One of the many problems that COVID-19 has presented to the NHL was a complication to its Draft Lottery process. In a normal season, the lottery is held before the start of the playoffs with the 15 teams that did not make it vying for the top picks. With the regular season abruptly cancelled and a scheduled play-in series deemed necessary to determine the playoff and non-playoff teams, this would not be possible. The simplest solution would have been to wait until the league could define the remaining teams and hold the lottery then.
That is not what the NHL chose.
The league first attempted to push through a seven-team lottery with none of the play-in teams involved. They retreated on that idea once everyone yelled at them for it. Still determined to hold a lottery ASAP, the remaining eight spots were reserved for undetermined play-in series losers. A messy format the NHL deemed necessary for the sake of generating instant gratification in markets that are poised for an extra-long offseason.
And so the NHL reaped what it sowed when the first-overall selection was anti-climactically awarded to “Team E.”
Detroit, the worst team in the league, dropped to fourth overall. Ottawa, holding the second and third-best (San Jose 1st) odds, landed at the relatively disappointing third and fifth overall. Anaheim, New Jersey, and Buffalo all dropped down a spot relative to their league finishes. The NHL brute-forcing the occasion into premature existence for the sake of giving a few sad, non-playoff teams a dose of serotonin. Instead, with the exception of Los Angeles, who will be mildly pleased to jump from fourth- to second-overall and who aren’t exactly long-suffering, the NHL gave those fanbases more reasons to be miserable. Meanwhile, projected first-overall pick Alexis Lafreniere will have to wait months longer to see where he lands.
But you’re not here merely to laugh at the NHL’s self-generated buzzkill. You’re wondering, “What does this mean for the Rangers?”
The complicated lottery situation is particularly convoluted for the Rangers given that they own both their natural first-round pick as well as Carolina’s thanks to the Brady Skjei trade. Furthermore, Carolina’s pick itself has conditions on it related to their acquisition of Toronto’s first-round pick. With all three teams in the play-in series, and the Rangers specifically facing the Hurricanes, it’s headache-inducing with, as you’ll see, a number of potential permutations.
Before we break that down, let’s make reference to the starting positions. The Rangers finished with the 13th-worst record in the NHL by points percentage. The Maple Leafs had the 19th-worst record while the Hurricanes had the 23rd-worst. Those are the anchoring points which will determine where the Rangers draft depending on various circumstances.
New York Rangers’ Natural First-Round Pick
This is the less convoluted of the two first-round picks since it’s the Rangers’ own pick with fewer conditions attached to it. Still, there are a lot of ways this could go.
Rangers Lose Play-in Series to Carolina
The eight losers of the play-in series will share equal odds (12.5 percent) in a “second phase” of the Draft Lottery. Whichever team wins that lottery gets the first-overall pick. Everyone else will slot in at picks nine-through-fifteen in reverse order of the regular-season standings by points percentage.
If the Rangers win the lottery, then they pick first-overall. Simple enough, and of course the best potential outcome. Otherwise, it will depend on who loses the play-in series and how the lottery plays out. The worst-case scenario would see the loser of either the Islanders/Panthers or Maple Leafs/Blue Jackets play-in series win the lottery. In that case, the Rangers would pick 14th overall. Alternatively, in the best-case scenario, the Penguins, Oilers, Canucks, and Predators all lose their play-in series and don’t win the lottery. In that case, the Rangers would draft ninth overall.
To simplify: If the Rangers win the lottery then they draft first overall. If not, then they will draft somewhere between ninth-through-fourteen depending on what happens with some other teams.
Rangers Make Playoffs
The draft order for playoff teams is as normal. The Stanley Cup Champion is awarded 31st overall. The Finals loser gets 30th. The two Conference Final losers get 28th and 29th overall in reverse order of regular season standings. The remaining playoff teams fill spots 16-through-28 by reverse order of regular season standings.
The “worst” potential outcome is the Rangers’ own pick falling to 31st overall, but who cares? They just won the Stanley Cup! Assuming they don’t make the Conference Finals (or better), then the worst-case scenario would be 21st overall. Montreal, Minnesota, Winnipeg/Calgary (play-in series winner), Arizona, and Chicago all make the playoffs but get eliminated before the Conference Final. The highest the Rangers can pick while making the playoffs is 16th. That would be if the Rangers were eliminated before the Conference Final while the aforementioned teams either miss the playoffs or make the Conference Final.
There’s a very real chance that the pandemic and logistics surrounding it makes completing the 2019-20 NHL season an impossibility. The NHL has a contingency plan in place for that possibility.
