Thursday, April 11, 2019

Eight games that changed the results of the NHL draft lottery

OK,​ so maybe there​ really​ wasn’t​ a lot​ of​ suspense​ to be​ had in Tuesday’s​ draft lottery. You​ could​ have saved yourself​​ some time by just reading my preview, which correctly predicted the Devils winning the top pick. Or you could have skipped that too and just known which team Taylor Hall plays for.

Hall is Mr. Lottery, a fact he’s embraced over the years and was quick to remind us of that night:

It’s possible that Hall is just unstoppable, and nothing could have prevented the lottery from playing out the way it did. Then again, maybe you don’t buy into that particular brand of superstition.

If so, then you’ve come to the right place, because it’s time for the annual round of “Find a single game from the season that would have changed the lottery outcome.”

This has been kind of a hobby of mine over the years. For every draft lottery, once you know who won, you can look back and find games from that season that altered the results. The most memorable example is probably the infamous Patrik Stefan flub, which ended up sending Patrick Kane to the Blackhawks instead of the Oilers. Edmonton’s win in the last game ever played at Rexall Place ended up costing them Auston Matthews. A late Geoff Sanderson goal in 2004 cost the Blue Jackets the Alexander Ovechkin pick.

You can do this all day. It’s fun. Or, depending on your perspective and how close your team came to a franchise-altering lottery win, extremely un-fun.

First, let’s explain what we’re even talking about. Many fans assume that the NHL draft lottery just involves a barrel full of ping pong balls with each team’s logo on them. That would be the easy way to do it, but the league is looking for more control over the odds. So instead, they use 14 numbered balls, and draw four of them. That gives them 1,001 combinations, which they assign in advance to the qualifying teams. (You can read about the whole process on this page; the actual number combos can be found here; these were the actual winners.)

Those combinations are handed out based on the final standings, which means that it’s not really teams that are winning or losing the lottery at all – it’s spots in the standings. There are three winners every year, and this year the lucky slots were 29th, 26th and 20th. Whichever teams were holding down those spots were going to win. We just didn’t know that until Tuesday night.

(I’ll pause here to acknowledge that you can get into some “time traveler steps on a butterfly” arguments here, where changing the results of one game ends up impacting other things that happen in the future. If you feel very strongly about this and won’t be able to enjoy this premise because of it, I encourage you to go argue philosophy in the comment section of a Mirtle article while the rest of us have a little fun here.)

Some years, there’s no single game that would change a certain result. For example, in the Connor McDavid lottery in 2015, no team was even within five points of the Oilers on either side, so they could have won or lost a few extra games without changing anything. But other years, we get plenty of what if scenarios.

This is one of those years. By my count, there are 12 teams that could have won or lost one of the three lottery draws based on changing the outcome of just one game on their schedule. So that’s what we’re going to do today. Here are some of the (many) games from the 2018-19 season that could have altered the result of Tuesday’s draft lottery.

Arizona Coyotes – March 26

The Coyotes finished with 86 points, two up on Chicago for that winning No. 20 spot. But they also would have held the ROW tiebreaker, so just having them lose an extra game doesn’t do it. No, we have to flip the results of a game where they beat the Blackhawks. And luckily, we have two to choose from.

The first was a 4-1 win in Chicago on Oct. 18. But all else being equal we prefer more recent games – less time for those butterflies to get stepped on, and all – so let’s go with March 26. On that night, the Hawks and Coyotes went into the third period locked in a 0-0 tie. Arizona’s Nick Cousins banged home a rebound to make it 1-0, and the lead held up for a regulation win.

If the Hawks get that first goal instead and win the game, the Coyotes end up dropping to 20th, and they’re holding the lucky combo to move up to the third-overall pick. Instead, they’re picking 14th, all because of one game.

See how this works? Fun, right? Trust me, it’s going to get so much worse.

Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres – November 30

The Panthers finished tied with the Coyotes but make for an easier case because they wouldn’t have owned the tiebreaker against the Hawks, meaning all we have to do is turn any ROW into a regulation loss. Meanwhile, the Sabres finished two points back of the Rangers and held that tiebreaker, so they move into a winning spot with one additional regulation win. That gives us plenty of games to choose from, but it’s always fun to try to change two results with one game, and we get a chance to do that here.

We’ll head back to Nov. 30, as the Sabres visit the Panthers in Florida. The night before had seen Buffalo’s 10-game win streak come to an end at the hands of the Lightning, so you could expect a bit of a letdown for a tired road team on short rest. And indeed, the Panthers largely dominated the game, outshooting Buffalo 43-24. But Linus Ullmark stood on his head, and the Sabres held a 2-1 lead late in the third. That’s when Casey Nelson took a high-sticking penalty, and the Panthers converted on the power play to tie the game and send it to overtime, where Aleksander Barkov would win it.

If the Sabres manage to hold onto their lead, they win in regulation and end up finishing 26th and winning the second-overall pick, while the Panthers drop down to 20th and pick third. Two teams, two high picks, both gone because of one game.

Keep your sticks down, kids.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free seven-day trial.)

No comments:

Post a Comment