On Saturday night, the league held its annual draft lottery to determine the first-round selection order for this year’s draft. The Buffalo Sabres won the number-one pick after having the fewest points during the regular season. Winning the draft lottery gives the Sabres the opportunity to take top prospect Rasmus Dahlin, who has the potential to change a team’s outlook in the immediate future. For the Sabres, Dahlin means drafting a future number-one puck-moving defenseman similar to Erik Karlsson.
The teams that didn’t win the lottery have the consolation of drafting a talented prospect but in a draft like this year’s in which there is a sizable drop-off after the top prospect, losing the lottery is significant. For some teams, the difference in jumping over another team in the lottery came down to a single win. Here, I’ll look at the teams in the top 10 of the lottery that didn’t win and pinpoint individual games or stretches of games that ultimately hindered their odds to receive the first overall pick.
The Carolina Hurricanes entered the draft lottery with the 11th-best odds and a three-percent chance to win the lottery and a 9.9-percent chance to draft in the top three but jumped up to the second selection. Their 83 points are the second-most in the past 10 years for a team to be drafting in the top three, after last year’s Philadelphia Flyers with 88 points. With 21 more points than the Sabres, the Hurricanes had to lose 11 more games to finish with fewer points than Buffalo.
The Hurricanes had five winning streaks of at least three games but never a streak of more than four. In three of the streaks, Carolina beat teams that will draft in the top five at least twice, winning eight games against fellow lottery teams in those streaks. Had they lost those eight games, they would have finished with 16 fewer points and the second-best odds to win the draft lottery.
Three Straight Wins Over Atlantic Division Teams
The Hurricanes did well against teams below them in the standings. They went 3-0-0 against the Sabres, Montreal Canadiens, and Ottawa Senators, the first, third, and fourth teams in the draft order respectively. Between Jan. 25 and Feb. 1, the Hurricanes won three consecutive games, two against Montreal and one versus Ottawa.
In the first game against the Canadiens, the Hurricanes were coming off consecutive losses, a 5-1 defeat to the Vegas Golden Knights and a 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Carolina defeated the Canadiens by a 6-5 score after Montreal twice erased two-goal deficits. In the second game against the Canadiens, Carolina won 2-0. In a game sandwiched between the two versus Montreal, the Hurricanes scored two third period goals against the Senators to win 2-1.
Continuing the losing streak they started by losing to Vegas and Pittsburgh would have been much easier than coming back against Montreal and righting the ship. By going on that three game winning streak, the Hurricanes added six points to their total. Instead, they would have had 77 points and tied the New York Rangers for the eighth-best odds.
The Canadiens will have the third pick after climbing one spot. This season didn’t work out the way they intended, but having a top-three pick in the first round will help their future. They did everything they could to get a high draft pick, going winless against eight opponents, including three with a top-10 pick. What hurt them was going undefeated against the Detroit Red Wings, Vancouver Canucks, and Sabres.
Scored 24 Goals in Five Games in November and December
The Canadiens won five straight games between Nov. 25 and Dec. 2 for their longest streak of the season. Four of those wins came against teams that have picks in the top six: the Sabres, Senators, and Red Wings. Prior to that win streak, Montreal lost five in a row, three to eventual playoff teams. After their winning streak, they had a winning record for the first time since game one.
The first four wins were by three or fewer goals, including wins against the Senators and Red Wings on consecutive days. In the final game of the streak, the Canadiens dismantled the Red Wings 10-1 on Dec. 2. Paul Byron had a hat trick and Alex Galchenyuk picked up four assists in the game. In that five-game winning streak, Montreal picked up eight points against teams in the Draft Lottery. Had they lost those games in regulation, they would have finished with 63 points, one less than the Sabres.
The Senators had the second-best odds with a 38.8-percent chance to land a top-three pick and a 13.5 percent chance to win the lottery but fell two spots and will draft fourth. They were a bad team all season and only went undefeated against two teams. In contrast, they lost every game to six teams, including all four to the Boston Bruins. They only had two winning streaks of at least three games and only two games in those streaks were against teams with top-10 picks.
Gaining a Point in Three Games Versus Buffalo
The Senators went 2-1-1 against the Sabres this season, and three were by a one-goal margin. Ottawa earned at least one point in the final three meetings. Their first victory came on Feb. 15 by a 3-2 score after consecutive 6-3 losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs and Penguins. They lost to the Sabres in a shootout on Mar. 8 by a 4-3 score to earn a point and finally, on Apr. 4 in game 80, they beat Buffalo 4-2 in a game that guaranteed the Sabres last place.
That game came after losses to Detroit and the Winnipeg Jets in their previous games. Had they not won the two games against Buffalo and lost their Mar. 8 meeting in regulation instead of in a shootout, Ottawa would have finished last in the league and could be looking at a future with Dahlin.
The Coyotes had the third-best odds in the draft lottery but fell to fifth when the Hurricanes and Canadiens climbed. The Coyotes weren’t as bad as their 70 points convey but got off to a dreadful 2-15-3 start through 20 games. Afterward, they went 27-26-9 including 12-8-2 in their final 22 games.
Winning Four Straight in February
Between Feb. 12 and 17, the Coyotes won four straight games, three of four against teams in the Draft Lottery. On Feb. 12, they defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 6-1 on goals by six different players. Two games later on Feb. 15, they beat the Canadiens by a 5-2 score and on Feb. 17 they shutout the Oilers 1-0 on a first period goal by Christian Dvorak.
