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Lightning NHL Draft Lottery Odds: So you’re telling me there’s a chance

This Saturday, the Tampa Bay Lightning will take part in the NHL draft lottery for the first time since 2013. Just in case anyone forgot how it works, this article is a quick reminder.

The NHL uses a process (one you can learn about in detail in this fun article) to select the top 3 picks in the draft using probabilities based on how each team performed last season. Las Vegas’ entry into the league adds some new twists, but the process is basically the same as in previous years.

The NHL draws ping pong balls to select the first three teams in the draft. After the first three picks are decided, the remainder of the draft slots go in order based on  regular season points in the standings. So if the Avalanche don’t get selected for any of the top three picks, they would slot in 4th and the list would proceed from worst to best finish from that point.

The only way that order could be interrupted is by Vegas — Vegas is guaranteed to be no further down than sixth. So a team like Arizona that finished third from last and would normally be guaranteed picking no worse than sixth might slide to seventh if they get bumped by Vegas.

This chart by Micah Blake McCurdy from Hockey Viz is much more efficient way of expressing what I tried to write above.

By finishing 15th, the Lightning have five possible draft positions. By far the most likely is the 15th slot — they have a 91% chance of being there. But that’s boring, so let’s talk about the other possibilities. First, the Lightning have a 3% chance of getting bumped down to 16th. In order for that to happen, the Islanders would have to draw one of the top three spots. A move from 15 to 16 isn’t likely to be a huge deal but it would definitely be annoying.

The more fun possibilities are the potential to jump into the top three. The Lightning have a combined chance of 6% of ending up in one of the top three spots. That’s a little bit better than 1 in 17. And while 6% is a low number, it isn’t the same as zero. The odds are about the same as flipping a coin four times and getting heads all four times.

Here’s how the Lightning’s chances stack up against some other random things:

  • I’m 812.5 times more likely to see the Lightning end up in the top three picks than I am to get struck by lightning during my lifetime.
  • The Lightning are less likely to win a top three pick than they were to win the Stanley Cup according to Vegas before the season started. 🙁
  • The Lightning are twice as likely to win one of the top three picks as a woman is to have her pregnancy result in twins.
  • I’m about two times more likely to match two numbers in the Florida lottery than the Lightning are to land a top three pick.
  • And finally, I’m approximately ten times more likely to start losing my hair in the next few years than the Lightning are to win one of the top three picks in the lottery./

The draft lottery is designed to ensure the worst teams end up with the best chance to land the best prospects while still allowing some room for chaos. And this year, Lightning fans will certainly be rooting for a bit of chaos. Landing a top three pick with an already well-developed pipeline would be a nice consolation prize at the end of a disappointing season. And while doing so would be unlikely, to paraphrase the immortal Lloyd Christmas, I’m telling you there’s a chance.

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