The past three months have produced copious amounts of weird during the NHL’s pause.
COVID-19 has developed uncertainty to the coming months, despite the minute hope that hockey will be back to action this summer, whether or not that’s a good or bad idea.
But just when we thought the weirdness eluded us, then came the NHL Draft Lottery this past Friday. Never mind the absurd procedures that would have made a game of Clue more bearable; the fact phases were instituted was an imminent sign of doom.
Doom has come calling.
A team competing in the qualifying round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is going to get a prime opportunity to land the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft. That means one of the 16 teams playing for a chance to play for the Stanley Cup could play its way straight to winger Alexis Lafreniere, the presumptive No. 1 overall pick.
Parity, what even is it?
There are avenues to tackle here; how the cellar-dwelling Detroit Red Wings were too atrocious to get the top pick, how the Ottawa Senators were gifted a second lottery pick by the San Jose Sharks and somehow didn’t land in the top-2, or how the Buffalo Sabres continue to wonder why the hockey gods torment them so.
No, we’re discussing how “Team TBD” will be one of eight teams with a 12.5 percent chance to get the opportunity to draft Lafreniere. If the thought of Lafreniere in a Pittsburgh Penguins sweater hasn’t left your memory, you’re welcome.
There will be teams that “take it easy” in the qualifying round. Knowing there’s a realistic chance a playoff-caliber team could land one of the most skilled forwards to come out of the draft in a long time comes with incentive of not winning.
It challenges the authenticity of this play-in round, which was supposed to provide intrigue and excitement. Instead, this will be the perfect fodder for those who believe in the ultimate conspiracy theory. If the Toronto Maple Leafs lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets, don’t think there wouldn’t be a loud cry of blasphemy, especially if Toronto got the first pick.
How the top pick isn’t awarded to one of the teams not playing is certainly cause for frustration among those teams and their fan bases. And yet the team picking No. 2, the Los Angeles Kings, is about to stock the prospect cupboard more with the likely selection of defenseman Quinton Byfield. Los Angeles is executing this rebuild perfectly, and their farm system is quickly becoming the best in the Pacific Division.
But while there’s all the frustration surrounding this draft kerfuffle, one has to wonder if this will even come to fruition given the continuous rise in COVID-19 cases across the country. The NHL continues to ensure that the hub cities, whichever they are, will be the tightest bubbles imaginable for players so that the coronavirus is contained in some capacity. At the time of publishing, the NHL has still yet to announce which cities will play host to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The NHL announced Monday that 15 players tested positive for COVID-19 since Phase 2 began June 8. That’s nearly 10 percent of the league that reported to their teams earlier in the month. While the NHL continues to add that those players are following the proper health guidelines, all it takes is one more spike in numbers for another shutdown. At that point, everyone should brace for the worse.
But for now, it’s business as usual. It’s certainly weird business not knowing which team is drafting No. 1, but it’s business. And it’s something.