The Metropolitan Division was okay this season. Half the group made it to the postseason. Half did not.
Only half of those that made it last year made it in again this season. That would be the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Rangers. Joining them in these playoffs are the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals. None of those four teams will have a play for Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel Saturday evening at the NHL draft lottery drawing.
The rest of the division will have lottery balls in play on Saturday, with varying odds at collecting one of two generational talents in a very, very deep draft class.
And until the NHL Draft takes place this June in Florida, Saturday’s lottery drawing will be the highlight of the hockey offseason.
The Buffalo Sabres hold the inside track on McDavid and Eichel, having finished last in the NHL over the regular season schedule. A devoted and not-even-thinly-veiled tank job ensured that Tim Murray’s club would bolster its ongoing and quite thorough rebuild by collecting at least one of McDavid or Eichel this spring (a last-place finish guarantees at least a top-two pick, and the Sabres odds on the first-overall selection sit at 20 percent).
Via the wonderful, wonderful internet, here are the lottery odds in descending order,
Buffalo Sabres — 20%
Arizona Coyotes — 13.5%
Edmonton Oilers — 11.5%
Toronto Maple Leafs — 9.5%
Carolina Hurricanes — 8.5%
New Jersey Devils — 7.5%
Philadelphia Flyers — 6.5%
Columbus Blue Jackets — 6.0%
San Jose Sharks — 5.0%
Colorado Avalanche — 3.5%
Florida Panthers — 3.0%
Dallas Stars — 2.5%
Los Angeles Kings — 2.0%
Boston Bruins — 1.0%
Adding up the odds, that a 28.5 percent chance that McDavid ends up in the Metropolitan Division, making life good for one club and quite possibly hell for seven others.
Unlike the four teams at the top of this draft order, none of the Metro’s lesser clubs put on the tank job to gain their status in this draft lottery. Rather, injuries, poor play and plain old rebuilding led the Hurricanes, Devils, Flyers and Jackets into the lottery pool.
Given that, let’s take a look at those four and what Saturday evening could hold for them.
8.5 percent odds on first-overall pick
How they got here. Carolina may have actually improved this season, despite having finished last in the Metro and 14th in the East. A fourth-ranked penalty kill helped Carolina play much more competitively than most of their box scores would indicate, and the Canes finished 9th in the NHL in corsi for percentage — meaning that poor goaltending and an unusually low shooting percentage held back what was otherwise strong offensive play.
That said, underwhelming production from a number of big-salary players kept the Canes out of contention from gate to gate, and an improving if unproven defense corps still has a bit of developing to do if the Canes are to compete anytime soon.
What McEichel would mean. The Hurricanes own the Staal brothers as of now, and adding McDavid or Eichel to that group should give them a three-center combination almost rivaling the Crosby-Malkin-Staal group that carried the Penguins to a pair of Cup Final appearances in 2008 and ’09. However, there’s a lot of roster left to be tended to before such a group could make any kind of noise in the East.
New Jersey Devils
7.5 percent odds on first-overall pick
How they got here. Too old, too slow, too mired in the past. The Devils entered the season as the oldest team in the league by a mile and let the trade deadline slip by without having done much to mend that ill. New Jersey is now on four playoff misses in five years, and it’s going to take a 180 from GM Lou Lamoriello to get things moving in a younger, better direction.
What McEichel would mean. The Devils have some franchise pieces in net and on defense with Cory Schneider and an (finally) emerging Adam Larsson. Outside of Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac, the top-six is in desperate need of some skill, speed and youth. Landing a top-two pick could help the Devils to begin moving in a newer, faster direction, but only if management is willing to see that type of roster-building through to the rest of the team.
6.5 percent odds on first-overall pick
How they got here. Too little depth, too many injuries on defense and a hellish salary cap bind created by former GM Paul Holmgren left the Flyers unable to compete, especially when defenseman Kimmo Timonen was ruled out for most of the season after experiencing blood clots at the beginning of the year. The Flyers remained dangerous on the power play and lethal in the top-six, but significant holes elsewhere in the roster put them on the outside of the playoff bubble.
What McEichel would mean. Adding either of those two centers to a team that has Claude Giroux immediately puts Philadelphia in Pittsburgh’s single-occupant spot as having two all-world, franchise centers anchoring the top two lines. Plenty of other work remains to sort out the mess Holmgren has left, but McDavid and Eichel would rival Eric Lindros as the most prominent incoming prospects in Flyers history.
Columbus Blue Jackets
6.0 percent odds on first-overall pick
How they got here. Injuries, man. No club in the NHL was hurt like the Blue Jackets were hurt this season. They led the NHL with 508 man-games lost to injury (the only team to top 500 on the year), numbers that basically kept them out of the postseason. Even partially healthy toward season’s end, the Blue Jackets ran off 16 wins in their last 21 games (including nine straight to close out March), looking much more like the team that took the Penguins to six games in last year’s East Quarterfinals.
What McEichel would mean. This is a team flush with speed, youth, a few veterans on both sides of the roster and a franchise goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky. Adding McDavid or Eichel to this mix — in addition to a little better luck on the IR list — immediately makes them a contender for the division title as soon as next season.