A good gameshow can be great entertainment and when the stakes are pretty high they can offer their own kind of thrill. In the spring of 2005, when the Wild held its draft lottery as part of their locked out season, the lottery was unofficially known as the ‘Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes’ as the team that got to pick #1 would likely be given the opportunity to draft a great generational talent. The Pittsburgh Penguins, an organization who just prior to the winning of that lottery was on the ropes of possibly relocating to Kansas City as they were in deep financial trouble got their franchise savior and history speaks for itself. 3 Stanley Cups and 1,263 points in 984 regular season games including another 186 points in 164 playoff games, not too shabby.
Crosby’s arrival saved their franchise and put Pittsburgh among the elite teams for good portion of the 2010’s. But it all happened at the draft and the lottery gave them that opportunity. So on Friday night, June 26th, the NHL held their draft lottery and much to everyone’s surprise it wasn’t one of the 6 teams (Ottawa, Detroit, Anaheim, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Buffalo) that are already out. Instead it is one of the 16 teams involved in the play-in series that if they lose their play-in series that will end up with the top pick in Phase 2 of the lottery.
Wild fans were quick to guage the situation on Twitter with tweets like these.
I know earlier in the season, but I suggested embracing the tank a long time ago. The 2020 draft class is said to be one of the deeper ones in the last few years. So far the Wild have 6 draft picks, not including another possible 1st round pick depending on how the Penguins do against the Montreal Canadiens. If the Penguins lose, the Wild will stay with just 6 picks for 2020 and will have to wait for their 1st round pick until 2021 because its Top 10 protected. However, the Minnesota Wild still have a chance at that top pick as one of the play in teams if of course the team loses out in the play in series against Vancouver.
It is unlikely the team would just tank, but would it really be that bad if they lost their play in series to take that chance? A chance at either elite scoring winger Alexis Lafreniere or a big top-line calibre center Quinton Byfield have to be awfully tempting to an organization whose two Top 6 centers are currently 35 years old or older. With Kirill Kaprizov still taking his sweet time to sign with the organization this might be the break the organization desperaely needs to add a generational talent that may be the franchise’s cornerstone for the next decade or longer.
The Wild are not a franchise in deep financial trouble or one considering relocation, but it certainly is an organization that has been mired in mediocrity. Not good enough to be considered a serious contender, but not bad enough to pick high enough in the draft to stock up on blue chip talent. Recently, the Athletic writers Michael Russo and Aaron Portzline noted how a coin flip helped dictate the early trajectories of the Minnesota and Columbus franchises. In that 2000 draft, the Wild won the coin flip (technically twice) and thus picked 3rd overall instead of 4th overall. It was the difference between selecting Marian Gaborik, the only true star calibre forward the team has ever drafted and developed and selecting a mundane defenseman like Rostislav Klesla.
Of course, you have to pick the right player. And perhaps its just Minnesota sports history weighing on its mind, that even if the Wild were to have the good fortune of having the 1st Overall pick they’d still find a way to mess it up.
If you’re a hockey fan of my age, people still bring up the fact the Minnesota North Stars picked Brian Lawton 1st Overall in 1983 instead of taking Steve Yzerman (4th Overall) or Pat LaFontaine (3rd Overall). Even though the Wild got an improbable ‘2nd chance’ at netting the top pick, perhaps they should embrace that opportunity.
Even in the Minnesota Wild’s history, they’ve had a knack for picking the ‘wrong’ guy. In 2005, the year of the aforementioned ‘Crosby Sweepstakes’ the Wild were relatively lucky to get the 4th Overall pick only to use it to draft Benoit Pouliot instead of eventual two-time Stanley Cup Champion center Anze Kopitar. Or in 2006 taking James Sheppard and his size 15 skates over Claude Giroux. In 2008, the team drafted Tyler Cuma (23rd Overall instead of John Carlson who was taken (27th Overall) by the Washington Capitals. While we have the benefit of hindsight, the ‘misses’ at the draft by this organization are fair reason for some fans to be skeptical of the teams ability to pick the right player even if they’re given their choice of any player availabe in the draft. And besides, a draft miss, what could be more Minnesota sports than that?
Let’s face it, the team is not going to net big money with games played in front of no fans but having a generational talent could go a long way to rejuvenating a fanbase that has grown tired of mediocrity. I also think based on the reactions of some fans, they recognize a club that might be able to win a play in series against Vancouver but will likely be thwarted in the 1st round of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. So for those fans, who have seen this scenario play out year after year, they’d rather gamble on a ‘what if’ than watch this group of veterans have another early exit.
That may not sound like a good way to send off team captain Mikko Koivu who is likely going to retire at the conclusion of this season. But he’s not the future and while the team will likely be motivated to win for their outgoing captain rather than motivated to tank. The truth is, it might be what is best for the club especially if its yields the 1st overall pick to bring in a top-level talent. So don’t be surprised if some Wild fans will be rooting for Vancouver to win the series for their club to take a chance on this lottery ticket.
As the saying goes, you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket and while it will take losing a play in series to get that opportunity, it just might be worth it.
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