I don’t think too many people saw the outcome of last night’s draft lottery outcome coming. New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Dallas had combined odds of 51.4% of individually making it into the top three of the results; let alone as a group. That was just 3.3% more than the Colorado Avalanche had individually, as a team that finished 21 points back of 29th place. They, despite having the worst record (0.293) of the Cap Era, will pick fourth overall.
That’s some crazy luck, good and bad. It makes you appreciate last season’s events just a little bit more. Consider the following:
- The Toronto Maple Leafs won the lottery with the highest odds of the bunch in 2016, but still only had a 20% (1-in-5 chance). The current lottery system is geared towards preventing obvious tanking (hello, Buffalo of previous years), and it encourages the wacky. There was an 80% chance that the Leafs would walk out without that top pick.
- Toronto is, to date, the only last-place team to win the lottery since the odds were revised to make the field more likely to pick 1st than the 30th place team. The Leafs are the only team to win from the bottom since 2010 when the Edmonton Oilers received Taylor Hall. The Oilers also picked 1st from the bottom in 2011 when they selected Ryan-Nugent Hopkins, but that’s because winners in the old format could only jump up four spots at once.
- Last year’s Leafs finished in that magic 30th place spot despite having the best record of any last-place team since the 2007/08 Tampa Bay Lightning, who finished 30th on a tiebreaker, won the lottery, and drafted Steven Stamkos that summer.
- There’s a case to be made that Toronto “lucked” into even finishing that low in the standings. As explained as a precursor to the whole #TheLeafsAreActuallyGood thing back in July, Toronto lost upwards of 40 goals to players having career lows in shooting/save percentages throughout the season and ended the year in the top half of the league in score-adjusted Corsi. Toronto’s goal differential improved by 64 this season.
In short, the Leafs had all the right things happen for them at the right time. The team got catastrophically unlucky and, despite the net result being better than the year before, just barely managed to finish in last. They happened to be last in one of the only years in this era where the last place team tackled the 1-in-5 odds successfully. Plus, they got one of the best draft picks in years out of it, securing Auston Matthews, who is expected to be quite a fair bit better than the big names this year, where the Leafs will be picking in the 17th-18th range.
While the Leafs rebuild would have likely been fine without adding Matthews, he certainly injected nitrous oxide into a car already driving with pace. That the stars would align in the way that they did is extremely fortunate for the team. Also fortunate; the rise of the three teams in question yesterday kept Toronto’s eligible divisional rivals down to 8 (Buffalo), 9 (Detroit), 10 (Florida), and 14 (Tampa Bay). Suddenly, those teams going on late season pushes and winning lots of shootouts looks even better, doesn’t it?