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How does the lottery work in the NHL?

The NHL (National Hockey League) holds an annual draft lottery to determine the order of selection for the first 15 picks in the NHL Entry Draft. This lottery system was implemented in 1995 as a way to discourage teams from intentionally losing games in order to secure a higher draft pick, a practice known as “tanking.”

The lottery works by assigning odds for the first overall pick to all teams that did not qualify for the playoffs the previous season. The team with the lowest point total from the regular season has the best odds of winning the lottery and selects first overall, while odds gradually decrease based on the final standings. The lottery winner moves up to select first overall, bumping all other teams back a spot in the draft order.

What are the Lottery Odds for Each Team?

The lottery odds are determined by the final regular season standings of the teams that did not qualify for the playoffs. The team that finished lowest in the overall league standings has the highest odds of winning the lottery and selecting first overall.

For the 2023 NHL Draft Lottery, the odds are:

Team Lottery Odds
Chicago Blackhawks 18.5%
Columbus Blue Jackets 13.5%
Anaheim Ducks 11.5%
Philadelphia Flyers 9.5%
New Jersey Devils 8.5%
Arizona Coyotes 7.5%
Seattle Kraken 6.5%
Ottawa Senators 6.0%
Detroit Red Wings 5.0%
Buffalo Sabres 3.5%
San Jose Sharks 3.0%

As you can see, the team with the lowest point total in the standings has the highest lottery odds. For 2023, the Chicago Blackhawks finished last and have an 18.5% chance of winning the lottery. The odds gradually decrease based on the standings, with the 11th-worst team having just a 3% chance.

How Does the Actual Lottery Work?

While the odds are set ahead of time based on the final regular season standings, the actual lottery draw is conducted at the NHL Draft Combine in May. It takes place behind closed doors with representatives from each team in attendance.

14 ping pong balls numbered 1-14 are placed into a lottery machine. The machine randomly selects four balls, forming a four-digit number. The team that owns the number that matches the four-digit number wins the lottery and gets the first overall pick.

After the first pick is awarded, another set of balls are drawn to determine the second overall pick. The team that wins the second pick is removed from the lottery and the process continues until all 15 draft spots are assigned.

This ensures that the odds remain the same through each pick. For example, even if Chicago wins the 1st overall pick, Columbus retains its 13.5% odds for the 2nd pick. Each pick is awarded sequentially through the lottery process.

What Happens if a Team Wins the Lottery Two Years in a Row?

If a team wins the draft lottery two years in a row, some limitations come into effect for the second year. If a team wins the lottery and has the first overall selection, they are only allowed to move up a maximum of four spots in the draft order for the following year’s lottery.

For example, if the team finished with the 5th-worst record that season, they could only move up to select 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th after winning the lottery again. This prevents a team from having multiple first overall picks over a short period of time.

Are All Teams Eligible for the Lottery?

No, only teams that did not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs are included in the NHL Draft Lottery. This means 16 teams missed the playoffs and have a chance to win the lottery each year.

Playoff teams are excluded, as are the two expansion teams for the first three years after their inception. The Seattle Kraken, which entered the league in 2021-22, will be excluded until 2024.

The 16 teams in the lottery have their odds determined by the final league standings. The only exception is if any teams have the same point total – they split the odds evenly for the applicable spots.

What Happens After the Lottery?

Once the lottery is complete and the first 15 picks have been awarded, the draft order resets based on the regular season points. Any teams that did not win a lottery spot simply pick in order of worst regular season record to best.

For example, if Buffalo finishes with the 10th-worst record but does not win a lottery spot, they will pick 16th overall. The draft order continues based on point totals for the remaining spots. Playoff teams select in order of how they finished in the playoffs.

So in summary:

– Lottery odds are assigned based on regular season standings
– The lottery draw takes place at the Draft Combine
– Only the first 15 picks are awarded by the lottery
– The remaining draft order is based on the final standings
– Playoff teams select last, based on how far they advanced

This ensures a balance of the lottery draw and the actual draft order each year.

Trading Draft Picks

Draft picks can be traded just like players in the NHL. Teams often trade draft picks as part of larger deals to acquire players. Teams can trade both current and future year picks.

When a draft pick is traded, all of the lottery odds and draft order conditions transfer to the team that acquires the pick. For example:

– If Buffalo trades its 2023 1st round pick to Detroit, Detroit gets Buffalo’s lottery odds for that year.

