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Can This Draft Lottery Be the Last One We Have to Care About for a While? Please?

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The NHL Draft Lottery is next week and the Devils are again among the teams with the highest odds. Yay?

2019 NHL Lottery Draft
Filed to: Images of being employed that precede unfortunate events.
Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images

The NHL Draft Lottery will occur next Wednesday and once again, the Devils will be among the teams with the highest odds to end up winning one of the top picks. As most of the people reading this should be well aware of, the Devils have won the draft lottery in two of the past four seasons, selecting Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes with the first pick in 2017 and 2019, respectively. Winning those first-overall picks represented exciting moments for the franchise and has given the Devils a strong one-two punch town the middle of their lineup for the foreseeable future. I don’t think I’m speaking for just myself, though, when I say that I’m pretty tired of having a lot of interest in the NHL Draft Lottery drawing, though.

In each of their recent lottery wins, the Devils received the top selection with the draw being for each of the top three spots. The NHL scaled back the lottery a bit this year, making it just for the top two spots in 2021 and then limiting the number of spots a team can move up in draft position to 10 in 2022 (similarly to how the Devils were only able to move up four spots when they won the 2011 lottery). Additionally, largely thanks to Edmonton and New Jersey’s “success” in the lottery over the past decade, teams will be limited to winning two lotteries in any given five-year stretch (starting this year, so the Devils won’t be impacted by their recent lottery wins). Regardless of all the changes, the Devils remain in a position similar to many of their recent seasons: they will be among those best positioned to get a top pick.

So the Devils will head on into next week’s lottery with the fourth-best odds after a 29th place finish (they’d have the third-best odds if not for the introduction of expansion Seattle in the third spot for this year’s lottery). This marks the sixth time in the last nine seasons (seventh in the last eleven) that the Devils will finish in the bottom 10 in the league’s standings. Of course, two of the three times they did finish outside of the bottom 10 (2013-14, 2015-16), they did so by finishing 20th (11th-worst). Perhaps more embarrassingly, it will be the third time in the past five seasons they have finished bottom-five (fourth in the bottom-six). The run of results largely speaks for itself:

  • 2016-17: Fourth-worst (27th)
  • 2017-18: Made playoffs (15th) (Hey, fun!)
  • 2018-19: Third-worst (29th)
  • 2019-20: Sixth-worst (26th)
  • 2020-21: Third-worst (29th)

The last two times the Devils did dip as far as the bottom-five, they have won the lottery. As mentioned above, they will end up with the fourth-best odds because of Seattle, but they still have relatively solid chances (about one in five) to end up in the top-two. Here is the breakdown in odds, via Tankathon:

2021 NHL Draft pick probabilities for each team.

So the Devils have a roughly 20% chance of picking top-two, about a 75% percent chance of staying in the top-five, and the chances of [blah blah blah you all get the picture at this point.]

Man, am I sick of this. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be watching next week to see if the Devils jump into the top two and have the opportunity to pick from a full slate of the best players but, whew, has the luster worn off this particular event for me. Another high pick will surely help bolster the Devils medium and long-term outlook and there’s probably more team-building value in a crash-and-burn season with some promising performances like the Devils just had than a mediocre outside-the-bubble finish, but its certainly hard to muster the excitement I had for this event in 2017 or even 2019.

In addition to the fatigue of always being involved in the lottery, this season also represents a draft class with about as little consensus on the top pick as any draft since 2014 or maybe even 2011. Owen Power is the best bet for the first selection this year, but there are lots of dissenting opinions and, in addition to the lack of an obvious standout number one, the bizarre circumstances produced by the pandemic over the past year has probably made scouting as difficult as ever. Maybe if there were a McDavid or Matthews floating out there, I’d be a little more juiced for the possibility of picking number one, but guessing who will be the best player to come out of this draft seems extraordinarily difficult this year.

Regardless of Wednesday’s results, I really would like to be disinterested in the 2022 lottery, not because of the fatigue like I’m feeling right now, but because the Devils looked like a team that might be worth a damn in the 2021-22 season. So I will muster the energy to care about this year’s drawing with the hopes that the days of the Devils having top-five or even top-ten odds in this event are at their end for a while starting next season. The worst thing an NHL team can be at this point is a Buffalo, who might be headed into another (at least partial) teardown after a decade of basement-dwelling. If the Devils can’t find their way out of the muck within the next couple seasons, that outcome looms on the horizon. Certainly there are reasons to be hopeful coming out of this past season, but we’ve been hopeful for better days a few times of late with the subsequent results severely lacking. So as we head into another season of draft prospect profiles, here is hoping that, starting in 2022, the consensus top overall pick is not on the list of players we are profiling for the foreseeable future.