The draft lottery goes tomorrow night, meaning all you fans of the bad teams will have something to pay attention to for an hour before going back to hate-watching the playoffs. It’s a bit of a weird year, with some new rules kicking in and a consensus top pick in Shane Wright who’s considered blue chip but maybe not quite a generational can’t-miss. (That’s next year.)
You can find the real odds for each team here, but we’re not all that worried about those. Instead, we want to have some fun with what could happen, before reality shows up and makes a few of you very happy and the rest of you very angry.
The “Maximum Chaos” Ranking
The largest and most dedicated fan base in the league is Team Chaos and it’s not all that close. Here’s what we’re rooting for.
Not ranked: Detroit Red Wings — A high pick would be just what Steve Yzerman’s 25-year rebuild plan needed.
5. Chicago Blackhawks — Aside from launching roughly a million conspiracy theories — more on that in a bit — the Hawks are the only team in this year’s lottery that could make a genuinely good case that winning a top pick would be a bad thing. Plus getting Wright would probably convince Jonathan Toews and friends that they were Cup contenders again.
4. Montreal Canadiens — The Habs are always chaotic, and finishing off the only 32nd-place finish in the history of the NHL with their first No. 1 pick in 42 years would be very on-brand.
3. New Jersey Devils — They’ve already won the lottery for the No. 1 pick twice in the last few years, and that was part of the inspiration for last year’s announcement that the league would finally implement a limit on how many times the same team could win. But here’s the catch: The rule didn’t kick in until this year’s lottery, which means not only does it not prevent the Devils from winning Tuesday night, it wouldn’t even stop them from winning again in 2023. Yes, the team that helped us get a “You can’t win too often” rule could still land Wright and Connor Bedard. I feel like a lot of fans don’t realize that, so consider this step one in a two-part process.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets — Sitting with the 12th-best odds, the Blue Jackets are the first team that can’t move up all the way to No. 1, because teams can now only move up 10 spots. Here’s my question: What happens if we draw them first, which would give them the second pick? Is the next drawing now for the first pick? Third? Can the second team bump the Blue Jackets down to third? Has anyone actually thought any of this through? You’d think they must have, but this is the NHL, so …
1. Vegas Golden Knights — The Knights are going to show up on a few of these lists, and for good reason. They can’t move up all the way thanks to the new rules, but could still jump 10 spots, and if they do then they keep the pick they traded to the Sabres for Jack Eichel. If you haven’t noticed, other fan bases seem to have developed a sincere hatred for Vegas, and rejoiced in watching them miss the playoffs. A lottery win here would make everybody furious, and fury is its own type of chaos.
The “Who Needs it Most?” Rankings
Everyone needs a lottery win that would hand-deliver a stud prospect, but some teams need it more than others.
Not ranked: Anaheim Ducks — You have Trevor Zegras, don’t get greedy.
5. Vegas Golden Knights — It’s admittedly weird to put a 94-point team with a ton of talent here, but the Knights desperately need a star center on an entry-level contract.
4. Vancouver Canucks — They cleaned house during the season, but still seem like they’re permanently stuck between building for the present and the future. Adding the No. 1 pick for the first time in franchise history would nudge them in the right direction.
3. Montreal Canadiens — Maybe the worst team in the league should be higher, but the Habs already have a couple of young forwards that project as potential stars, and should get better just based on guys getting healthy and Carey Price (maybe) coming back.
2. New York Islanders — You can think this was a fluke year, or the beginning of the end. Either way, this is an old team without much of a prospect pipeline, and they desperately need some blue chips in the system. They can’t move all the way up to the top pick, and their odds are only 2%, but a miracle here would really help.
1. Arizona Coyotes — They were so bad this year that it feels like they must have been this way for a while, but they haven’t picked in the top five since 2018 (and that pick, Barrett Hayton, has only been so-so). They basically sat out the 2020 draft, and the pipeline is decidedly mediocre, so there’s really no question that they have to rank first here.
