Rick Zamperin: NHL Draft lottery no joke, at least for 8 play-in teams

Alexis Lafreniere (11) smiles following the CHL Top Prospects Game in Hamilton, Ont. on Thursday, January 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

If nothing else, Friday night’s National Hockey League Draft lottery provided hockey fans with a rink full of drama not seen since, well, the league’s last game on March 11.

Despite having a slim chance at winning the draft lottery, a placeholder team that represents one of the eight losing play-in squads was awarded the first overall selection and the right to draft projected top pick Alexis Lafreniere.

So-called ‘Team E’ made history by becoming the first to jump from outside the bottom seven teams and win the lottery, providing another big surprise in what has already been, unquestionably, the most bizarre hockey season on record.

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The lottery results created a massive amount of flack for the NHL as the twitterverse took pot shots at the process but it also resulted in an enormous buzz as fans thoroughly enjoyed the thought of a yet-to-be-named team earning the top pick.

Which brings me to this point. Each of the eight losers in the play-in round will have a 12.5 per cent chance at becoming ‘Team E’ and selecting first overall in the NHL Draft.

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But how many of those teams will be thinking that they have a better shot at getting the right ping pong balls to fall their way than they do of winning the Stanley Cup?

The Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks, Arizona Coyotes and Minnesota Wild have the worst points percentages among the 16 play-in teams and are 19 wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames are also in the same boat.

Hope like heck that your goalie plays lights out every night and your team goes on a once in a lifetime magical playoff run? Or they can fold up the tent and win Phase 2 of the draft lottery in six weeks’ time and take Lafreniere — who, along with Sidney Crosby, is the only two-time winner of the CHL’s Player of the Year award.

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I should point out that none of the 16 teams who will compete in the play-in round will enter their series thinking about Lafreniere, or the lottery. Players and coaches play to win and that will be their approach.

But if a team is down 2-games-to-0 and trailing 3-0 in the third period of Game 3 of their best-of-5 play-in series, it may only be natural for some to think that having a chance at drafting Lafreniere is a small victory.

That’s a scenario the NHL wants to avoid and can’t control. But one thing’s for certain, the draft lottery has opened the door to a lot more drama down the road.

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Rick Zamperin is the assistant program, news and senior sports director at Global News Radio 900 CHML.

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