL

Regardless of how you feel about the way things went down in the NHL draft lottery Friday night, you’ve got to be happy for the long-suffering fans of Team E. Those plucky underdogs are always taking a backseat to Teams A, B, C and D and it’s about time they caught a break. (Unless, of course, Team E ends up being the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs or Edmonton Oilers, in which case this scheme is the dumbest thing in the history of dumb things.)

The Detroit Red Wings, who actually didn’t have to work all that hard at being really bad this season, dropped to the No. 4 position overall. Take heart, Red Wings fans. The Colorado Avalanche did exactly the same thing three years ago and ended up with Cale Makar. The only person in Detroit who didn’t seem at all surprised by the turn of events was GM Steve Yzerman. He’s no math major, but he’s been around long enough to know these things rarely turn out as planned.

Which brings us to the purpose of this piece. There are a lot of myths surrounding this draft lottery, a few of which I’ll be happy to expound upon:

MYTH NO. 1: It was the greatest lottery ever
No, it was not. In fact, it was dreadful. Legendary former broadcaster Dave Hodge summed it up best when he tweeted out Friday night: “No. 1 rule for any sports league: If the fans can’t understand it, it’s a bad idea.”

And more than anything, that’s exactly what this was from start to finish. The problem with the NHL is twofold. First, it can’t seem to get out of its own way. Second, it’s fixated on keeping the playing field as level as possible. And the result is you get unwieldy and awkward scenarios playing out the way the draft lottery did.

It would have been the easiest and most fair thing for the NHL to hold the lottery among the seven teams that did not qualify for the COVID Cup Invitational. Easy peasy. But then they had to go get all cute and egalitarian to appease the teams that finished in the Nos. 5 through 8 spots in their conferences by giving one of them the slight chance of winning the first overall pick if they lose their play-in rounds. The eight teams that should not have made the playoffs were rewarded by suddenly having a chance to play for the Stanley Cup. And if the eight in the mushy middle aren’t good enough to win a series against what are essentially non-playoff teams, they clearly weren’t good enough to compete for the Cup in the first place.

MYTH NO. 2: The lottery was rigged
If you truly believe this, please just stop embarrassing yourself and everyone you know. The NHL releases all of the number combinations for the lottery, as well as the video of the entire process on-line. If it were truly rigged, Connor McDavid would be playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Auston Matthews would have been chosen first overall by his hometown Arizona Coyotes. Alas, there are people who walk among us who believe this is all part of a huge conspiracy. If the NHL were fixed, there would be color TV footage of a Maple Leafs Stanley Cup parade and the New York Rangers would not have gone 54 years, then (likely) another 26 between championships. And the Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers would not have been in the Stanley Cup final in 2006.

MYTH NO. 3: Teams are going to tank the play-in series
Once again, stop embarrassing yourself. There is not a single team in this year’s playoff tournament that doesn’t think it can’t get on some kind of once-in-a-lifetime roll and win the Stanley Cup. The playoffs are a crapshoot at the best of times. This summer, they’ll be more unpredictable than they’ve ever been. And it bears repeating that coaches and players don’t give a fiddler’s fart about draft picks and don’t have it in their psyches to tank. Tanking is something that takes an orchestrated effort from a franchise and it essentially involves having the right players in your lineup. None of the 2020 playoff teams fits that profile.

MYTH NO. 4: Speaking for embarrassing, the NHL embarrassed itself
Not at all. If the league were worried about embarrassing itself, it would not have come up with this scheme in the first place. This is not a case of unintended consequences. The league knew fully well that there was a possibility this very thing would happen and now effectively gets two lotteries this season. As Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman pointed out, the odds of a placeholder winning the lottery was actually better than they were for any other team. As we’ve seen over the years, the NHL does not embarrass easily. It would take a lot more than this to make their faces turn crimson.

MYTH NO. 5: It does not pay to tank
This one is actually bang on, which, when you think about it, is exactly why the NHL holds a draft lottery in the first place. All tanking does is create a culture where losing is acceptable, one that takes years to undo. And tanking is so seldom ultimately successful that it’s not worth the effort.

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