The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Draft Lottery

The Tampa Bay Lightning and the Draft Lottery
A blurry photo of a young Steven Stamkos next to Vincent Lecavalier. Courtesy of the Tampa Bay Lightning via their Twitter (@TBLightning)

As we mentioned in today’s Lightning Round, the NHL Draft Lottery is tonight. Teams that struggled this year are hoping that the ping pong balls spit out the right combination and they are rewarded with the chance to draft the next supposed generational talent in Connor Bedard. By all likelihood it’s going to be Anaheim, but you never know. Twice in the last four drafts (2019 and 2020) teams other than the one with the best overall odds won the lottery and moved into the first spot.

Like the rest of the league, the Tampa Bay Lightning will be watching with nothing more than a passing interest. Since they made the playoffs, they won’t be in the lottery. Since they aren’t in the lottery they have no chance at moving into the top 10 and thus the conditions are met to transfer their first round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks as part of the Brandon Hagel deal.

With all of the talk about the Draft Lottery over the last few days, it felt like a good time to look at the Lightning’s history with the ping pong balls. For the most part, it’s been rather unlucky. Despite finishing with the worst record in the league three times over their history (and holding the first overall pick four times) they’ve actually only won the lottery once - in 2008.


The Lightning won something prior to their first ever draft, but it wasn’t a lottery. It was a coin flip. Prior to 1995 there was no lottery system, teams just drafted based on the reverse order of the standings. In 1992, the two expansion franchises, Tampa Bay and Ottawa, were allowed to draft first and second overall, however the order was determined by a literal coin flip.

“NHL president John Ziegler did the flipping honors, using a commemorative coin with the Lightning logo on one side and the Senators logo on the other. Esposito stood on Ziegler's left, Ottawa chairman Bruce Firestone on his right.”

The Lightning used that first overall pick on Roman Hamrlik while the Senators went with Alexei Yashin with the second pick.


For the first time in franchise history the Lightning finished dead last in the league (by a full 20 points). However, they didn’t actually win the draft lottery. The Florida Panthers did. However, they had traded their pick first round pick to the San Jose Sharks for Viktor Kozlov. In a separate deal, the Lightning had worked out a condition that they could swap picks with the Sharks after the lottery order was determined. General Manager Phil Esposito took the option and the rest is history.


Another last place finish (although by only 11 points this time. Improvement!) put them at the top of the odds for the lottery. However they were so bad that year they couldn't even win that The Chicago Blackhawks won, but under the rules at the time could only move up four spots from their original eighth spot. While hindsight tells us that the 1999 draft was one of the worst ones ever (outside of the Sedin twins) there were some intriguing prospects at the time.

The Lightning elected to move the first overall pick in a series of deals. First they traded the overall first pick to the Vancouver Canucks for the fourth overall pick, and two third round picks. Vancouver then swapped picks with Atlants so that the Canucks could draft the Sedins). The Lightning then flipped the fourth pick to the New York Rangers for Dan Cloutier, Niklas Sundstrum, a 2000 first round pick, and a 2000 third round pick. The Rangers took Pavel Brendl at the fourth spot.

Not bad work for new general manager Rick Dudley who was given approval to make deals from the outgoing ownership only the night before of the draft.

Their first pick didn’t end up coming until midway through the second round as they had traded the eventual 29th pick to Washington as part of the Bill Ranford deal in the summer of 1998. With the 47th pick (that they received from Detroit as part of the Wendal Clark deal at that year’s trade deadline) they selected Sheldon Keefe.


After finishing dead last in the league for the third (and hopefully last) time in franchise history, the Lightning had a 25% chance to retain the first overall pick. With as many bad breaks as they had encountered that season, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that they would win the lottery. However, Dave Andreychuk was on hand in Toronto to represent the Bolts and change their luck that season. It worked and the marketing team behind the “Seen Stamkos” campaign went to work.