Friday, June 26, 2020

The 2020 draft lottery power rankings

Every year, I look forward to writing these words: It’s time for the annual draft lottery power rankings.

And this year, I get to add a few more words to the end of that sentence that I never imagined I’d need to use.

Part… one?

Yes, this year is weird. The whole year, I mean, but also this year’s draft lottery. For the first time ever, and hopefully also the last time, we’re looking at a pandemic-related rule change that means that tonight’s lottery might only be the first of two drawings we need to figure out who’ll pick where at the draft in … well, I guess we don’t know that either. Like I said, a weird year.

If you’re not up to speed on the rules of this year’s lottery, you can do some last-minute cramming here. But the basics are that we’ll draw for the top three spots this week, based on the usual field of 15 teams, with the catch that we don’t know who eight of those teams are. If all three winning teams are from the bottom seven, then we’re done. But if one (or more) picks go to the other eight teams, we’ll have to wait for a second drawing held after the play-in round is over, at which point the eight eliminated teams will get a second lottery to see who gets those picks.

Confused? Don’t worry, everyone else is too and we’re just faking it. For our purposes here, the important thing is that we’ve got more teams than usual to consider in this year’s power rankings. As usual, we’ll be breaking down the top five teams in various categories, starting with one I’m sure we can all agree on.

The ‘Who Actually Deserves It?’ Ranking

The idea of anyone deserving to win a lottery is a funny concept, and some fans might answer “nobody.” But until we get the Gold Plan and make teams actually earn the top pick, we can at least acknowledge that some teams deserve a break more than others.

Not ranked: Pittsburgh Penguins or Edmonton Oilers — Both teams went from playoff locks to play-in question marks. If they lost in an unprecedented qualifier of questionable fairness, wouldn’t they deserve a consolation prize of some lottery luck? (Remembers the two team’s histories of picking first overall.) No they would not, screw these guys.

5. Buffalo Sabres — Do their owners deserve it? No. Does their front office? But their fan base could absolutely use some good news, so I’m putting them on the list. Yes, they already won a lottery, back in 2018. But they finished dead last that year, meaning they’ve never actually moved up in the lottery in franchise history, and they were passed for the first overall pick on two other occasions.

4. Anaheim Ducks — They’ve never picked first overall in franchise history, and only picked in the top three twice. And one of those was in 2005, when they got to spend 10 minutes thinking they might have landed Sidney Crosby before settling on Bobby Ryan.

3. Los Angeles Kings — Here’s a fun bit of trivia: The Kings won the NHL’s first-ever lottery, all the way back in 1995. But they only moved up from the seventh slot to third overall, and they used the pick on Aki Berg in a draft where Shane Doan went seventh and Jarome Iginla went 11th, so did they really win at all? They did not. And in the quarter-century since, the Kings have picked in the top five on five occasions, but never first overall, a spot they haven’t held since taking Rick Pagnutti in 1967. They’re due, is that I’m saying.

2. Ottawa Senators (via San Jose) — If the Senators win the lottery with their own pick, fine, great, congratulations on being a very bad team for the third year in a row. But if they win it with the Sharks’ pick, one they acquired in the Erik Karlsson trade that just about everyone thought they’d lost? That’s called earning it.

1. Detroit Red Wings — We don’t need to overthink this. The lottery is meant to discourage tanking, and we can debate the semantics over whether that’s what the Red Wings did this year. But the whole point of using the standings to determine draft order is to offer help to the teams that need it, and no team needs more help than a Red Wings squad that just had arguably the worst season of the cap era, and maybe beyond. And if you’re still not sold, remember that they haven’t picked in the top five in 30 years.

The ‘Which Team Needs It Most?’ Ranking

Yeah, I know, they all do, especially the team you cheer for. But some teams need the help — or just the momentary jolt of happiness — more than others.

Not ranked: Any team that finished over .500 this year — Everyone wants to win, but these teams don’t need to win.

5. New Jersey Devils — Nobody wants them to win given they’ve already had two recent first overall picks. But do they need the help? (Checks standings.) They do.

4. Ottawa Senators — They’ve added some promising pieces, but the rebuild isn’t yet at the point where Eugene Melnyk’s “five-year run of unparalleled success” seems imminent. A top-three pick or two would certainly help.

3. Detroit Red Wings — It feels weird to rank them this low, and obviously the Red Wings desperately need help. But the thing is, they need so much help that even adding Alexis Lafreniere or another top prospect is only going to move the needle so much. If they win a high pick, they’ll move from being the 31st-best team this season all the way up to the projected 31st-best next year, and maybe the year after that but I’m not sure because don’t forget there will be 32 teams by then. In the long term, the Wings need this the most. But if we’re talking right now, there are two other teams that could at least make a case.

2. Montreal Canadiens — If this list was “Which GM needs it most?” the Habs probably take top spot. But even as it stands, this a franchise that still seems to desperately want the sort of French-Canadian star they built dynasties around in the good old days. There are only so many of those guys out there, and Lafreniere might be the next one. Their draft odds won’t be great, but look on the bright side — they’re better than the odds of an underpriced offer sheet working a few years from now.

1. Buffalo Sabres — The team needs it. The new front office needs it. More than anything, the fans need it. This is a team that desperately needs some good news. And winning the draft lottery would definitely be good news, right? Uh, maybe hold that thought…

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