This is only if there is no 19-20 return to play. The eight teams that would go into Phase 2 of the lottery, with equal 12.5% chance to win, would be: 8. MTL (.500), 9. CHI (.514), 10. ARI (.529), 11. MIN (.558), 12. WPG (.563), 13. NYR (.564), 14. FLA (.565), 15. CBJ (.579).— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 27, 2020
In that case, the Rangers’ lottery odds will be the same as if they lost to Carolina in the play-in series; an equal 12.5-percent share of odds among eight teams for the number-one overall pick. The major difference is fewer potential outcomes if they don’t win the lottery. If Florida or Columbus won the first-overall pick then the Rangers would be bumped one slot down to 14th overall. Otherwise, they will stay at their original 13th-overall spot.
Brady Skjei Trade First-Round Pick
The Carolina Hurricanes acquired Toronto’s first-round pick in 2020 with the condition attached that Toronto would retain that pick if it became a top-ten selection. The Rangers acquired a first-round pick from Carolina in the Brady Skjei trade with the condition that the Rangers would receive whichever of their own and Toronto’s picks came later in the draft. Those will be important to keep in mind as what this pick might become for the Rangers.
Carolina and Toronto Both Lose Play-In Series
Because of the conditions, the Rangers cannot win the lottery via the Brady Skjei trade. If Carolina wins the lottery, then the Rangers receive Toronto’s first-round pick. If Toronto wins the lottery, then they retain that pick and give Carolina their 2021 first-round pick, while the Rangers receive Carolina’s 2020 1st-round pick.
Carolina finished higher than Toronto in the regular-season standings. If both Carolina and Toronto lose their play-in series, then the only way the Rangers end up with Toronto’s pick is if Carolina wins the lottery. In that case, Toronto’s pick could be as high as eleventh if Pittsburgh, Edmonton, and the Islanders all lost their play-in series, as low as 15th if those three advanced, or somewhere in-between.
Otherwise, if both teams miss the playoffs then the Rangers are getting Carolina’s pick. If Pittsburgh loses their play-in series and don’t win the lottery, then the Rangers would receive the 14th-overall pick. Otherwise, Carolina’s pick would slot in at 15th.
Carolina and/or Toronto Make the Playoffs
Remember that the Rangers get whichever of the two picks is later in the draft. So if Carolina makes the playoffs while Toronto doesn’t, then the Rangers get Carolina’s pick. The same rules we previously mentioned for draft order among playoff teams apply. Losing in the Conference Finals means the 28th- or 29th-pick. The Stanley Cup Finals loser gets 30th. The Champs get 31st.
If Carolina exits the playoffs in the first- or second-rounds then it will depend on other playoff teams. At worst it would stick at 23rd overall, while it would jump up one slot for every team below them in the standings that made the Conference Finals. So, the pick could become as high as 19th overall.
Similar deal if Toronto makes the playoffs and Carolina misses. It’s no better than 28th overall if the Leafs make the Conference Finals. Otherwise, a first- or second-round exit would mean a baseline of 19th overall with the potential to rise as high as 16th depending on Conference Finalists.
But what if both teams make the playoffs? In that case, there are only two scenarios where Toronto’s pick is later than Carolina’s:
- Toronto makes the Eastern Conference Finals and Carolina doesn’t.
- Toronto Beats Carolina in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Otherwise, if both teams make the playoffs, the Rangers get Carolina’s pick.
Teams in playoff positions will get picks 16-through-31 in reverse order of the regular-season standings (by points percentage). Boston gets punished for finishing first in the league by earning the 31st-overall pick without a chance at the Stanley Cup. Bummer.
This scenario would put Toronto’s pick at 19th overall and Carolina’s at 23rd. Since the Rangers receive the later of the two picks, they would receive Carolina’s selection.
The Big Picture
As much as Friday’s lottery results narrowed down potential draft order possibilities for the Rangers, it still leaves an overwhelming number of possibilities.
There’s a dream drafting scenario where the Rangers land the 1st- and 19th-overall picks. There’s a nightmare situation where the Rangers end up with 14 and 31. They could win the Stanley Cup and still draft as high as 11th. They could end up with picks 29 and 31. Then there are the more nuanced but still substantial differences in outcomes. A few goals in the play-in series could be the difference between the Rangers drafting 9th and 16th or 15th and 23rd.
It’s going to be a while longer before President John Davidson and General Manager Jeff Gorton have much of an idea of what picks they will possess in the first round 2020 NHL Draft, but Friday’s results did at least narrow down the field while still offering the ultimate dream of landing the first-overall pick. In fact, the Rangers’ chances are better than anyone could have hoped.