– If that pick ends up being the 10th overall pick, Detroit picks 10th overall with the acquired pick from Buffalo.

Draft pick trades are a major part of the NHL trade landscape every year. The value of picks varies based on the perceived strength of the draft class each year.

Are There any Special Lottery Rules?

There are a few special rules and restrictions related to the NHL Draft Lottery:

– Only 1 draw is conducted with the top 3 picks awarded. Additional draws for picks 4-15 have been eliminated.

– No team can move up more than 10 spots in the lottery. This prevents the worst teams from jumping all the way up to 1st overall.

– No team can win the lottery more than twice in a 5-year span. This prevents a team from getting multiple top picks over a short period.

– If expansion teams miss the playoffs in their first three seasons, they are excluded from the lottery.

– If a team acquires another lottery team’s pick, the odds do not change based on the finishing position. The odds are tied to the original team.

So in summary, the NHL limits extreme lottery jumps and has some protections in place to promote parity and discourage tanking.

What Teams Have Benefited the Most from the Draft Lottery?

The Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins have historically been the biggest beneficiaries of draft lottery luck:

Edmonton Oilers

– 2010 – Won Taylor Hall with 3rd best lottery odds
– 2011 – Won Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with 2nd best lottery odds
– 2012 – Won Nail Yakupov with 3rd best lottery odds
– 2015 – Won Connor McDavid with 3rd best lottery odds

The Oilers “won” four lotteries over a 6 year span and were able to draft 4 top prospects, including Connor McDavid who was seen as a generational talent. This lottery luck was crucial in rebuilding the Oilers roster.

Pittsburgh Penguins

– 2002 – Won 2nd overall pick and selected Marc-Andre Fleury
– 2003 – Won 1st overall pick and selected Marc-Andre Fleury
– 2004 – Won 2nd overall pick and selected Evgeni Malkin

The Penguins had a run of three straight lottery wins in the early 2000s. This allowed them to draft core players Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby who would go on to lead them to multiple Stanley Cup championships.

In summary, lottery wins yielded the Oilers and Penguins multiple franchise-changing players. The lottery odds going in their favor played a key role in their rebuild processes.

Do Teams ever Try to Lose to get Better Lottery Odds?

It is speculated that some teams may deliberately try to lose down the stretch once they are out of playoff contention in order to improve their lottery odds. This is known as “tanking” and goes against the spirit of competition in the NHL.

The league introduced the lottery system in part to discourage tanking by removing the outright guarantee of the first overall pick. The lottery means that even the worst team is not assured the top selection.

However, teams have still been accused of tanking in years when there are one or two perceived “generational” talents available in the draft. Connor McDavid’s draft year was a notable example, with some teams appearing to load up on losses down the stretch.

The NHL also tweaked lottery rules in 2016 to limit the potential draft positions a team could jump. This was an effort to further deter blatant tanking efforts solely for better lottery odds.

Notable Examples of Major Lottery Jump Wins

There have been some notable “lottery leaps” over the years where teams significantly jumped spots thanks to winning the lottery:

– Chicago Blackhawks – In 2007 they jumped from 5th to 1st and selected Patrick Kane

– New Jersey Devils – In 2017 they went from 5th to 1st and selected Nico Hischier

– Buffalo Sabres – In 2018 they went from 5th to 1st and got Rasmus Dahlin

– New York Rangers – In 2019 they jumped up from 6th to 2nd and selected Kaapo Kakko

So while the lottery odds favour the teams that finish low in the standings, there are often major leaps forward. This brings excitement and unpredictability to the draft proceedings.

When Did the Draft Lottery First Start?

The NHL Draft Lottery was introduced ahead of the 1995 NHL Entry Draft. It was implemented after a push by league executives to discourage the practice of tanking and restore fairness and competitiveness.

Prior to the lottery, the top pick was simply awarded to the team that finished last in the league standings. With no lottery in place, teams had a large incentive to tank in order to guarantee themselves the first overall selection.

The league hoped that by introducing lottery odds, even the worst teams could not bank on securing the top pick. This would eliminate most of the incentive around deliberate losing.

The first NHL Draft Lottery took place on April 8, 1995 with the Ottawa Senators winning the right to select first overall. They ultimately selected future star center Bryan Berard.

Biggest Lottery Wins for Top Players

Here are some of the biggest draft lottery wins that yielded truly legendary players:

– Sidney Crosby

The 2005 lottery was highly anticipated with Crosby seen as a generational talent. The Penguins won the lottery despite having just the 3rd best odds. They selected Crosby who lived up to the hype.

