We asked and you voted and the Pittsburgh Penguins are the team that readers least want to see win the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft by means of a second draft lottery. The Penguins were closely followed by the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers and unsurprisingly these are three teams loaded with star power who finished in the top-five among teams in the qualifying round. Yet, the Carolina Hurricanes, who hold the second best record among qualifying round teams, gained just 1% of the vote, while the Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Blackhawks, the worst teams to qualify from each conference, finished fourth and fifth respectively in voting. This begs the question: who do you think is most deserving of the top pick?
Obviously, with the NHL Draft Lottery playing out as it did with each of the league’s bottom seven teams missing out on the top slot, the most deserving teams like the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, or Buffalo Sabres won’t be an option for No. 1 this year. Instead, it will be one of the to-be-determined playoff teams out of the 16 who will play in a “knockout round” to open the expanded 24-team playoff field. All of these teams finished above .500 this season, so a good team will only get better in the form of Alexis Lafreniere, the elite talent at the top of the draft board. All eight losers of the qualifying round will have even odds in a second running of the lottery, but which franchise is most deserving of this boost?
The NHL has no shortage of teams with a history of losing, but the Florida Panthers have a strong argument for the title of unluckiest. Florida, who entered the league in 1993, has just 18 playoff wins in franchise history. A dozen of those wins came in the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996, in which they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche. The remaining six wins have come in just four playoff series over the past 22 season, none of which have been won by the Cats. This series win drought is the longest current streak in the NHL. The team has also struggled with attendance over the years, due both to location and performance. The Panthers finished just 29th in capacity attendance this season and could use a young star player to draw more fans. The current Florida roster is not without talent but is strapped for cap space and set to lose some strong players in free agency. An affordable entry level deal for a top pick would go a long way to keep the Panthers competitive in the Atlantic Division.
The Winnipeg Jets have improved since moving from Atlanta, but the team’s legacy is still one of failure. The Thrashers franchise, which has since become the second iteration of the Jets, entered the league in 1999. In 19 seasons, the club has qualified for the playoffs just four times and has won only 11 games and two series. Like the Panthers, the bulk of those wins came in just one postseason as the Jets won nine games in 2017-18. Unlike Florida, they have never appeared in a Stanley Cup Final. The Jets playoff fortunes have increased since leaving Atlanta, where they failed to win a single postseason game in more than a decade. The club may be able to figure out how to get to their first Cup Final without luck, but playing in a remote city with a passionate but small fan base limits the Jets financially and they could definitely use an affordable superstar like Lafreniere, even though the roster already contains a number of strong young players.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have an identical 11-20 playoff record to the Thrashers/Jets and seeing as how they entered the league one year later in 2000, it would seem they have been slightly more successful. Additionally, all of those wins have come within the past six seasons and the team has qualified in each of the past three years. However, the Blue Jackets have the unfortunate distinction of never coming close to a Stanley Cup in a way that no other NHL team can claim. Columbus has won just one playoff series – just last year in fact – in their existence, the fewest in NHL history, and in that season was eliminated ten wins short of a title, the furthest distance that any team can claim is their best. Columbus also lost three of their best players from the team that finally won a series last season. The Blue Jackets may be improving, but their fans have seen less playoff success than any team in the NHL and their roster is not one that seem likely to produce a Stanley Cup any time soon. Lafreniere would be a boost to the franchise the likes of which have never been seen.
The Blue Jackets’ partners in the 2000 Expansion class, the Minnesota Wild presented a return to the State of Hockey for the NHL and have always had the benefit of immense fan support. Yet, the Wild have struggled to give their fans much to truly root for. While their 26 playoff wins since they entered the league is far better than some of their peers, Minnesota has never made it to the Stanley Cup Final and were swept out of their lone Western Conference Final appearance, which came back in 2002-03. Minnesota has largely been a one-and-done team, winning just four playoff series in their existence. Regular season success can only get you so far and it would be good for the team and the league for Minnesota to see some more results in the postseason. The timing could not be better to land Lafreniere either; the Wild snapped a six-season playoff appearance streak last year and their roster is one of the oldest in the league. The team could desperately use a young centerpiece.
The original Winnipeg Jets, who moved to Phoenix and became the Arizona Coyotes in 1996, also deserve inclusion among teams who could use some luck. The Coyotes franchise is the oldest to have never appeared in a Stanley Cup Final, dating back to the Jets’ birth in 1979-80. In that time, they have just 41 playoff wins overall have qualified for the postseason just three times in the past 16 years. They have one of the longest active postseason droughts in the NHL, dating back seven years. The team also has the very unfortunate distinction of having the highest cap payroll in the league this season while placing just 28th in capacity percentage attendance. While star players have been a part of the franchise from time to time throughout its history, the current roster is lacking a young superstar, which is exactly what they need to increase fan interest as well as affordably improve their roster. Lafreniere would be the perfect fit.
As for other teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs have the longest active Stanley Cup drought at 51 years and are second only two Florida with a playoff series win drought of 14 years, so while they have a young, loaded roster, they may still deserve some sympathy. Similarly, while the Montreal Canadiens are the winningest team in NHL history and don’t need any more titles just yet, they are technically the worst team in the qualifying round and could desperately use the boost, as maintaining relevancy in the 21st century has proved difficult for the once-great franchise. The Vancouver Canucks are the oldest team never to have won the Stanley Cup and got painfully close with a Game Seven loss in the 2011 Final and have not won a series ever since. The Nashville Predators have also never won the Stanley Cup, but have gotten close. Like several other teams, sustained success in Nashville would have a beneficial affect on grassroots hockey. Finally, the New York Islanders are a strong team this year and have staying power in the Metropolitan Division, but their glory days of the 80’s are long gone and they have not made a Cup Final appearance in 35 seasons. Lafreniere landing in the New York market could also be great exposure for the game.
What do you think? Which team is most deserving of the No. 1 pick?