When the NHL held the first stage of its complicated draft lottery last week, we got the most chaotic outcome possible: An unknown placeholder team winning the first overall pick. We won’t know what team will earn the right to draft Alexis Lafreniere — this year’s consensus top pick — until eight teams are eliminated from the postseason play-in round and a second lottery stage is held. Those eight teams will all be entered into Stage 2 of the lottery, where they’ll all have equal odds (12.5%) of slotting into that No. 1 spot.
But for now, there are 16 teams still in the running, which means there’s potential for things to get a lot more chaotic. As such, I’ve decided to rank the tiers of chaos (low, medium, high) for each possible outcome. Which teams picking first would be somewhat surprising but, overall, pretty fine? And, more importantly, which teams would send the hockey world into a total fit?
Let’s consult the chaos meter.
Montreal Canadiens: Lafreniere to Montreal seems like it would be a natural fit. I mean, just look at his last name… can’t you already see it on the back of a Habs jersey? The Canadiens could desperately use a superstar offensive talent on their roster and if they don’t advance past Pittsburgh in the play-in round (they probably won’t) then they’ll have a shot to draft a Quebec-born prospect who fits that bill. It’s too perfect.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild have been stuck in No Man’s Land for quite a while — not good enough to be taken seriously as a contender, not bad enough to enter into a full rebuild and maximize their chances at a top talent that can help them turn things around. That could change this year and, honestly, winning the lottery would seem kind of overdue for the Wild at this point. The team is far too irrelevant for a franchise located in one of America’s greatest hockey hotbeds.
Columbus Blue Jackets: After losing most of their high-end talent in free agency last offseason, we pretty much expected the Blue Jackets to be involved in this year’s draft lottery… just not like this. They had a surprisingly solid year and, as such, CBJ awaits a play-in matchup with the Leafs. But if they were to lose and end up picking first in the draft, I don’t think anyone would end up too shocked or appalled. They could use a new cornerstone.
New York Rangers: After getting lucky in the lottery and picking second last year, the Rangers have established plenty of momentum and seem to be in an expedited rebuild, so picking first overall this year would be another huge step forward in that process. It would be a surprising twist of fate but not necessarily an unpalatable one.
Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks already have a strong young core with the likes of Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, etc. Adding Lafreniere would be a very fun addition to that young group.
Nashville Predators: The Predators find themselves in the lottery discussion because of a largely disappointing and frustrating season, but they managed to find their stride a bit over the final stretch before the pause. They’ve got a talented roster and Lafreniere could provide an immediate offensive boost that helps put them over the top.
Calgary Flames: After finishing as the top team in the West last year, the Flames took a step back this season and will have a tough play-in matchup against the Winnipeg Jets. If they don’t make it out alive, they’ll at least have a shot at adding another weapon to an offense that can be really explosive.
Florida Panthers: The Panthers are one of the more frustrating organizations in the entire league. Aside from their struggles to fill their own building, they’ve also been a bit of a mess management-wise and have consistently failed to get anything substantial of a good core group in South Florida. You’d have to be a bit worried for Lafreniere’s sake if the Panthers ended up at the top of the board.
New York Islanders: The Islanders winning the lottery would be a major coup. Since losing John Tavares, they’ve been offensively anemic. Sure, they’ve got some nice talent up front in guys like Mathew Barzal and Jordan Eberle but they’ve largely shifted to a defensive identity just out of necessity, and it has worked for the most part. But lucking into a top offensive talent as the franchise is entering a new era on Long Island? That could be a gamechanger.
Winnipeg Jets: The Jets have firepower up front and really need defensive help in front of Connor Hellebuyck but winning the lottery could still help them accomplish that in one way or another. It would make some of their other talent on the wing a little more expendable, and perhaps they’d be willing to move on from Patrik Laine if it meant replacing him with Lafreniere.
Carolina Hurricanes: This one borders on a high-level threat. The Hurricanes are building something special and they’ve got a bunch of young, exciting talent already. They went on a Cinderella run to the Eastern Conference Final last spring. Throwing Lafreniere into the mix could help put them over the top and turn them into a serious contender immediately.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Despite a plethora of injuries to key players this season, the Penguins are one of the better teams in the NHL. They had the seventh-best regular season point percentage in the league but, because the East was highly competitive, they were fifth in the conference and were entered into the play-in round/lottery. It would be stunning if the Pens didn’t make it out of their play-in matchup against the Canadiens, but it would be even more stunning if the seventh-best team in the league this season (and a team that won back-to-back Cups just a few years ago) landed a potential franchise cornerstone to play alongside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the back half of their careers.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Their roster is stacked with an awesome offensive core that includes Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, but Toronto is still quite accustomed to playoff disappointment. The current group hasn’t been able to get it done yet. Another disappointing season and early exit from the postseason this year would be much easier to swallow if it resulted in Lafreniere. Adding another elite offensive talent to their current group at minimal cost would allow the Leafs to move a newly expendable piece in order to address some holes on the defensive side. Such a fate would likely make the rest of the hockey world implode while Toronto got more dangerous.
Edmonton Oilers: Not long ago, the Oilers were fearsome perennial threats — not on the ice, but in the lottery. They famously won three straight lotteries and had the top overall pick four times in six years from 2010-2015. That final lottery win helped them land Connor McDavid, who is arguably the best player in hockey now. Despite that incredible luck with the ping pong balls, the Oilers are still waiting to turn the corner. They were second in the Pacific before the shutdown, so they could be picking up some momentum. If the balls bounce their way and they luck into the top overall selection once again this year, it will be a hilarious twist that solidifies their status as LEGENDARY lottery contestants. Plus, placing Lafreniere on the wing beside McDavid or Leon Draisaitl? That’s exactly the kind of secondary support the Oilers are desperate for.
Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks are the second-worst team in the 24-team expanded playoff picture, so you’d think that they’d have more of a claim to the top overall pick than a lot of other teams on this list. And you’d be right, considering their struggles in recent years. But they still fall under the category of a high-level chaos threat due to the fact that the entire hockey world would scream “RIGGED!” if Chicago ended up winning this thing. We all know that the NHL loves when Chicago is relevant and that market is thriving — as evidenced by the 9,000 outdoor games and primetime TV matchups they’ve landed over the last decade. Because of that, the Blackhawks lucking their way to the top of the board would come off as rather convenient. Letting Lafreniere play alongside Patrick Kane would help make the ‘Hawks more interesting and/or competitive, and a lot of people would be rather peeved about that.
Arizona Coyotes: The most chaotic thing about Arizona winning the lottery would be the fact that “lottery ball specialist” Taylor Hall is on their roster. Hall, who was a first overall pick himself, has been on the roster of four lottery-winning teams (Edmonton twice and New Jersey twice) since entering the league in 2010. If he does it again in Arizona after being traded earlier this season? That has conspiracy written all over it.