I’m not sure disappointment would be the right word to describe the feelings of Canucks fan as the draft lottery results were revealed last night. The first mouth drop came just three picks in when the 13th-overall pick was revealed to belong to the Winnipeg Jets, thus solidifying Philadelphia’s possession of a top-3 pick. As if fans weren’t shaky enough, the Dallas Stars then jumped up five spots from No. 8. Then finally, the final blow came as the 27th-place New Jersey Devils were announced as the final team in the top 3.
For the second straight year, the Vancouver Canucks will be drafting fifth overall. Optimism was booming before the draft. Talks of Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier had already begun to escalate, with Casey Mittelstadt’s name creeping up if the Canucks were to land at 3rd-overall. Some, however, remained hesitant to engage in any talk because, knowing the luck of the franchise, the Canucks were going to fall.
And that, they did. For days, Trevor Linden had been cautioning fans by saying there was a better chance of the team dropping than there was to win the lottery. That’s what lotteries are about – it’s meant to be a game of chance. Though visibly shocked, Linden saw it coming.
Linden: “Honestly, what can you do? They’re bouncing ping-pong balls out of a water cooler. There’s not a thing you can do about it. I think you get disappointed when you have control over a situation, and this you don’t. I’m honest when I saw this, I really am excited about the player we could get at five. In this particular draft, it’s not the situation of the last two years.”
This was the second year of using the new lottery system. Initially implemented to prevent teams from tanking, the system is flawed because it presents a reasonable possibility of good NHL teams receiving an unnecessary top-3 draft pick. As if there were critics prior to the reveal, there are bound to be even more today. There are significant differences between teams like Tampa Bay and Philadelphia, and Colorado and Vancouver. The purpose of the NHL Entry Draft is to compensate the NHL teams based on the success of their season. If the team did poorly, they should have a high pick of the lot of draft-eligible prospects. The top-ranked prospects are meant to go to teams who’ve suffered disappointing seasons – not the other way around.
The Philadelphia Flyers were in the thick of a playoff hunt throughout the season. They had a 2.2% chance of winning the first-overall pick. It would be hard to argue against the drawing process because it is a lottery and it is literally a game of chance. Philadelphia, Dallas, and New Jersey were incredibly lucky as the lottery balls were drawn. If one were to run the draft simulator, it’s clear that anything could happen. Yes, Colorado, Vancouver, and Arizona/Vegas had better odds, but those odds were slim from the start.
The problem I have is the inclusion of all non-playoff teams. As stated previously, there is a large difference between the state of the Philadelphia Flyers, and that of the Colorado Avalanche. Because it’s a game of chance, the lower-odds teams mathematically being successful was extreme slight. I’m not saying this just because I’m frustrated, but the NHL should honestly give a complete review of the fairness of the draft lottery. Instead of including all non-playoff teams, it would be fairer for the naturally weak teams – possibly the bottom ten – to be the only ones participating. New Jersey winning the lottery isn’t as big of a deal as Philadelphia getting a top-3 pick. The Devils were pretty bad this season, but their chances leant on the more favourable (although still pessimistic) side. The Stars were also poor this season, and their odds were in the middle of the pack. Philadelphia was on the complete opposite side of the spectrum, and the odds were stacked against them. Their chances were extremely slim, but they got so lucky and won a lottery anyways.
Let’s make an obvious point: after their terrible season, Colorado needed a top-3 pick abundantly more than New Jersey, Dallas, and Philadelphia. If it seemed like the Canucks had it the worst, the Avalanche were at the top of the mountain. Their season was brutal – the worst we’ve seen since 2012-13. Colorado was the ultimate loser of the draft lottery, and they lost to a team who arguably shouldn’t even be considered. Situations like these show that anything can happen during the lottery. As if there were any more reasons to question the format, his year only emphasizes the ordeal.
Linden on the draft lottery format: “I’ve talked to Francesco about it. At the end of the day, it’s fair for everyone. Certain teams got lucky tonight, maybe one day we’ll get lucky. Those decisions are made at the executive board level. I have no doubt that there is every precaution taken that this was carried out in an ethical way. Francesco was in the (lottery) room watching tonight. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. It’s a lottery.”
Although all the talk recently has been focusing on the likes of Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier, the tide is turning. Management will shift it’s focus to the “playmaking centre” and “power-play defenseman” that they have publicly discussed. If you want even a tiny bit of optimism, it’s that it’s better to fall in this year’s draft compared to next year’s. Obviously, we do not know what next season holds, but dropping this year will not have as much of an impact as it could in other years. Patrick and Hischier are clearly No. 1 and No. 2, but the gaps between those players and the No. 3 to 8 are not significantly great. As Linden has stated before, “Perhaps the player you pick at four or five will be every bit as good as the player at one or two.”
Linden:“We don’t sit around talking about the top two players, we talk about players in the top ten who could be in the mix. I really believe this is the year you could do really well. Outside the top two, that player might not show up for a year or two but that’s okay. When you’re projecting down the road, that’s where you want the best player.”
With the disappointment out of the way, what happens next? The NHL Entry Draft is just under two months away on June 23rd and 24th in Chicago. The expansion draft will be held on June 18th to 21st, and the combine is from May 28th to June 3rd in Buffalo. Management and the scouting staff have a lot of work ahead of them. As a crucial part of the rebuilding process, the pressure is on to draft well. Although this draft is average, they need to find diamonds in the rough.
Linden on the Canucks schedule:“World Championships, we’ve got some draft discussions, combine in late May, then the full month of June to prepare for amateur meetings, and pro meetings in May. It’s going to be a full schedule with the expansion draft. It’s an exciting time of year. You’re thinking about ways to make your team better and build something that’s sustainable.”
The results of the lottery were shocking and disappointing. Is it rigged? Probably not. The odds favoured Colorado and Vancouver, but that specific lottery drew out arguably the worst possible result for every bottom-feeding team. It sucks, but there’s nothing we can do. The system isn’t meant to favour the bad teams. If it were, there would be fewer participants and higher probabilities. It treats everyone the same, regardless of how bad they actually are. They’re given number combinations, and some have more than others. This lottery was simply unlucky.