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What will NHL do about draft lottery if the season is cancelled?

As the NHL deals with the very real possibility that the 2019-20 season is cancelled, it will have to decide what to do about the draft lottery. One idea that has been floated would be to go to the 2005 format, but doing that isn't as easy now as it was then.

You can’t really blame the NHL for holding out every hope that it can somehow salvage this season with integrity. For the 2019-20 campaign to be left hanging and unfinished would pose a logistical nightmare on a number of fronts. Would either John Carlson or Roman Josi win his first Norris Trophy? Would the Boston Bruins be awarded the Presidents’ Trophy for finishing first overall and would Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak take home the Jennings Trophy for the league’s best goals-against average? What to do about the Calder Trophy?

And then there are the details surrounding the 2020 draft and, more specifically, the draft lottery. There have been a number of scenarios floated. One that seems to be gaining traction is revisiting the 2005 draft when, after the 2004-05 season was wiped out after a lockout, all 30 teams had a chance of winning the draft lottery. The way the lottery worked in 2005, teams that had missed the playoffs and did not have a first overall pick the previous three seasons (Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Columbus, Rangers) had three balls in the draw; teams that had just one playoff appearance or a first-overall selection (Anaheim, Atlanta, Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Nashville, Phoenix) in that time span received two balls; and all the others (Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Detroit, Florida, Montreal, New Jersey, Islanders, Ottawa, Philadelphia, San Jose, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Vancouver and Washington) received one each. Teams with three balls held a 6.3 percent chance of winning the lottery, those with two had a 4.2 percent chance of winning and those with one held a 2.1 percent chance of winning the Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes.

“We are nowhere near to making those determinations at this point,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an email to “Any answer I might be able to give you would be complete speculation.”

If you want to talk about permanently altering the draft lottery process to what the league did in 2005, that’s certainly a worthy and relevant discussion to have because it makes a lot of sense. But what worked in 2005 for an aborted season would not work near as well if the plug were pulled 15 years later. First, in 2005 there was no season by which the NHL could judge which teams were good and which were bad, so no reference point. But, for goodness sakes, that is not the case this time around. More than 85 percent of the regular-season schedule had been played when the league took a pause March 12 and each team had played a minimum of 68 games. We had a very good, but not complete, picture of which teams needed most needed help in the draft. The Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators constructed their rosters and made moves designed at giving them the best odds of winning the lottery. As it stands now, the Senators are seeded second and third in the draft lottery, by virtue of having the San Jose Sharks’ first-round pick, and a combined 25 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick. The Red Wings have an 18.5 percent chance of winning.

Under the 2005 model, the Red Wings and Senators would likely at best have a 6.3 percent chance of landing the top pick and would share those odds with Arizona and Florida. We say likely because we have no idea what the league would do with first-round picks that have been traded and whether it would use the 2019-20 standings to this point to determine playoff positions for this season. See what a mess this would create?

When the Arizona Coyotes acquired Taylor Hall in November, they gave up a package that included a conditional first-round pick. If the Coyotes’ selection were in the top three of the 2020 draft, that first-rounder would move to 2021. Well, under the 2005 scenario, the Coyotes would share the highest odds of winning the lottery. If they were to land in the top three, would that constitute their pick, thereby allowing them to defer the pick for a year or would the Devils claim that pick? In 2005, there were no first-round picks that had been dealt previously so they didn’t have to deal with that problem. As it stands now, the Senators would have two balls and the Sharks one. So does that mean the Senators effectively get the Sharks ball, which would also give them three?

At this point, perhaps the best and most equitable way to go about the draft lottery would be to rank the teams according to points percentage when the league took a pause. That would mean the Islanders and Vancouver would be considered playoff teams, while Columbus and Winnipeg would be considered lottery teams. If you’re going to wipe out this season just because it wasn’t finished for purposes of the draft lottery, then it would only be fair to wipe it out for everything else. And if there’s no season, there are no trophies, either. So should Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes, who combined for 125 games and 83 points this season, go back into the Calder Trophy hopper for next season as part of a double cohort?

Of course they shouldn’t. Enough of the season was played to give us an idea of who deserved the post-season awards and where teams should be seeded in the draft lottery. To arbitrarily change course now wouldn’t be fair.

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