The “Who Actually Deserves It?” Rankings
With our standard disclaimer that nobody actually “deserves” the top pick in a system that’s designed to reward failure, some teams feel like more deserving winners than others.
Not ranked: Vegas Golden Knights — Immediately no.
5. Montreal Canadiens — This is a tough one. On the one hand, they just had a season from hell where everything went wrong. On the other hand, they’re one year removed from a trip to the Final. On another hand, they’re the Habs, so they’re always going to be divisive. At the very least, I think we can all agree that that was too many hands.
4. Buffalo Sabres — Another tricky one, especially since they’ve already had the top pick twice in the last few years. Still, they’ve been bad forever and their supposed franchise player bailed on them, so if you believe that the draft is supposed to help the worst teams, you can’t really argue with a Sabres win.
3. Detroit Red Wings — They never win the lottery, as their fans would be happy to remind you. Seriously, please let them win for once so that Wings fans will have something else to talk about.
2. Arizona Coyotes — They’re bad, they desperately need a franchise player, and they blatantly tanked in a league that chooses to encourage that. Until we smarten up and finally put the Gold Plan in place, the Coyotes are checking all the boxes that the league is putting in front of them.
1. Philadelphia Flyers — I know, I know, nobody outside the Flyers fan base wants this to happen. But this isn’t about what we want, so hear me out.
The Flyers aren’t usually near the better lottery odds because they’re always trying to win. And the two times they were, they had terrible luck. They won the second pick in 2017 but used it on Nolan Patrick, who never did much due to injury and is already gone. And way back in 2007, the last time the Flyers were legitimately awful, they finished dead last by double-digit points only to have the Hawks jump five spots and swipe Patrick Kane from them. That same Kane came back with the Hawks three years later and scored the Stanley Cup winner in the Flyers’ own building. I ranked that as the worst lottery loss ever a few years ago and it still stands today, so karma says the hockey gods owe them one.
(And if you’re still mad about this pick, just wait, I’m going to make them trade it away in a few sections.)
The “Get Your Tinfoil Hat” Rankings
This section used to be called “Conspiracy theories are fun” but, uh, [gestures to the world right now]. Still, we know that certain results will have hockey fans screaming that the fix was in.
Not ranked: Winnipeg Jets — Yeah, I don’t think the NHL is risking its integrity to deliver the No. 4 pick to its smallest market in its second-favorite country.
5. Philadelphia Flyers — Gary Bettman never said no to Ed Snider, you think he’s going to refuse a direct order from his ghost?
4. Vegas Golden Knights — Their odds are only 0.5%, so this one would feel mighty suspicious. Still, a $500 million entry fee should buy you something, and Bill Foley has never seemed like the most patient guy, so you do the math.
3. Montreal Canadiens — Hey, nice lottery setup you’ve got here, would be a shame if anyone lobbed a smoke bomb at it.
2. Arizona Coyotes — Bettman is committed to seeing the Coyotes succeed in Arizona with the same intensity as John Wick is committed to his dog. Could that lead to him rigging the lottery so his favorite team would finally have a franchise player to build around?
If he didn’t do it with local boy Auston Matthews in 2016 then obviously not. Of course it could, wake up sheeple!
1. Chicago Blackhawks — The Coyotes lost a first-round pick for having some draft prospects do pushups, but the Hawks somehow got away with just a fine for one of the worst scandals in NHL history. If one of the league’s most important markets hits on a 7.5% chance to move up, it won’t be hard to connect the dots.
The “What’s Best For Shane Wright (and other top prospects)?” Ranking
Oh yeah, the actual people involved in this story. I suppose we could consider what’s best for them
Not ranked: Arizona Coyotes — Sorry Coyotes fans, I know you’re sick of hearing about it. But starting an NHL career in front of a few thousand fans on a potentially terrible team doesn’t seem ideal. Wright would at least get to reunite with André Tourigny, who coached him with Team Canada.