That four-game winning streak was the Coyotes’ longest this season and only the second of three or more games. In total, they had six wins against teams that will draft before them and four occurred in regulation. Had they been able to even lose each in overtime or shootout, they would have had the second-best odds.
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings will draft sixth after falling one position in the lottery. They only went undefeated against the Coyotes but struggled in their division with winning records against only three of the seven teams, Buffalo, Ottawa, and the Florida Panthers.
New Year’s Magic
Around the New Year, Detroit went on its only win streak of more than three games when they won four straight between Dec. 29 and Jan. 5. During the streak they beat the New York Rangers, Penguins, Senators, and Florida Panthers. But it’s not so much about who they beat during the streak as the timing of it. Entering their Dec. 29 game against the Rangers, the Red Wings had lost three straight and all in regulation. All were to playoff teams but had they continued their negative momentum, it would have improved their Draft Lottery odds.
In games 77, 78, and 79 at the end of March, the Red Wings won three straight against the Penguins, Sabres, and Senators. Their victories over Pittsburgh and Buffalo were each by margins of three goals. Against the Sabres, Detroit was down 2-1 at the end of the first but scored three in a row and ultimately won 6-3. Had they not come back in that game they would have tied the Canadiens with 71 points and the fourth-best odds.
The Canucks fell in the Draft Lottery for the third consecutive year, this time from sixth to seventh. Other than the Senators, the Canucks didn’t play well against teams that will draft before them. They also didn’t have extended winning streaks that involved a majority of Lottery teams. What they did have is a strong finish.
Won Six of Final Nine Games
Entering their 74th game, the Canucks had lost seven in a row, all in regulation. Beginning with their 74th game, they went on a 6-1-2 run to close out the season. These included road victories over the Blackhawks and Dallas Stars and home wins against the Anaheim Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Oilers, and Coyotes. Against the Coyotes on Apr. 5, they were down 3-1 after the second period but scored two in the third before Daniel Sedin won it in overtime in what was the Sedins’ final home game.
It is clear the Canucks were playing for something extra down the stretch, but it cost them a chance at Dahlin, who could have significantly helped their questionable blue line. Considering that only half of their opponents had top-10 lottery odds, the 12 points they accumulated hindered them.
The Blackhawks have been a modern-day dynasty with three Stanley Cups in six years between 2010 and 2015. Yet they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in 2016 and 2017 and missed the postseason entirely this year. With the seventh-best odds, the Blackhawks were long shots to win the draft lottery but winning it would have helped spark their return to contention. Instead, they fell a spot and will pick eighth.
A Mid-Season Blip
Between games 29 and 33 in December, the Blackhawks won five straight games, beating the Sabres, Coyotes, and Florida Panthers during the stretch. Against those teams, Chicago won two in overtime and defeated the Coyotes by a 3-1 score with all four goals coming in the third period.
Prior to that winning streak, the Blackhawks had lost five games in a row, including three in regulation. Their two non-regulation losses were against the Dallas Stars, a fellow Lottery team. After their winning streak, they lost three more in a row, all in regulation, to the Stars, Canucks, and New Jersey Devils.
Against the Sabres and Panthers during their winning streak, Chicago had to make third period comebacks to force overtime before winning each game. Given the eight losses that surrounded the winning streak, had the Blackhawks not came back against Buffalo and Florida and lost both in regulation, they would have leapfrogged the Canucks and Red Wings to secure the fifth-best odds.
New York Rangers
The Rangers missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years this season and finished with the eighth-highest lottery odds and will draft ninth. That is the issue with having a roster that is still competitive despite being unable to win. Players like Henrik Lundqvist can keep teams afloat even when bottoming out would be better for the team’s long-term outlook.
Early-Season Wins Propped Up Record
Although they started the season 2-6-2 through 10 games, they strung together winning streaks of six and four games and were 13-9-2 through 24 games. Four of those victories came via overtime or shootout and three required a third period comeback. During those streaks, they had wins against four teams drafting ahead of them. Had they just lost the four against the teams drafting ahead of them they would have finished with 68 points, the third-fewest in the league. It’s not as though they were overly successful after the streaks either, with a 21-30-7 record for the remainder of the season.
Related: NHL Draft Guide | 2018 Edition
The hockey world would have erupted had the Oilers won the draft lottery for the fifth time in eight years. Luckily for most, that didn’t happen, as they will select 10th. The most disappointing team in the league, the Oilers failed to win consistently, with five winning streaks of at least three games but also seven losing streaks by at least the same number of games.
Road Wins After Season Was Lost
On Mar. 20 and 22 the Oilers won back-to-back road games against the Hurricanes and Senators after the season was a lost cause. Both games were by four goals and Connor McDavid had five points between the two. Entering the Mar. 20 game against Carolina, the Oilers had just dropped a 3-1 game to the Tampa Bay Lightning. After beating the Los Angeles Kings on Mar. 24 to conclude their final winning streak of the season, Edmonton lost five of its finals seven games, including four in regulation.
Winning those two road games against Carolina and Ottawa gave the Oilers four points that didn’t help them in the standings but could have been the difference between having the ninth-best lottery odds and the seventh best odds.
*All stats and information came from Hockey-Reference
My name is Kyle, and although I’m from Pennsylvania and grew up a Penguins fan, I cover the Predators here at The Hockey Writers. And while I would consider myself a Predators fan, I really enjoy watching all hockey and try to always take an objective approach to things. In addition to covering the Preds, I write hockey history and some statistical analysis pieces as well as book reviews.