The NHL’s 2020 draft lottery explained: Everything you need to know

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on May 26. It has been updated.

The NHL will hold the second part of the draft lottery Monday night. As in previous years, there’s a top-prospect prize for the team that wins the first overall pick: Alexis Lafreniere, the high-scoring left wing from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Here’s everything you need to know.

When and where is this NHL draft lottery being held?

The NHL draft lottery drawing for the first overall pick will be held on Monday at 6 p.m. ET in the NHL Network studios in Secaucus, New Jersey. It will be broadcast live on NBCSN and NHL Network in the U.S., and on Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada. The broadcast will include an interview with Lafreniere. Representatives from the lottery teams will join the broadcast remotely rather than in studio, as had been tradition.

Which teams are in this draft lottery?

There are eight teams with an equal percentage chance (12.5%) at the first overall pick. These are the eight teams that were eliminated in the just-completed qualification round in the Stanley Cup postseason, losing in five-game series: the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild.

Why did the NHL hold two draft lotteries this season?

The NHL regular season was truncated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that the playoff races were cut short when the season was paused on March 12. To compensate for that, the NHL decided to restart its season with a 24-team Stanley Cup tournament. That meant teams that would have been in the draft lottery were now anointed as postseason teams. The NHL started working on a draft format to give those teams their shot at lottery picks.

Originally, the NHL wanted to hold the draft lottery before the season restart, noting the attention the NFL draft received when it was held virtually in April. But some of the NHL’s general managers were adamant about not creating a format in which a team could win the lottery and win the Stanley Cup in the same season, as slim as those odds were. So the NHL came up with an ingenious fix.

There would be 15 teams taking part in three different lottery draws, for the top three picks in the draft. That included the seven teams that did not return for the 24-team postseason — the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks (whose pick belongs to Ottawa), Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres. The other eight teams eligible for the top picks were the ones that would lose in the upcoming qualification round of the postseason — half of the Nos. 5 through 12 seeds in each conference. They were represented by “placeholder” spots in the lottery, with odds to win the first overall pick ranging from 6% to 1%, the lowest odds possible.

If any of the placeholder spots won the lottery draw for one of the top three picks, there would be a second draft lottery held after the qualification round featuring the eight eliminated teams.

What happened in the first lottery?

A placeholder team won the first overall pick.

The Senators, who owned the Sharks’ first-round pick (11.5%), won the draw for the third overall pick. The Kings (9.5%) won the draw for the second overall pick. But the first overall pick went to “Team E,” a placeholder team that had just a 2.5% chance to winning the lottery. That triggered the necessity for Monday’s second lottery after the qualification round ended on Sunday.

How is the process different for the second draft lottery?

In the usual NHL draft lottery, there are 14 numbered balls in the lottery machine. Each lottery draw features four balls being selected, creating a unique number combination that had been previously and randomly assigned to an NHL team. As the balls are drawn, the numbers are recorded and verified by representatives of Ernst & Young.

But since all participants in the NHL’s second lottery will have the same odds (12.5%), the eight teams will be represented in the lottery machine by one ball with their team logo on it.

What about the rest of the draft order?

Here is the current draft order:

1. Winner of second draft lottery
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Ottawa Senators (from San Jose)
4. Detroit Red Wings
5. Ottawa Senators
6. Anaheim Ducks
7. New Jersey Devils
8. Buffalo Sabres

The seven teams that didn’t win the second lottery will be assigned NHL draft positions 9 through 15, in inverse order of their points percentage in the standings as of March 12. The remaining 16 selections for the first round (Nos. 16-31) will be determined by the results of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Which teams in the lottery need Lafreniere the most?

From a “here is how the draft lottery is supposed to work” perspective, the Florida Panthers let go general manager Dale Tallon on Monday for a reason. They haven’t won a playoff round since 1996. Adding a foundational offensive talent to a team that already has a few young standout forwards in place — Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, among others — could lift the Panthers to new heights.

The Winnipeg Jets drafted Patrik Laine second overall in 2016 but have only advanced past the opening round of the playoffs once since relocating from Atlanta in 2012. Lafreniere would help.

Like the other teams here, the Minnesota Wild would not have made the playoffs if the field hadn’t been expanded to 24 teams this summer, and they have the lowest points percentage (.558) of any of the lottery teams. The Wild are trying to transition to the next generation of players for the franchise, and Lafreniere would be the centerpiece of that effort.

Then there are the Toronto Maple Leafs. They would have been a playoff team in a traditional round of 16 format. They’re also a capped-out team for the next two seasons under a flat salary ceiling. Getting Lafreniere would mean getting a high-end offensive talent to add to the Leafs’ collection on a rookie salary. Of course, it would be better if he played defense.

Which teams advanced but maybe their GM would rather they hadn’t?

The Montreal Canadiens shocked the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round to advance to the Stanley Cup quarterfinals. But after a season in which they posted the lowest points percentage (.500) of any team that was added to the postseason tournament, one has to assume that GM Marc Bergevin would have been fine with getting a 12.5% chance at Lafreniere as a parting gift if the Penguins had won. Especially when he’s the first French-Canadian skater to go first overall since Vincent Lecavalier in 1998, meaning Montreal is losing out on the chance to draft the kind of player it’s constantly searching for to be the face of its franchise.

The other No. 12 seed, the Chicago Blackhawks, are in a similar situation. They stunned the Edmonton Oilers in Round 1 with a roster that has a strong collection of young players augmenting their veteran core. But to have added Lafreniere to that roster — and, potentially, to the opposite wing of Patrick Kane — would have refocused the franchise to a future beyond its dynastic veterans.

Did this format work?

For the general managers, it did: There is no team in the second phase of the lottery that can also win the Stanley Cup. So that concern, absurd as it was, has been alleviated.

For the NHL, it certainly did: The intense interest in the first lottery will be eclipsed by interest in this lottery, where some of the most popular franchises like the Rangers, Penguins and especially the Maple Leafs now have a crack at a phenom.

But from a functional standpoint, we’d have to say it did not work. Four teams out of the eight in the lottery would have qualified for the 16-team Stanley Cup playoff tournament based on points percentage: Pittsburgh, Toronto, Edmonton and Nashville. While this chaos is extraordinarily fun, it’s also antithetical to what the draft lottery should theoretically do — which is deliver top young talents to moribund franchises.

Just because Chicago, Montreal, Arizona and others found ways to win a five-game series after a four-month layoff doesn’t mean they also hadn’t earned their right to be in the Lafreniere lottery after underwhelming regular seasons. Instead, the teams they eliminated have a chance to draft him instead.

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