– Connor McDavid

In 2015, McDavid was viewed as the most hyped prospect since Crosby. The Oilers jumped from 3rd in odds to win the lottery, getting the chance to draft the superstar center.

– Alex Ovechkin

The Capitals won the 2004 lottery despite having just the 3rd best odds. This allowed them to select Ovechkin who went on to have a Hall of Fame career.

– Patrick Kane

The Blackhawks jumped from 5th in odds all the way to 1st in 2007, allowing them to draft Kane who was an instant star in Chicago.

Winning the lottery in years where there is an elite prospect at the top can set a franchise up for a decade or more of success. The lottery has helped struggling teams land true superstar players.

Biggest Lottery Wins by Franchise

Looking at the biggest lottery wins for specific franchises:

– Edmonton Oilers – Winning Connor McDavid in 2015 after 6 years out of the playoffs.

– Pittsburgh Penguins – Winning Sidney Crosby in 2005, Evgeni Malkin in 2004.

– Chicago Blackhawks – Moved from 5th to 1st in 2007 to select Patrick Kane.

– Washington Capitals – Jumping from 3rd to 1st in 2004 to grab Alexander Ovechkin.

– New York Islanders – Moving from 5th to 1st in 2000 to select Rick DiPietro.

Lottery wins that grant struggling franchises the top pick can serve as major turning points in team history. The lottery has helped accelerate rebuilds for teams like the Penguins, Blackhawks, and Capitals over the years.

Biggest Lottery Wins by Draft Position

Looking at the teams that made the biggest jumps up the draft board thanks to the lottery:

– Chicago Blackhawks – Moved from 5th to 1st in 2007 (+4 spots)

– New Jersey Devils – Went from 5th to 1st in 2017 (+4 spots)

– Buffalo Sabres – Climbed from 5th to 1st in 2018 (+4 spots)

– Florida Panthers – Jumped from 3rd to 1st in 2003 (+2 spots)

– Washington Capitals – Moved from 3rd to 1st in 2004 (+2 spots)

The lottery creates excitement by allowing teams to make huge leaps up the draft board into the top few selections. This provides hope for struggling clubs who otherwise would pick later based on record.

Do Teams Ever Trade Lottery Picks?

Yes, teams will occasionally trade away lottery picks and the rights to the draft prospects associated with that selection. This occurs more often in years where there is no clear cut #1 prospect at the top of the draft.

Some examples of teams trading away lottery picks include:

– In 2018, Carolina traded the #2 pick to Montreal who selected Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

– In 2017, Dallas traded the #3 pick to Chicago who selected Miro Heiskanen.

– In 2016, Edmonton traded the #4 pick to Vancouver who selected Olli Juolevi.

– In 2012, Columbus traded #2 to Montreal who picked Alex Galchenyuk.

Trading away lottery picks is risky, as you may give up the chance to draft a future star. But it allows teams to address more immediate needs through acquiring proven NHL talent. Lottery pick trades will likely continue being made for this reason.

Biggest Lottery Winners Who Fell Short As Players

While winning the draft lottery can yield franchise players, there are also examples of highly drafted players failing to meet expectations:

– Alexandre Daigle (1st in 1993 to Ottawa) – Bust player, never matched hype.

– Patrik Stefan (1st in 1999 to Atlanta) – Struggled with injuries, mediocre career.

– Rick DiPietro (1st in 2000 to NY Islanders) – Career derailed by concussions and injuries.

– Nail Yakupov (1st in 2012 to Edmonton) – Disappointing production, traded away.

– Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (1st in 2011 to Edmonton) – Solid player but not the superstar expected.

Winning the lottery guarantees nothing in terms of drafting an elite player. Even with the first overall pick, plenty examples exist of prospects simply not panning out for whichever team selects them.


The NHL Draft Lottery adds excitement and unpredictability to the league’s annual draft proceedings. While weighted based on the regular season standings, the lottery means that even the very worst teams are not guaranteed the first overall pick. This system discourages tanking while promoting parity in the league’s talent distribution.

Major lottery jumps can instantly accelerate rebuilds and change the fortunes of struggling franchises. The lottery has helped many teams land francise-altering superstars over the years. But landing the top pick also comes with pressure and risk, as even touted prospects can ultimately fail to meet expectations.