Early this season, the Colorado Avalanche were in the most enviable position in sports. Their team was excelling and looking playoff-bound, but without any negative effect on their draft status. Because as the Avs won games, the Ottawa Senators were losing them and Colorado owned the Sens’ first-round pick this year as part of last season’s Matt Duchene trade. There was a real possibility that the Avalanche could be Stanley Cup contenders and also have the first overall pick in the draft. Lately, the Avs have looked less like a playoff team and more like the Senators. Colorado has four wins in their past 23 games dating back to mid-December and have slipped into a tie for tenth-place in the Western Conference, three points out of a playoff spot. The one silver lining: their odds at drafting No. 1 have improved and might end up being the best in several years.
Ahead of the 2014 NHL Draft, the NHL changed the draft lottery rules. Any team in the lottery could now move up into a top-three position and the odds would be more fairly distributed among all lottery teams. There have been slight variations in the odds for each draft, but the biggest shift came last year when the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights to the league added a fifteenth member of the lottery group and further split the odds. Yet, with 18.5% odds, the last-placed Buffalo Sabres still retained the first overall pick and drafted Rasmus Dahlin, a generational defenseman. This year’s prize, play-making forward Jack Hughes, is seen by most scouts as a guaranteed top-six center and power play wizard and the team with the worst record still stands the best chance of getting him by a significant margin.
Of course, the worst record looks like it will belong to Ottawa and thus the pick will belong to Colorado. The Senators are currently in 31st overall in the league standings, three points back of the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils. If those standings hold, based on last year’s odds Colorado will have a 18.5% chance that the Ottawa pick will be first overall, compared to 13.5% for L.A. and 11.5% for New Jersey. Then, Colorado’s own pick comes into play. Currently, the Avs are technically 23rd overall. If they remain in that spot, they would have 5% odds that their own pick would be No. 1. Combined, they would have a 23.5% shot at picking first. Since 2014, no team has come close to having odds that high at the top pick and Colorado could continue to struggle down the stretch and improve the odds on their own pick. If the Avs were to slip three more spots in the league standings, their odds would be greater than 25%, giving them better than a one-in-four shot at Hughes.
The possibilities are even more intriguing when you consider the odds of both picks winning the lottery instead of just one. Currently, there is about a 0.9% chance that Colorado could pick first and second, not dissimilar odds to those that the final lottery team has of picking first. The addition of both Hughes and the presumptive No. 2 pick, Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko, would be an enormous influx of elite draft talent unseen since the Sedin twins landed with the Vancouver Canucks at second and third overall in 1999. There is a whopping 58% chance that both of their picks land in the top four, which would also be an unbelievable boost for the Avalanche with a number of impact forwards available in this class. And again, these odds can only improve if the Avalanche continue on this downward spiral. If the current standings hold, the worst that Colorado could do is to pick fourth and twelfth – which would still be a better first-round combination than any team in recent years – and the odds of that happening are approximately 18x less likely than picking both first and second; the best case is greater reality than the worst-case.
The moral of the story is that, while it’s disappointing for Avalanche fans to see a talented team plummeting down the standings, there is some upside as well. The team is young and built for the future and are in better shape than any team in recent memory to add the best player in the draft and perhaps two of the best available. So whether you’re a Colorado fan soley focused on Hughes or holding out for another top prospect as well, the team’s current slump is only helping in that pursuit. The ping pong balls will ultimately decide the Avs’ fate, but the future is bright.