Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Day To Look Forward To

On the day of one of the most critical games for the Canadiens to lose against the 29th place Edmonton Oilers, I come with a message of hope. Were you getting depressed about the next exciting Habs moment still being 3 and a half months away at the Entry Draft in June? Then I have good news for you - you can cheer for your Habs to win something much sooner than that.

Following the conclusion of the NHL's regular season in April, a draft lottery is held to determine the final picking order of all non-playoff teams. For those that don't follow this too closely, it isn't the same kind of lottery as was held in Sidney Crosby's post-lockout draft year back in 2005 with all clubs having a shot at the prized top pick. Rather, it is a weighted lottery with any of the 14 eliminated clubs having a chance to have their name drawn. Having your name drawn, however, does not give you the first overall pick. Here's how it works:

14 balls are loaded into the lottery machine, and four are pulled out at random to form some number sequence. This sequence is matched against a random probability table of 1,0001 numbers with each combination corresponding to one of the teams. The team finishing 30th in the overall standings has the most slots on this 1,0001 number list, with 25% of the outcomes. The 29th place team has about an 18.8% chance of being selected, and the probabilities decline roughly as follows:
28th -14.2%
27th - 10.7%
26th - 8.1%
25th - 6.2%
24th - 4.7%
23rd - 3.6%
22nd - 2.7%
21st - 2.1%
20th - 1.5%
19th - 1.1%
18th - 0.8%
17th - 0.5%

Only one team is "selected" through this process. That club's pick moves up 4 spots (or simply to number 1 if it's one of the bottom 4 teams). So the 10th pick team would get the 6th pick, or the 7th place team the third pick, and so on. The rest of the order remains unchanged, meaning a club can't drop more than one slot down from where they finished, and the team that finishes last (Hi Columbus) has a 48.2% chance of retaining the first overall selection (including even if they don't win the lottery) based on this system.

That first overall selection will be highly coveted this year, as Nail Yakupov projects as by far the closest thing in the class to a can't-miss star. While there are a number of impressive eligible defensemen, that won't excite Canadiens fans after taking d-men in the first round for the past two seasons. After Yakupov, top forwards include Mikhail Griogrenko - about whose consistency and commitment there are questions - and Alex Galchenyuk - who has missed the whole season with a knee injury. While either Grigorenko or Galchenyuk would make a phenomenal building block for the Habs, especially given that they are both rangy centers - something the team has lacked for quite some time - if the team has the chance to get their hands on Yakupov, I don't think it would be worth passing up.

Yes, there is a need for a big center; I've reminded one and all of that fact on numerous occasions. But the far bigger need is for some legitimate star power, and this is much too great of an opportunity to land such a player to make any kind of gamble or mistake. While Yakupov is a little undersized at 5'10", 189 lbs, he plays the game with enough grit, skill, and tenacity to make you overlook the weakness. He will make fans still whining over the departure of Mike Cammalleri forget him very quickly.

Be sure to keep your calendars flexible Habs fans, as the lottery day is just about a month away. No matter what, Montreal will walk out of June's draft with a top prospect added to its stable, but upgrading the team's selection to #1 would be a tremendous consolation prize to a horrendously disappointing season.

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