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Lottery chaos means Islanders (and a bunch of other teams) have a shot at the first overall pick

This is so NHL.

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Rimouski Oceanic v Quebec Remparts
Imagine this in blue and orange (but not the OIlers).
Photo by Mathieu Belanger/Getty Images

Did you skip Phase I of this year’s NHL Lottery Drawing last night on NBCSN? That’s understandable. Going into the event, it seemed the Islanders would most likely not be involved anyway. There’s also almost no reason to watch NBCSN unless hockey or the Olympics are on, so you may have forgotten it even existed on your cable package.

But in a twist that was both surprising and also the most NHL thing that possibly could happen, a “placeholder team” won the right to draft first overall, disappointing a slew of truly awful teams and giving one team destined for a play-in series an unexpected chance at landing the first overall pick in the next draft (whenever that happens).

The Los Angeles Kings moved all the way up to second overall, and the Ottawa Senators will pick third overall courtesy of the San Jose Sharks and a first round pick in the Erik Karlsson trade. The Sens’ original pick will come fifth and the Detroit Red Wings, who endured an absolutely unbearable 17-win season, will pick fourth, a devastating turn of events for a franchise looking to build itself around the expected No. 1 pick, QMJHL forward Alexis Lafreniere.

But back to the Islanders. As we know, when the league resumes (IF it resumes, can’t forget that), they will face off against the Florida Panthers in a best-of-five play-in round with the winner going on to the actual playoffs. Now, thanks to the lottery, whoever loses that series and any of the other seven play-in series could be the team that gets awarded the top pick.

Of course, that also means that the Penguins, Rangers, Hurricanes or any number of teams could also end up with the top pick as well. (The Rangers, Hurricanes and Maple Leafs have a first rounder situation that was a little complex and now is not.)

But let’s save that pessimism for another time. Like, say, the end of this article.

Odds n’ Sods

Per the NHL’s release, “The winning placeholder, designated Team E, had a 2.5 percent chance to be assigned the No. 1 pick, the 12th-best odds among the 15 entries.” This all feels so strange and unusual because everything now is strange and unusual. But it’s as if, in a normal season, the NHL had a team with the 12th best odds suddenly jump into the pole position. Unlikely, yes, but also not completely insane.

At least, that’s what Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman is telling himself right now.

“To be honest with you, not surprised,” Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman said. “We had an 18.5 percent chance of winning the first pick. So realistically, I’m prepared to be sitting here today not talking about the first pick. I’m not really surprised. The bottom eight, or the eight playoff teams, had a 24.5 percent chance combined of getting the pick. So the odds were better that the first pick went to the bottom eight than it did us.”

Of course, Yzerman himself was picked fourth overall in 1983 and he worked out okay, so there’s a good chance Detroit gets a good player in that slot, too. According to draft watcher Corey Pronman at The Athletic:

Quinton Byfield (C, Sudbury-OHL), Tim Stutzle (LW, Mannheim-DEL), Lucas Raymond (LW, Frolunda-SHL), and Cole Perfetti (C, Saginaw-OHL) are also top prospects expected to be selected high in the draft.

So what would the odds be for the teams that lose the play-in rounds? Per The Bobfather, they’d all be looking at a flat 12.5 percent shot at the first overall pick.

Should those play-in rounds not happen due to COVID-19 or any other reason, there’s a plan as well.

The Islanders, by virtue of .588 winning percentage at the time of the league’s pause, would not be one of those teams. Their pick would be 17th overall in that scenario, but it wouldn’t be theirs anyway.

Senators GM Pierre Dorion put on an optimistic face but seemed disappointed when asked about his team’s fortunes at the lottery. But hey, the Sens pick third and fifth, which isn’t bad at all. If the Islanders do come up with the first overall pick - again, a highly unlikely but not implausible scenario now - the pick will not go to Ottawa. The first round choice sent to the Senators in the J-G Pageau trade is top three protected, and would become a 2021 first rounder if the Islanders’ pick is No. 1.

This all sets up a very intriguing difference in philosophy going forward for Islanders fans. Would you rather lose to the Panthers, missing a chance at a Stanley Cup but getting a legit crack at first overall? Or would you rather go for the whole damn thing in a year in which almost nothing makes sense?

HaahAhhaHAA! Who are we kidding?