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2016 NHL Draft Lottery: Deja Vu or Deja New?

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Tonight's NHL Lottery foments passion . . . and suspicion. Which will prevail tonight?

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The 2016 NHL Draft Lottery signals the official beginning of Conspiracy Season -- that time of year when fans have the opportunity to condemn the NHL, General Managers and others for actual or perceived slights in the draft/trade/free agent/scheduling processes.

The Entry Draft and the Draft Lottery are particularly fertile fodder for the conspiracy crowd, given some results in relatively recent years.  The Lottery, of course, has provided the Edmonton Oilers with four of the last six number 1 overall picks -- which they have parlayed into finishes no higher than 24th since then.  It's the hockey equivalent of taking a new aircraft carrier and hammering it into millions of spearheads.  A version of the lottery also awarded the #1 overall pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005, enabling them to pick Wunderkind Sidney Crosby after the lost season of 2004-2005.  That was part of a four-year sequence that saw the Penguins select #1 (Fleury), #2 (Malkin), #1 (Crosby) and #2 (Staal).  That the Pittsburgh lottery win came in the midst of its financial struggles and with NHL favorite Mario Lemieux at the helm caused a lot of eyebrows to arch.

This year's incarnation of the lottery introduces a new twist -- a separate drawing for each of the first three slots in the draft.  So, a club could slide down as many as three slots, if the first three go to teams further down the scale.   The drawing itself is a Rube Goldberg contraption, involving fourteen numbered balls (one for each of the fourteen teams eligible for the lottery).  However, it is not as simple as drawing one of the fourteen balls.  Four balls are drawn, providing a four digit combination. There are 1,001 possible combinations, and 1,000 of these are assigned to the eligible teams, with 200 assigned to Toronto, ranging down to 10 assigned to the Boston Bruins (The Blue Jackets have 95 combinations assigned to them).  Match the drawn combination to the team, and you have a winner. The 1,001st combination is assigned to nobody, and requires a re-draw.

The process starts with the #1 overall pick.  When that is complete, all of the combinations assigned to that team are now considered "dead", meaning that the odds for the #2 overall pick will not be known until the #1 pick is determined.  Ditto for the #3 pick.  By way of example, however, the Blue Jackets start the night with a 9.5% chance of getting the overall #1 pick (95 assigned combinations out of 1,000).  If Toronto wins the first pick, Columbus then has a 22.1% of getting the #2 overall pick.  Yep, it boggles the mind.  Obviously, part of the intricacy is to prevent people from claiming that the Oilers have compromising pictures of Gary Bettman and Bill Daly should Edmonton somehow prevail . .  .again.  However, we all know that nothing will prevent the screaming should that happen.  Indeed, a conspiracy story can  -- and likely will -- be fashioned for whichever team nabs the first overall pick.

So, Columbus could pick anywhere from #1 to #7 tonight. They will get a good player, but the question is whether they will get a GREAT player.  Who knows?  The broadcast begins at 7:00 PM Eastern tonight, before the Washington-Pittsburgh game. I'll update this as soon as we know what happens, and opine on the impact.  In the meantime, feel free to nurture your favorite conspiracy theory.

We've all been playing the lottery simulator, but tonight is when it matters, and there are no "do-overs" to create a more palatable result.  Rabbits' feet and other  appropriate talismans are definitely in order. Stay tuned.