I’ll say this about the NHL Draft Lottery: it has certainly been entertaining over the past few years! That was certainly the case this time around.
COVID-19 forced the league to ultimately cut its regular season short. The league decided to create a 24-team playoff format specifically for this season to ensure that the teams that were fighting for playoff spots before the pause would have a chance to earn a berth into the first round.
Typically, the 15 teams that miss the playoffs are entered into the Draft Lottery. They are assigned odds based on the regular season standings, with the worst teams having the best odds at picking first. For some reason that is far beyond me, the NHL decided to conduct this year’s Draft Lottery before the first round playoff match-ups have even been set! There are 16 teams that are in purgatory between being in the first round of the playoffs and watching from the sidelines, and they were all involved in the Draft Lottery.
Wouldn’t you know it, one of those 16 teams has won the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery! Detroit had the best odds of winning the 1st pick, but they will be picking 4th. The Senators had two picks in the lottery. They could’ve picked 1st and 2nd, but they will pick 3rd and 5th. In a cruel twist of fate, those two teams will pick behind a team that currently has their eyes on winning a Stanley Cup this season.
2020 is the year that keeps on giving.
Chicago jumped up to the 3rd spot from outside of the top 10 in last year’s draft lottery. They could end up picking 1st this season. This after winning 3 Stanley Cups in the last decade! Speaking of recent multiple Stanley Cup champions, the Penguins could also end up with the 1st pick.
Taylor Hall’s teams have won 5 Draft Lotteries so far in his career. The Coyotes could make it 6 for him this year since the pick they traded to NJ to get Hall is lottery protected!
Two of the league’s biggest markets, Toronto and New York, could also end up with the 1st pick. I’m sure Gary Bettman would be devastated if the Leafs or the Rangers were to be able to add another star player.
Presumptive 1st overall pick Alexis Lafreniere still has a chance of ending up in Montreal, where I’m sure that they would LOVE to add a French-Canadian star.
In fact, Ottawa is the only Canadian team that DOESN’T have a chance to win the 1st overall pick now after they had those two picks in the lottery! It could even go to our beloved Edmonton Oilers. Lafreniere could join the not-so exclusive list of recent Oilers 1st overall picks that includes Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, and Connor McDavid.
Every Oilers fan wants the team to win the Stanley Cup. That is clearly the preferred outcome in this situation. However, since the Draft Lottery is the topic du jour, I want to take some time to talk about how drafting Lafreniere could impact the Oilers in the short-term and long-term future.
Lafreniere is a can’t miss prospect! He lit up the QMJHL by scoring 112 points in 52 games for Rimouski this past season. He was a big piece of Canada’s gold medal 2020 World Jr team. He got 10 points in 5 games in the tournament. He was also the leader for Canada’s entry in the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. He was tied for the tournament lead with Russia’s Vasily Podkolzin with 11 points in 5 games.
I had the opportunity to watch Lafreniere live in that tournament. The thing about him that doesn’t get talked about a lot is his fire. He wasn’t afraid to be physical, and he is quite strong on his skates. He also had moments where he would seemingly just decide that he was going to take the game over. He’s not the fastest skater out there, and he won’t dazzle with his stickhandling; but he does everything at a high level. When you pair that with his fire, you’ve got one hell of a player.
Lafreniere is a LW. The Oilers have a clear need for an impact LW. There’s certainly a fit there. Edmonton could be an ideal place for Lafreniere because of the presence of McDavid and Draisaitl. The Oilers can have two top lines because of those two. The Nuge-Draisaitl-Yamamoto line was dominant when they were together this season. They can handle the toughest minutes. Then you can put Lafreniere with McDavid. That could be scary!
You could also put McDavid and Draisaitl back together with Kassian, and then put Lafreniere on a line centered by Nuge. There are a lot of possible combinations, but the point is that Lafreniere would not be leaned upon to be the saviour of a franchise in Edmonton. He could play with far less pressure than he would have in a place like Montreal where he would reach a God-like status in his rookie season simply because he is a French-Canadian star in the making.
The Oilers could have 3 seasons of Lafreniere on an ELC just as McDavid and Draisaitl are really starting to approach their peak levels of performance. For a cap strapped team like the Oilers, that would be a dream scenario!
The problem would arise AFTER Lafreniere’s ELC would expire though. The kid would be due for a raise, and based on how well other recent RFAs have fared with their second contracts, that raise could be substantial. For example, Mitch Marner signed a 6-year deal with an AAV of $10,893,000 when he was fresh out of his ELC. Three years from now when Lafreniere reaches that point, he could sign for even more than that.
If that were the case, then the Oilers would have McDavid at $12.5 million, Draisaitl at $8.5 million, and Lafreniere somewhere north of $10 million. That would be $31 million dedicated to 3 players. Does that sound like any other teams that we know?
Chicago hasn’t had any sort of success ever since Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews signed their matching $10.5 million AAV contracts in 2015. They’ve bled talent ever since then. Panarin, Teravainen, Ladd, Hjalmarsson, Hartman, Hinostroza, and Anisimov are all players that Chicago has had to part with in order to stay cap compliant since Kane and Toews signed their big deals. The team hasn’t done any better than a 1st round knock-out ever since then.
How about Toronto? They’ve got Marner, Tavares, and Matthews all at approximately $11 million cap hits. We all know that they haven’t done any better than a first round knock-out in recent years either! They’ve also bled depth for the past few seasons. van Riemsdyk, Bozak, Kadri, and Gardiner have all changed teams since the Leafs started doling out those big contracts. If they think they’re keeping Tyson Barrie past this season, then they’re crazy! The big contracts have left their team with much less depth.
My point is that the Oilers would face a similar fate if they were lucky enough to win the right to draft Lafreniere. They would have to move on from Nugent-Hopkins. They would have to move on from Darnell Nurse in a couple of years. They would likely have to move on from Adam Larsson as well. They would have to hope that a lot of these young defence prospects like Bouchard, Broberg, and Samorukov turn out quickly and would be willing to take cheap contracts after their ELCs expire.
Sure, drafting Lafreniere would be really exciting! It would set the Oilers up for a 3-year window where they could really do some damage to the league. However, after looking at the long-term cap situation and how teams with similar cap structures have fared recently, I won’t be cheering for the Oilers to win this year’s draft lottery. I’ll be cheering for them to beat Chicago and go on a long run this summer!!