For those focussed more on tomorrow night's NHL draft lottery for the moment than the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs, here's all you need to know.
Whatever happens, its not going to turn the draft upside down.
For starters, thats not what the lottery is intended to do. For the most part, its a bit of a sham, a pretend attempt to maintain the integrity of the NHL season by making it less useful to tank in the final part of the season to get a high draft pick.
The problem is that only the five lowest teams, if they win, can get the No. 1 pick because none of the 14 non-playoff teams in the lottery can move up more than four places. That's what happened last year when New Jersey won the lottery and moved from No. 8 to No. 4. The Edmonton Oilers, with the worst record, were unaffected by the lottery, and still drafted first overall because only one team actually "wins" the lottery, and the rest just shift a little depending on their pre-lottery position.
So if the Oil had been inclined to tank it, exactly how were they penalized?
This year, Columbus has the worst record. But even if the Oilers, Islanders, Habs or Leafs win the lottery and do get the No. 1 pick, for the Blue Jackets it only means a slip to No. 2.
The right way to do this lottery is to make it a straight draw of the 14 non-playoff teams, and let the cards fall where they may. Yes, that would mean Calgary, at 17th overall, could get the first pick if it was drawn that way. What's wrong with that? It really would make teams inclined to compete to the bitter end, and really, this business about competitive balance being ensured by the draft really isn't borne out by reality, is it? Or the Islanders wouldn't have a top pick every year. Or the Oilers. Or the Blue Jackets.
So while the league will try to create great drama surrounding the draft lottery, its really unwarranted. The order will end up about what it is now. The Leafs will draft fifth, or win the lottery and draft first, or drop to sixth if a team below them wins the lottery.
Now, in some years, getting that No. 1 pick, or moving to sixth from fifth, would be a big deal.
But not likely this year. Not this draft.
This will be a terrific draft to watch, and to evaluate in five years, because more than most it will clearly identify the teams with sharp scouts and the teams that don't do their homework, go in blind and pay for it.
Why? Well, because the nature of this group of teenagers means draft position, at least in the top 10, won't matter that much. You're no more guaranteed to get a good player at second overall than seventh overall, and you're just as likely to get someone who can't play.
This is the scout's draft, a chance for the best in the sport at evaluating players to shine.
So, if the Leafs have a terrific scouting brigade led by Dave Morrison, they'll get one of the top kids. If they're too conservative, or unwilling to think outside the box, or too slaven to the NHL Central Scouting list, they're just as likely to fail. Those final Central Scouting rankings, by the way, will be released todayhttp://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=626755.
Yes, Nail Yakupov is likely to be the top pick, but as a smallish, speedy winger with great hands, he's not exactly what the Leafs need. This is their chance to get a big centre with a chance to be a No. 1 centre. Even if they were to get No. 1, they'd have to look hard at Mikhail Grigorenko of the Quebec Remparts.
Except Grigorenko is anything but universally loved. Some scouts love him, some think he's slow and a little lazy. What do the Leaf scouts think, and if they don't love the kid, would they be willing to advocate passing on him and Yakupov and going for, say, Radek Faksa? Or in even more of a gamble, Alex Galyenchuk, who missed almost the entire year with major reconstructive knee surgery but is still the No. 4 ranked North American?
Are the Leafs willing to be a bit risky with this high a pick given the season they've just experienced? Are their scouts willing to advocate such a move to embattled GM Brian Burke? Right now, there's certainly reason to wonder if the Leaf scouts got the best prospect possible in 2009 with Nazem Kadri at 7th overall, there's strong evidence that players taken after Luke Schenn was selected fifth oveall in 2008 (Tyler Myers, Erik Karlsson, Jake Gardiner, Michael del Zotto, Jordan Eberle, John Carlson) were superior teenage prospects and we know for sure Jiri Tlusty was not the best available player at No. 13 in 2006 because Chris Stewart, Claude Giroux and Patrik Berglund were selected after Tlusty in the first round. (To be fair, the Leafs best draft pick that year might have been Viktor Stalberg at 161st overall. And he was traded away.)
So you've got a GM under fire and a scouting staff that with a so-so record in recent years facing a draft where information and insight will need to be precise and nearly perfect to get it right.
Columbus, at either No. 1 or No. 2, will face the choice of drafting another Russian player after failing before with Nikolai Zherdev and Nikita Filatov. Drafts are usually not about position but about the best player available, yet most believe the Oilers and Isles have to be looking for defencemen in a draft that appears richest with blueliners. At the same time, the player who might be the best of those D-men, Moose Jaw's Morgan Rielly, has been out almost all year, like Galchenyuk, with a knee injury. Rielly was sidelined Nov. 14, but to that point had 18 points in 18 games and remains fifth among North Americans on Central Scouting's final list.
So see what I'm saying about this draft? Due to the fear of Russians going to the KHL, there may be a chill over Yakupov and Grigorenko. And due to the injuries suffered by Rielly and Galchenyuk, teams better know exactly what they're doing if they want to expend a high pick on either player, and similiarly a club might be sitting there at No. 10 and find itself looking at the chance to draft one of those highly talented players because teams above them were scared off.
You can call this a crapshoot, or you can see it as an opportunity for the best and the brightest of NHL scouts to shine by identifying the elite out of a rather confusing pile of players.
All in all, the drama isn't tomorrow with the draft lottery. It'll be on the draft floor in June in Pittsburgh.