It’s very clear that the NHL rigged this year’s draft lottery.
Beyond not wanting Alexis Lafreniere to go to a horrendous franchise like the Ottawa Senators or Buffalo Sabres, the league knew that it would be a good marketing ploy to have one of the play-in teams win the first-overall pick because it would direct a bunch of attention to a second draft lottery at a later date.
All news is good news. Basic stuff.
So we know that this thing was rigged for the placeholder know, as “Team E” … but what we don’t know is who “Team E” is going to be. Let’s do some digging to determine who the NHL actively rigged the lottery for and why they did it.
The Taylor Hall Factor
The Arizona Coyotes are an obvious choice to be given the first-overall pick. They’re Gary Bettman’s starving, dying project and, if they fail, it reflects poorly on him. This team needs a major boost in order to become a playoff team.
But if Bettman wanted Arizona to thrive, why didn’t they force a Coyotes lottery win in 2015 when they tanked for McDavid or in 2016 when local hero Auston Matthews was a possibility? Maybe the NHL isn’t trying to help the Coyotes, maybe there’s another factor at play here.
Taylor Hall has been involved in five lottery wins in his career. The Oilers won in 2011, 2012, and 2015, and then the Devils won in 2017 and 2019 with him on the roster. Does he have incriminating photos of Bettman that result in him winning over and over again? Maybe that’s why the Coyotes traded for him, to ensure this draft lottery win after missing out in 2015 and 2016.
The Francophone Factor
The Montreal Canadiens haven’t had a French star on their team in ages. Their current star right now is goaltender Carey Price, from British Columbia and before that it was P.K. Subban, from Toronto. The Habs tried to make Jonathan Drouin that guy, but it hasn’t worked.
You have to go all the way back to the 1990s when the Habs had Vincent Damphousse to find a legitimate Francophone star. You’d have to go back a little further to Patrick Roy to find their last true French-Canadian superstar.
Alexis Lafreniere is the first surefire first-overall pick to come out of Quebec since Vincent Lecavalier in 1998 and the Habs absolutely couldn’t let this chance pass by. The team is also in purgatory and the league knows that it’s better to have a strong Montreal Canadiens franchise than whatever the hell it is they have right now.
The Arena Factor
There’s nothing more important in professional sports than land development. Teams are frequently used as chess pieces for businesses to get public funding to build extravagant new facilities loaded with things like restaurants, hotels, and apartment complexes.
Both the Calgary Flames and New York Islanders are in the midst of new development projects to replace their horrible, broken-down old areas. And, of course, both teams want to be good when the new stadium is set to open.
In exchange for under-the-table cash from these projects, either the Flames or the Islanders (I’m guessing the latter because they just recently lost a star in free agency) demanded the first-overall pick.
This is how Edmonton got Connor McDavid, of course. They gave Gary Bettman millions of dollars worth of shares in the city’s Ice District. It’s also how the Penguins got Crosby.
The Big Market Factor
The NHL was having a blast in the early part of the 2010s when the Chicago Blackhawks were at the top of their game. Now, with the Hawks reeling from their prolonged Stanley Cup hangover, the league badly misses their key influence in the West.
Having Vegas doing well is great, but the NHL needs a big-market team back on top in the Western Conference. Having Colorado or Calgary or St. Louis just isn’t going to cut it. The league needs the Blackhawks to come back to life.
Giving Chicago the first-overall pick and Los Angeles the second-overall pick would certainly help the NHL’s plan to bring things back to the way they were 10 years ago.
The Relocation Factor
Houston has the ninth-biggest TV market in the United States, making it the biggest city that the NHL doesn’t currently have a team in. The Carolina Hurricanes are a struggling franchise and they’re in a small market.
As a favour to owner Tom Dundon, whose business is based in Texas, Bettman rigged the lottery in favour of the Hurricanes, giving them another elite young player to add to their strong young core. As Vegas showed, the best way to get a fanbase up and running is by having a strong team right off the hop, which the Houston Aeros can do.
The Grand Desert Conspiracy
The NHL has always wanted Matthews in Arizona, but they couldn’t execute another lottery rig in 2016. It was too soon after Edmonton had won McDavid, which was chaos, and the Leafs had felt scorned, so everyone was watching closely. Now Bettman has his chance.
Bettman wants the Leafs to send Matthews to Arizona, but, predictably they haven’t been receptive to the subject. But as part of a sweetener this year, Bettman offered to build a weird playoff structure designed specifically to have the Leafs lose in the first round and get the first-overall pick.
In return, the Leafs will send Matthews to Arizona for a massive combination of picks and prospects and they’ll say it was for cap savings because the upper limit isn’t going up for three years.
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