By Bruce Penton
‘Tanking’ during the regular season for a favourable position in the amateur draft might happen occasionally in the National Hockey League, but tanking in the playoffs? It could happen this summer if and when the NHL tries to salvage what it can from the 2020 pandemic-induced mess that the world has endured since March.
While 24 teams will start the playoffs Aug. 1 with a chance to win the Stanley Cup, only one of eight losers in the play-in round will have a chance to win the right to draft Alexis Lafrèniere, the big prize in this year’s amateur draft.
Thanks to a surprise development in the NHL’s draft lottery, held in June, one of the eight teams that loses in the first round of the playoffs will be awarded the No. 1 draft pick following a second lottery draw. The top pick is supposed to go to one of the poorer teams, but the very definition of ‘lottery’ deals with an immense amount of random chance, or dumb luck. One of those eight first-round losers will capitalize on that luck.
So here’s a possible scenario. A series featuring the Calgary Flames and the Winnipeg Jets — two teams with unlikely chances to go all the way through the playoffs to win the Cup — instead find themselves playing (by losing) for a chance to get LaFreniere, a potential franchise player with Crosby-McDavid-MacKinnon-type talent. The best-of-five series is tied 2-2, with the winner to go on to play first-place St. Louis in the second round. So do the Flames and Jets play for next week? Or do they play for next year, and the next 10 years, with the possibility of a franchise player like Lafrèniere to build around?
Fans can only hope a 3-3 tie in Game 5 of this fictitious Flames-Jets game doesn’t go to overtime. It might never end.
Coach Claude Julien of the Canadiens runs one of those teams with a) no shot to win the Cup; and b) a 1-in-8 chance to draft Lafrèniere by losing to Pittsburgh in the play-in round.
Julien told NHL.com that he realizes a good chunk of Habs’ fans probably want their team to lose to Pittsburgh to have a crack at Lafrèniere.
“That’s totally normal. Totally normal. There’s no issues there,” Julien said. “I think everybody’s got their opinions and they’re entitled to it because some fans, and rightfully so, get excited about the possibility of having that guy there.”
It’s been a weird 2020, so keep the weirdness going. And what’s weirder than NHL fans praying their team loses in the first round of playoffs?
• Patti Dawn Swansson, aka the River City Renegade: “I note that Vlad (The Bad) Putin has signed a one-way deal to rule Russia until at least 2036, about the same time Tom Brady is expected to show signs of slowing down.”
• From Super 70s Sports, on Facebook: “In 1991, Andre Dawson was called out looking by umpire Joe West and then ejected for arguing the call. He was fined $500 by the National League and paid it via cheque with the memo line filled out ‘Donation for the blind.’”
• Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: The Fuji-Q Highland amusement park in Japan, saying that droplets from screaming on roller coasters could spread the coronavirus, is urging riders to ‘Please scream inside your heart.’ If you think that’s extreme, wait’ll they try to ban booing in Philadelphia.”
• Another one from Swansson, on Patrick Mahomes’ $500-million-plus contract: “Mahomes’ new contract is 117 pages long. I’ve lived in towns that didn’t have phone books that big.”
• Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg: “Green Bay. QB Aaron Rodgers has broken up with his girlfriend, race driver Danika Patrick. Rodgers just felt their relationship was going around and around in circles.”
• Comedy writer Brad Dickson of Omaha, on Nebraska Cornhusker football fans: “There’s something seriously wrong with people who will wear a rubber corncob head on their noggin but won’t be seen in public in a Covid mask.”
• Headline on theonion.com: “Jerry Jones Changes Team’s Name To Redskins Now That It’s Available
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