5. Ottawa Senators — We’re not sure what direction the team is headed, but they’ve been good at developing young players and Wright is an Ontario kid.
4. Detroit Red Wings — The pieces are coming together, it’s a great hockey market, and Steve Yzerman might be able to tell him a thing or two about being a superstar center in this league.
3. Montreal Canadiens — Some players want the spotlight and others don’t, and I’m not sure where Wright would fit. But this fan base loves its young players — the Hall of Fame plaque for Nick Suzuki has already been engraved — and while the first few years could be rocky, there aren’t many better places to be when you’re winning. Also, Martin St. Louis.
2. Anaheim Ducks — It’s a talented young team that doesn’t seem too far away from contending, the city is beautiful, and there’d be great symbolism in taking the torch from Ryan Getzlaf.
1. Seattle Kraken — Maybe this is a weird call, but the Kraken would offer plenty of playing time, realistic expectations, and the chance to become the face of a franchise in a great city with a fan base that should be moderately patient for at least a few more years.
The “Which Team Might Trade Down?” Rankings
As always, this one is completely futile; the No. 1 pick has never been traded in the cap era. It’s fun to think about it, though, if only to imagine a world where GMs were actually interested in exploring every opportunity to leverage their assets.
Not ranked: Everyone, if we’re being realistic — I hate this boring league.
5. Ottawa Senators — The Senators have been collecting prospects for years now, and have some good ones. But there’s pressure to actually start winning, especially with new ownership potentially on the way. Does Pierre Dorion feel any heat to improve quickly rather than sticking to a long-term vision that might only benefit his replacement?
4. San Jose Sharks — This feels dumb because they’re old and obviously in need of a rebuild, with a new GM incoming. Still, they can’t really move their big contracts, so maybe you just have to double down. Dig up, stupid!
3. New Jersey Devils — They’ve already picked first twice, and took a center both times. And those guys are good, so maybe you figure that adding Wright is overkill. The Devils have won one playoff game in 10 years, spent big last offseason to contend again, and just watched the hated Rangers blow by them into a playoff spot.
2. Vegas Golden Knights — Would they be tempted to trade the pick for immediate help for next year? Definitely. Do they have the cap room to afford that? Absolutely not. Would they try to do it anyway? That does sound like something they would do, sure.
1. Philadelphia Flyers — To be clear, this would be a terrible idea. But with an owner who apparently doesn’t think they need a long-term rebuild and has said that “everything’s on the table,” it’s not hard to imagine the Flyers getting goofy here.
The “Unintentional Comedy” Rankings
Finally, the most important category: What could happen at the lottery that would let us all point and laugh at someone?
Not ranked: Seattle Kraken — A bad team that was trying its best wins the lottery, just the way it was intended. Boring.
5. Montreal Canadiens — Your 2022-23 Habs: The Price is Wright! Is that a thing? I feel like it’s not there yet, let’s workshop it a bit and try again in the summer.
4. Buffalo Sabres — This could make it eight times since 2010 that Taylor Hall’s current team or, when he’s in the playoffs, most recent lottery team picked No. 1. I kind of want this streak to continue for decades, even after he’s retired, as teams keep hiring him for made-up front office jobs just to have him around for one day a year.
3. Chicago Blackhawks — Their pick went to Columbus in the Seth Jones trade, but was lottery-protected. Getting another team to buy high on a declining asset, acquiring their first-round pick in the deal, watching that team crash and burn to the bottom of the standings, and then losing the pick due to the fine print would be just about the most Blue Jackets result ever.
2. The Canucks and Sabres somehow tie, and Gary Bettman unveils a giant novelty wheel to decide — Bring back the classics!
1. Anaheim Ducks — They win the second drawing, move up to the No. 2 slot and bump the Coyotes out of the way, and then Pat Verbeek smirks his way through the entire post-lottery interview while Bill Armstrong has to be restrained from physically attacking him because his feelings are hurt.
(Photo of NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly at 2021 draft lottery: Mike Stobe / NHLI via Getty Images)