The Calgary Flames have the fifth-best odds to win the NHL’s Draft Lottery on Saturday night. After a disappointing season, seeing the team draft in the top three would be a nice consolation prize, as unlikely as it is. So what happens if the Flames win the lottery? What are their options if they get into the top three? And what’s the best way to go if the most likely scenarios (them not drafting in the top three) play out?
Before we start getting into the different options and implications, let’s take a look at the numbers. Below is Calgary’s probability, by percentage, of drafting in each possible spot once the three lotteries are run.
Thanks to this year’s new system, the Flames are actually more likely to slide a spot or two than stay in the spot they’re right now. Interestingly, Calgary’s best ever draft lottery odds came back in 2014 when they had a 10.7% chance of winning under the old system after finishing 27th. Finishing one spot higher this season doesn’t see their odds decrease all that much in comparison.
As I see it, there are three different plateaus for the Flames here, so let’s get into the ramifications for each one. What if…
…they win the lottery?
Aside from timed leaps like above, the reaction for Calgary if their 8.5% odds come through is easy: draft Auston Matthews. You don’t need me to tell you Matthews is the overwhelming favourite to go first overall. You also don’t need me to tell you how good he’d look in a Flames jersey.
Inevitably, every team holding a first overall selection will be linked to trade talks involving the said pick, but very rarely does that ever happen. if Calgary were to luck out and move up four spots, there’s really no reason for serious trade conversation, either. The likelihood a team would be willing to give up what the Flames would need and demand for that pick is extremely low. So, again, drafting Matthews is the thing that makes the most sense in this somewhat unlikely scenario.
Drafting Matthews would have an interesting trickle-down effect, though. Two different people on the hockey side of things for Calgary have told me drafting Matthews, also a centre, would almost certainly see the team move Sam Bennett back to the wing permanently. That’s a really interesting proposition.
The Flames drafted Bennett as a centre, but he looked extremely comfortable as a winger at different times during his rookie season. We know Calgary has some organizational holes on the wing, so having the ability to move Bennett back there for the long term is a tantalizing idea.
…they draft 2nd or 3rd?
As you saw in the chart above, the Flames have slightly better odds to win the second or third pick than they do to hit the grand prize. In that slightly more likely circumstance, it comes down to selecting one of the two gentlemen pictured above: Patrik Laine (right) or Jesse Puljujarvi. Again, the potential implications as a result are quite interesting.
First off, in relation to above, the conversation about shifting Bennett to the wing would no longer apply. More importantly, though, drafting one of the highly touted Finns would go directly to address Calgary’s lack of depth on the wing. In terms of natural wingers, the Flames don’t have many; the list is even shorter when it comes to impact makers, because that list includes only Johnny Gaudreau and Michael Frolik.
There’s no doubting that either one of Puljujarvi or Laine would be a great fit in theory and could very well help solve a glaring need going forward. I like Puljujarvi’s fit with Calgary a little bit more, mainly because he’s a better skater and this team is very much predicated on speed and tempo. Regardless of my preference, though, both players would fill a huge organizational need and there’s so little between the two that it’d be tough to complain about either outcome.
I’m not counting on the Flames getting a shot at picking one of Laine or Puljujarvi, but if they do it’s very likely just as desirable an outcome as picking first overall.
…they don’t win a lottery pick?
This is the most likely eventuality come Saturday night, and it carries with it a bevy of different options. Statistically, Calgary is most likely to pick either sixth or seventh come June, depending on what teams end up finding their way into the top three. While that’s not the most desired outcome, the good is it still carries with it plenty of positive roads to go down.
The most intriguing of those routes for me is the one that involves a trade, hence the picture of Frederik Andersen above. The Flames are in the market for a goaltender and to get one of, say, Andersen’s caliber, they’re going to have to pay a hefty price. A top three pick is too high of a price in my eyes, but if they end up in the six or seven slot, it becomes a little more interesting.
There seems to be a little more divergence of opinions in the middle of the top ten, so we’re not talking about a consensus group between number four and, say, number nine. Things look very different in those slots depending on what list you’re looking at. All of the individuals in that group are good players, but are they good enough to completely write off the possibility of moving the pick?
Last year, the Flames moved a first round pick and a pair of second rounders to bring in Dougie Hamilton. It was a deal that helped the team in the immediacy but also fit well with their long term arc. By no means am I saying Calgary should be looking to move a sixth or seventh pick, but for a bona fide number one goalie or an impact winger under the age of 26, I think a conversation is at least warranted.
If a trade like that isn’t in the cards, the Flames will be just as happy to draft in the top eight. Calgary would be looking at names like Matthew Tkachuk, Olli Juolevi, Clayton Keller, Alexander Nylander, and Jacob Chychrun in that range and any one would be a nice addition to the system.
When you throw in the option of trading down in this year’s order, the Flames are going to have some real palatable options with their most likely outcome. Sure, we’d all rather seem them pick in the top three, but the odds are against that happening. If probability wins the day, though, Calgary will have lots of different ways to make their team better.