An NHL team winning the draft lottery and the Stanley Cup is highly unlikely

Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The NHL’s fear of a team winning the draft lottery then hoisting the Stanley Cup in the same season due to an expanded playoff format is a very unrealistic scenario.

The possibility of the 2020 NHL Draft still taking place in June despite the season pause is getting more likely by the day. In late April, reports first surfaced that the NHL was looking into holding the upcoming draft in early June, regardless of whether the 2019-20 season has been completed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A few weeks later, and the idea has gotten enough traction in NHL circles that the possibility is being discussed at Board of Governors calls between league owners, with the intention of making a ruling one way or another in the next week or so. The idea of hosting the 2020 NHL Draft in June before the season ends and a Stanley Cup winner has been crowned causes more problems than it solves, and it’s clear even the league is having trouble coming to a consensus on the matter.

Alongside the possible June draft, the league is also looking at revising the draft lottery rules for this season only, reverting back to the old format which had just one winner that could only move up a maximum of four spots. That format would benefit teams such as the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators, who have been in the NHL’s basement all season, and hurt teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks and Buffalo Sabres that have had stretches of good and poor play this year.

The NHL’s thought process behind this is to stop the possibility that a team such as Chicago, Minnesota or Winnipeg would be able to win the draft lottery, then turn around and win the Stanley Cup under their proposed 24-team playoff format for this season. The idea at face value is quite wild to imagine — and is a very NHL thing to happen, should it actually occur — but the league’s fears of a dual draft lottery and Stanley Cup winner is highly, highly unlikely.

Could an NHL team win the draft lottery and the Stanley Cup this season?

It’s not wrong to think that there’s a possibility that the team that wins the NHL’s draft lottery could then turn around and win the Stanley Cup. However, looking deeper into the numbers, like data visualizer JFreshHockey did on Twitter, it seems as if the league’s fears aren’t as major as they believe it to be.

While this model, which uses Dom Luszczyszyn’s projections from The Athletic, only calculates for a 16-team playoff format that finishes the regular season instead of a 24-team format without a regular season, the Minnesota Wild come out on top as having the best odds at a 0.03 percent chance. Those odds are… very small, and while I am in no position to calculate the odds for a truncated 24-team playoff format, it’s also fair to say that those odds too would be slim.

It doesn’t seem worth it for the NHL to revert to their previous lottery format on the slight off chance that a team wins both the draft lottery and the Stanley Cup. Teams such as the Sabres, Ducks, Kings and Devils would be shafted by this format, as they would have lower chances for a top-three draft pick due to the rule changes and also miss out on the NHL’s expanded playoff by being outside the top 24 teams in the league.

Though it’s a change that would only impact this year, it seems strange for the NHL to throw out the results of the 2019-20 season when the majority of it has been played. Much like their idea to start the 2020-21 season as late as December, it feels like the NHL is just creating more problems than they’re solving by tampering this much with their existing rules.

The NHL is not in an enviable position as they figure out what to do with their fractured season due to the coronavirus. However, the league likely shouldn’t revert to their old lottery system that invalidates a handful of teams in limbo for a scenario that is very, very unlikely to occur.

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