The NHL implemented a new format to the draft lottery in order to deter teams from intentionally tanking to ensure a top draft pick. Now finishing last doesn’t guarantee the first overall pick and last-place teams only have an 18.5 per cent chance to select first. Three lottery balls are drawn and any non-playoff team can pick first, second, or third, and then the rest of the draft order is decided based on the standings of the teams that weren’t drawn.
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Since the conclusion of the 1994-95 season, the NHL has used a draft lottery in order to aid in selecting the order of where teams will draft in the league’s annual entry draft. The goal of the draft lottery is to dissuade teams from tanking, or from losing games on purpose, in order to ensure themselves the top pick in the draft. It’s believed this will force teams to actively try harder to be competitive which will ultimately increase the parity in the league.
The rules surrounding the draft lottery have changed multiple times. From its inception until 2015, there was only one winner of the lottery. In those times, a team could only move up a certain amount of spots, so, as a result, a team finishing last overall could still draft first even if they didn’t win the lottery. For example, in 2011, the eighth seeded New Jersey Devils won the draft lottery, moving up to select fourth overall. As a result, the top three remained the exact same based on the standings and the Edmonton Oilers were able to select first overall.
Prior to the 2014-15 season, the league made a change known by many as the Edmonton Oilers rule. After the Oilers selected first overall three times in a row between 2010 and 2012, the league altered the lottery in order to spread the distribution of odds more evenly. As a result, rather than teams being able to only move up three spots, any non-playoff team in the lottery could jump all the way up to first overall. Ironically, in the first lottery with this new weighting, the Oilers, who had the third-highest odds, won the lottery again and selected phenom Connor McDavid with the first pick.
The next year, the lottery was changed again so that all of the top three picks in the draft would be selected through the lottery. In this system, all non-playoff teams are given a weighting based on where they finished, and then three teams are drawn, which makes up the third, second, and first overall picks. As a result, any team can slide down three spots from where they finished in the standings.
In 2017, three teams sitting outside the top three jumped up thanks to the lottery. The Dallas Stars, who were in eighth, jumped up to draft third. The Philadelphia Flyers, who were in 13th, jumped all the way up to draft second. And finally, the New Jersey Devils, who were in fifth, jumped up to draft first overall. As a result, the Colorado Avalanche, who had just 22 wins that season, ended up having to draft fourth overall.