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kevin paul dupont | on hockey

Who’s up first? NHL’s draft lottery left us scratching our heads

Even NHL commissioner Gary Bettman doesn't know who will pick first in the draft — not until after the play-in round and another lottery.
Even NHL commissioner Gary Bettman doesn't know who will pick first in the draft — not until after the play-in round and another lottery.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

What we have here, thankfully, is a little bona fide hockey talk. Ready? Hold on to your slide rule, ‘cause here we go:

Nearly four months into near-total puck silence, the NHL Draft, or at least the lottery that serves as precursor to the draft, bubbled up a big-time surprise Friday night with a capricious, somewhat confounding fall of the Ping-Pong balls.

Now, at the moment, we still don’t know who’ll pick first in the draft.

We also don’t know the date of said draft.

We only know that there eventually will be a draft and some team — the list currently numbers 16, none located on Causeway Street — will hit leadoff and in all likelihood choose Quebec League prodigy Alexis Lafreniere, a high-scoring left winger with Rimouski.

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Will Alexis Lafreniere go first overall?
Will Alexis Lafreniere go first overall?Ryan Remiorz/Associated Press

But keep in mind, there will have to be a second lottery drawing, specifically to determine who goes first.

Nope, this is not a twisted take on the classic Abbott and Costello routine. It’s the thick of summer 2020 and we really don’t know who’s on first.

Could there be anything more fitting for hockey, or sports at large, in the disrupted coronavirus era? We’re pretty sure who’ll be selected No. 1 in the draft. But we just don’t know who makes the pick, or when, or even where.

The draft originally was scheduled to be in Montreal this past Friday and Saturday, but all of that got washed out to the Saint Lawrence River weeks ago, amid the NHL shutdown that began March 12 and continues to run longer than a Gary Bettman booing in any arena across the Original 31. For the record, July 1 is Day No. 112 in the NHL’s Frozen Out Era.

Bettman was on the beat Friday night in a Secaucus, N.J., TV studio, standing aside a whirring Ping-Pong ball machine, when the league, and its whimsical partner named caprice, was able to determine picks 2 through 8 for the draft.

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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman oversaw the draft lottery last Friday.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman oversaw the draft lottery last Friday.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

There was a chance, and a good one, that Friday night could have provided the full order, 1 through 8, but that went all haywire when the machine coughed up balls 9, 2, 10, 11. The chance of that happening: precisely 2.5 percent.

But because 9-2-10-11 came roaring across like a 44-1 long shot, there are now 16 teams with a chance for the No. 1 pick. They are the same 16 teams that will square off in a best-of-five play-in series when the NHL, hopefully, resumes play in one of two hub cities around the start of August. (

Ultimately, eight of those 16 play-in teams will lose and go home. However, those eight losers then will enter Lottery No. 2, better known as Son of Lottery, and the Ping-Pong balls again will be tossed in the air and the winner awarded the No. 1 pick.

Ta-da! Could it be any easier? Call now and we’ll toss in an additional seventh-rounder ABSOLUTELY FREE!

Each of the eight losing teams, by the way, will enter Lottery No. 2 with an equal chance, 12.5 percent, of being awarded the No. 1 pick.

Currently, the 16 teams eligible are:

East: Carolina, Columbus, Florida, Montreal, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, Pittsburgh, Toronto.

West: Arizona, Calgary, Chicago, Edmonton, Minnesota, Nashville, Winnipeg, Vancouver.

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Again, eight of those teams will be DQ’d by virtue of advancing into the standard Round of 16 playoffs. Which is also to say no team could win the Stanley Cup and then pick first overall in the draft. Had that been a possibility, heck, we already know that the Canadiens would walk off with all of it. Call me bitter … and you’d be right.

Lottery No. 2 will be staged a day or two after the play-in round is finished. The draft itself will take place only after the Cup has been awarded, likely 7-10 days later, toward the end of October, some four months later than originally intended.

Bettman on Friday night oversaw two more lottery selections that determined picks 2 and 3, and those choice positions were landed by Los Angeles and Ottawa, respectively. The No. 3 pick would have belonged to the Sharks, but they dealt away the selection when they acquired Erik Karlsson from the Senators in September 2008.

The remaining five picks determined Friday shingled up as the following: 4. Detroit; 5. Ottawa; 6. Anaheim; 7. New Jersey; 8. Buffalo.

The Red Wings entered the process with the worst record and therefore the greatest chance of landing the No. 1 pick, only to slip to No. 4 when the Ping-Pong balls three times did not fall their way. Bad night for the retro Dead Wings, who were 17-49-5 when the regular season came to its merciful end.

The Kings zipped up from No. 4 to No. 2 when the balls fell 13-3-9-5 in the second drawing; the Senators/Sharks pick at No. 3 was by virtue of a 12-3-14-11 combo. It was precisely where the Sharks, with a .450 points percentage for the season, would have picked.

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A solid night for the Kings, and especially the Senators, who’ll enter the draft in possession of picks Nos. 3 and 5.

Going back to 1970, only four teams have owned two of the top five picks, including the Bruins, who selected Reggie Leach No. 3 and Rick MacLeish No 4 in ’70. That duo went on to combine for 730 career goals — 721 of them for clubs other than the Bruins.

A half-century later, the hockey world waits on the Senators and what they’ll do with their embarrassment of teenaged riches.

A half-century later, the hockey world also awaits Lottery No. 2, the eight teams in the mix, and how the dust settles and the Ping-Pong balls fall to make the No. 1 pick.

For a sport built around strange bounces, it never will get stranger than 2020.


Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at kevin.dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.