In a normal NHL season, this would’ve been the offseason. And the first round of the 2020 NHL draft would take place Friday in Montreal, with the remaining six rounds on Saturday.
Obviously, nothing has been normal about this NHL season. There has been no hockey since March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic and there will be no draft this weekend. Instead, starting at 7 p.m. Friday we get the NHL draft lottery — normally held shortly after the conclusion of the regular season in April.
It seems there are phases to everything in the NHL’s coronavirus world. In terms of return to play, the league currently is engaged in Phase 2 — or small-group — workouts.
When it comes to the draft lottery, Friday night’s exercise represents Phase 1 of what could be a two-phase process. Confused? Join the club.
In announcing this year’s draft lottery process on May 26, even commissioner Gary Bettman admitted it was “a bit complicated, and I apologize for that.”
Here’s what happens Friday:
The draft order for the seven teams that did not qualify for the NHL’s planned 24-team postseason tournament could be determined in Phase 1.
The seven non-qualifiers are Detroit, Ottawa, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, New Jersey and Buffalo. San Jose is a non-participant Friday because it traded its first-round pick to Ottawa as part of the Erik Karlsson deal in September 2018.
As a result, the Senators have two chances to win the Alexis Lafreniere sweepstakes. The forward from Saint-Eustache, Quebec, is the heavy favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft — whenever that takes place. (No dates for the actual draft have been set.)
Lafreniere averaged more than two points per game this season in junior hockey, with 35 goals and 77 assists in 52 games for Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major league.
As far as the lottery, there will be three separate drawings Friday to decide who gets the top three overall picks in the draft, with the odds weighted based on reverse order of finish in regular season points percentage.
The odds for last-place Detroit are 18.5 percent. But with its pick and San Jose’s, the combined odds for Ottawa are 25 percent. As each of the three picks are awarded, the odds are adjusted for each remaining team.
If all three selections go to bottom seven teams, there is no Phase 2. Under that scenario, picks No. 4 through 7 go to the remaining bottom-seven teams in reverse order of points percentage. Picks 8-15 then will be awarded, again in reverse order of regular season points percentage, to the eight teams that are ousted in the best-of-5 play-in series expected to take place in early August.
In a normal year, in which 15 teams don’t make the playoffs, the order of the top 15 draft picks is decided at the draft lottery. But the NHL isn’t doing that this year because under the expanded postseason field of 24 teams, it would be mathematically possible for a team that won the Stanley Cup to have the No. 1 overall pick. The league doesn’t want that to happen.
So Phase 2 occurs only if any or all of the top three picks Friday are not awarded to a bottom-seven team. There will be eight “placeholder” spots Friday for teams 8-15 on Friday, listed only as Team A through Team H.
If any of the top three slots end up going to a placeholder team, Phase 2 takes place after the play-in round and before the round of 16. If that’s the case the eight losers in the play-in round all will have equal odds — at 12.5 percent — to get one of the top 3 slots.
The Blues have a first-round pick this year, but as one of the top four seeds in the Western Conference, they won’t be taking part in Phase 1. Or Phase 2.
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