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The NHL Draft Lottery and You: How Does the Lottery Work?

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In an effort to keep the Wilderness up to speed on what is happening with the season, and where it leads, we address a concern many of you have had. What is the purpose of the NHL draft lottery, and how in the world does it work? These are excellent questions with the Wild sitting in the fourth overall position, and just one point from the second overall position.

No, this is not furthering the Drive for Top Five. This is simply an explanation of the process, and realistic look at the Wild's chances in the lottery. What the team does from here on out is completely on their shoulders. They are out of the playoffs, and can still be spoilers should they choose to actually participate in a game or two.

The likelihood, however, is a lottery pick. Let's take a look at what it is, and how it works.

Reminder, if you are looking for who HW sees as the top five, we have already discussed that.

What is the Purpose

The draft lottery was instituted in 1995 as a safeguard against a team tanking the season in order to secure a higher pick. It is, in essence, the anti-Drive for Top Five. This, as opposed to the NFL and MLB that simply award the worst team the highest pick. This rule, in tandem with the limits on call ups from the AHl at the end of the season, are meant to ensure a competitive product (or as competitive a product as a last place team can produce) for the ticket buying fans for all 82 games.

How it Works

Think "Powerball." A bunch of ping pong balls go in a big hopper, they spin it, and one is selected as the winner. The "winner" of the lottery does not automatically get the first overall pick. No team can move up more than four spots, and no team can move back more than one position. This ensures that the worst teams in the league still get choice picks in order to improve themselves and continue the competition logic.

By extension, only teams within the bottom five teams can wind up with the first overall selection, and the worst team can be saddled with no worse than the second overall pick. Only the teams who do not make the playoffs are entered in the lottery.

It is different from the NBA lottery, in that the NBA lottery sets each of the picks. In the NHL, there is one winner, and then the standings set the other picks. For example, the 26th place team wins the lottery, and moves into the first overall pick. The standings order then sets the 2nd overall (to the 30th place team, 3rd overall (29th place team), etc.


Hockey Joe Yerdon broke it down for everyone last summer:

30th team - 25.0%
29th - 18.8%
28th - 14.2%
27th - 10.7%
26th - 8.1%
25th - 6.2%
24th - 4.7%
23rd - 3.6%
22nd - 2.7%
21st - 2.1%
20th - 1.5%
19th - 1.1%
18th - 0.8%
17th - 0.5%

These odds are a bit misleading, since the lottery is restricted. The odds listed above are to win the lottery, not to wind up with the first overall pick. According to an article form 2009 on, the last place team actually has a 48.2% chance to retain the top pick. This is due to the fact that if a 25th - 17th place team win the lottery, they move up four spots, and then the standings take over.

The 26-29th place teams would need to win the lottery to get the first overall pick, so their odds of that happening remain the same as their lottery chances.

So. If this didn't confuse you even further, don't worry. Everything shakes out rather quickly after the regular season ends.

The Show

UPDATE 10:45AM: The date for the show is already set. It will occur on April 10th, and will be aired on TSN. The NHL Network normally simulcasts it, as well.

If you want to see the pure excitement you may just get to watch, here you go:

2011 NHL Draft Lottery Show

2010 NHL Draft Lottory Show