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Can the Leafs win the Draft Lottery?

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Should the team adopt the Eeyore mentality of the fans and just tank the playoffs for a draft pick?

NHL Draft Lottery Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images

As we know, the NHL is rigged to give everything to Toronto and to deny teams, particularly those in western Canada, anything good. The one exception to that is, of course, the draft lottery. However, the Edmonton Oilers have (sort of) made the playoffs this year, so the fix might not be in.

There’s nothing a Leafs fan likes better than imagining an early exit from the post-season, so could the fans get their heart’s desire this year? If the Leafs lose to Columbus in the first round, could they win the lottery, punt the first-round pick they owe Carolina to next year and profit off of their own misery?

To answer that, let’s begin by trying to wrap our heads around the actual lottery procedure. It’s been long enough since the NHL announced it, we might be under the impression that was some kind of dream we had after eating too much Taco Bell while on a bender.

Actually, let’s back that up and review the standings order and who goes where in the playoffs.

Pre-Qualifying Standings Order

Eastern Conference

  1. Boooooston Bruins
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning
  3. Washington Capitals
  4. Philadelphia Flyers
  5. Pittsburgh Penguins
  6. Carolina Hurricanes
  7. New York Islanders
  8. Toronto Maple Leafs
  9. Columbus Blue Jackets
  10. Florida Panthers
  11. New York Rangers
  12. Montreal Canadiens

Western Conference

  1. St. Louis Blues
  2. Colorado Avalanche
  3. Vegas Golden Knights
  4. Dallas Stars
  5. Edmonton Oilers
  6. Nashville Predators
  7. Vancouver Canucks
  8. Calgary Flames
  9. Winnipeg Jets
  10. Minnesota Wild
  11. Arizona Coyotes
  12. Chicago

Okay, now draw a line below number four in each list. Those eight teams cannot win the lottery and are going to get whatever pick the final playoff results gives them. Just like in the before time.

The seven teams not on either list, hereafter referred to in this document as the “bad teams”, are in with the best chance to win the lottery, and they lineup from worst to least bad with exactly the same odds of winning one of the three lotteries for the first, second and third draft picks as in the before time.

The messy part is teams five through 12 on each list. These 16 teams will play off in the qualifying round, and eight of them will lose. Those eight losers, hereafter in this document referred to as “the losers”, get in on the lottery.

If this is starting to come back to you, you might want to drink to forget again.

The (first) Lottery

How do you have eight teams in a lottery on June 26 when they haven’t had a chance to become the losers yet? The answer is simple — you take eight practice dummies, slap a letter from A to H on them and they get to be in the lottery show on a split-screen Zoom call right next to whoever that guy is who’s GM of the Sabres now.

Now you might be saying to yourself: If one of the letter-dummies wins a lottery, the Leafs should lose to Columbus and take Lafreniere, Byfield or Stuetzle and run.

The first thing you have to know is the odds of each letter-dummy winning one of the lotteries. Because the NHL has three lotteries, the odds calculations get really complicated, and I can’t imagine any reason I would ever compute that myself. And I don’t need to, because the odds are exactly as they’ve always been in the triple lottery system.

To simplify this down, the letter-dummies, have the following probability of wining the first overall pick:

  • A — 6.0 percent
  • B — 5.0 percent
  • C — 3.5 percent
  • D — 3.0 percent
  • E — 2.5 percent
  • F — 2.0 percent
  • G — 1.5 percent
  • H — 1.0 percent

So, for the sake of argument, let’s say letter-dummy C pulls the upset and wins the first lottery. Two and three go to bad teams, and therefore one of the losers is getting Lafreniere, but which one! It could be the Leafs, they could do this, they could win this, my god, imagine a too many left wings controversy, and Frederik Gauthier has to stay to be another French guy— and hold it right there.

Can the Leafs become letter-dummy C?

Sure, absolutely. If one of the letter-dummies win a lottery or two or three, then there’s another lottery to be held before the Stanley Cup Final that will assign the losers the A through H places. And the rules for that lottery are... the truth is, I can’t find anyone who knows. Is it a simple unweighted lottery to put a logo on the lottery-winning letter-dummy’s jersey or is it weighted by the standings points percentage going into the qualifying round? Don’t know. UPDATE: The NHL put out a press release that confirms this is a simple draw with all entrants having the same odds. I just found this today.

So to calculate out the Leafs’ chance of winning the frist overall pick I need the chance of them being assigned to a given letter-dummy, and then the chance of the dummy winning the lottery, and if I assume the second lottery is a simple draw, the chances of the Leafs becoming dummy C and winning the first overall is 0.43%. I think. This is really not my area, and I cribbed that much from this hilarious thread:

The chances of any one of the losers winning the lottery and the Leafs then becoming that winner by losing are— look, it’s small. Tiny even.

Moneypuck.com has the Leafs with a 52.7% chance to win their qualifying round matchup. That’s a much bigger edge over Columbus than their chances of winning the lottery are.

Can the Leafs get a top ten pick?

The lottery protection on the Leafs’ pick is for top 10 draft positions. So if the Leafs could finish in the top 10 some other way than with a lottery win, they could punt the pick they have to give to Carolina to next year, and Leafs fans could happily cheer for them to lose, as they are inclined to do in the playoffs anyway, and all would be well.

Can that work?

Nope.

Assume the Leafs lose that qualifying round, since you are anyway. Then assume no letter-dummy wins any of the three lotteries. The seven bad teams fill up the first seven draft pick spots and #8 through #10 are filled by letter-dummies, determined by the standings order before the qualifying round.

So, I’m telling you there’s a chance?

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but the Leafs were too good this season, and even if all the teams that are better than the Leafs — the Penguins, the Hurricanes, the Islanders and the Oilers — lose, there’s still going to be three teams who were worse who also lost and the best the Leafs can get through this method of losing — which is unlikely in the extreme anyway ... I mean, not the Islanders losing, or the Oilers, but all of them? — anyway, the best they get is pick 11.

If any of the lottery spots are held by other letter-dummies who are not the Leafs that best possible pick just gets worse.

So there’s your answer: A shard of a probability I can’t and/or just won’t calculate out of sheer laziness vs a chance to keep winning playoff games and making that draft pick Carolina is getting worse and worse and worse until it’s more or less a second rounder, and that’s the sad and sorry end of this story, Leafs fans.

You might as well cheer for the team to win.