The NHL could have a rather embarrassing situation on its hands if the New Jersey Devils continue to struggle this season.
As the league’s last team to win a game this season, the Devils are already looking like they’ll miss the playoffs unless their fortunes change drastically. The Devils would have to finish ahead of eight teams to make the post-season in the crowded Eastern Conference. Even optimists have to be discouraged by that.
New Jersey doesn’t own its first round pick in the 2014 draft. It was forfeited as part of a penalty handed down by the NHL in 2010 for attempting to sign Ilya Kovalchuk to a contract deemed to be circumventing the salary cap. So when the NHL conducts its draft lottery for the 14 non-playoff teams next April, it has to decide what to do with the pick New Jersey doesn’t own. That situation has never happened before.
What will make the scenario most embarrassing is if the Devils finish 30th overall and theoretically have the best odds of winning the lottery – 25 percent. It brings to mind the old expression, you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. And the Devils don’t have a ticket.
So what happens in the draft lottery if the Devils miss the playoffs this season? In short, the league doesn’t know yet. It has met internally to discuss the matter, but hasn’t determined the best course of action. Chances are it won’t officially decide until the Devils are out of the playoffs.
The league probably has three options.
The first is conduct the lottery as per normal for all 14 non-playoff teams. Wherever the Devils land, that pick is eliminated and the teams behind New Jersey each move up one slot. I doubt the NHL does this because it’s too tormenting to the Devils and their fans. Imagine if New Jersey were to win the lottery, then have it taken away? Not good p.r.
The second is to move the non-playoff teams ahead of New Jersey with the Devils getting the lowest percent chance of winning (0.5 percent), then have the lottery. So if the Devils hypothetically finish 30th overall, they get bumped to 17th and the other 13 teams are moved up one slot.
The third is to re-calculate the lottery odds for just the 13 non-playoff teams. This involves some number crunching, but is the most likely option in my opinion.
Whatever course of action the league takes, the fans of New Jersey can’t take comfort in the silver lining a bad season – if that comes to pass – that being a blue-chip prospect at the end of the day.
All this is the product of Devils’ GM Lou Lamoriello’s miscalculations. It was one thing to attempt to sign Kovalchuk to that cooked-up 17-year deal that would have had him playing until the age of 44. Worse than that was how he managed the matter. The Devils had the option to forfeit a first round pick in 2011, 2012, 2013 or 2014. New Jersey was picking in the No. 4 spot in 2011 and wasn’t going to give that up. It hosted the 2013 draft and owned the ninth pick so that wasn’t going to be given up.
What’s really inexplicable was Lamoriello not taking his medicine in 2012 when the Devils lost to Los Angeles in the Cup final. That first round pick was 29th overall. Lamoriello decided to keep it and selected Stefan Matteau.
Now the embarrassment will build over the next five months.