With the regular season coming to a close, the NHL is about to be split into two distinct classes, the haves and the have-nots. For those 16 teams that qualify for the playoffs, the next couple of months will be a flurry of big games, big performances and for all but one team, even bigger disappointments. As for those other 14 teams, it is time to start anew. The June 30th NHL Draft marks the beginning of a new journey as every team in the league has reason for optimism, and every teams’ fans think their team can win the Cup.
The Florida Panthers are one of those have-not franchises that will be given a jolt of life by the NHL draft. Currently occupying last place in the NHL, there is a good chance that the Panthers could end up with the number one pick. Finishing last however does not guarantee the first pick in the draft. The number one pick depends on the results of the Draft Lottery which will be held on April 29th before the start of the playoffs.
This year’s Draft Lottery introduces a new rule change which gives all 14 non-playoff teams a chance to receive the number one pick. In previous years there was a rule in place stating that no team could move up more than four spots as a result of the lottery. Meaning only teams who finished in the bottom five were eligible for the top pick if they won the lottery. For example, in 2011 the 8th ranked New Jersey Devils won the lottery but only moved from 8th to 4th in the draft. The Edmonton Oilers who finished last in the NHL that year retained their number one pick.
In previous years, the last place team (i.e. the Panthers so far this year) would have a 48.2% chance of getting the number one pick because if any team outside the bottom five won the lottery, the last place team would retain the top pick. This year any of the non-playoff teams can win the lottery so the last place team only has a 25% chance of keeping their top pick. The odds decrease from 25% for the 30th place team down to .5% for the 17th place team.
The good news for the Panthers is, there is only one selection in the Draft Lottery and the most any team can be displaced is by one pick. If the Panthers finish last in the NHL but another team wins the lottery, the Panthers would still have the 2nd pick in the draft.
Currently Florida has 32 points three behind the Colorado Avalanche who are 29th. The race for last place puts fans in an interesting position where on one hand they want to see their team win and play well but on the other hand a few meaningless wins in April could cost the Panthers a chance to draft a future all-star. The NHL draft is traditionally top heavy. Usually the top three players are sure fire bets but as you get deeper into the draft the chances of a player being a bust greatly increase.
The consensus projected number one pick this year is defenseman Seth Jones a player many have bestowed the “Can’t Miss Prospect” label. Behind him is Nathan MacKinnon a center playing in the QMJHL who many have compared to Steven Stamkos. These two players are as close to sure things as you will find in the draft. If the Panthers end up finishing last in the league they will be virtually ensured the opportunity to select one of these two players.
How should Panther fans go about cheering for their team the rest of the season? Personally I want to see the Panthers win games but if they end of losing I will have no reason to be upset. I would probably be more upset if the Panthers rattled off six straight wins and ended up with the 5th or 6th pick in the draft. My thinking is, the results at this point in the season matter less than the experience many of the Panthers’ young players will gain playing in these last few games. I certainly do not want to see the team tank the rest of their games but if we end up in last place, I will not lose any sleep.
Either way, The Rat Trick will be your go-to source for all Panthers’ draft news. We plan to thoroughly cover the lead up to the April 29th Draft Lottery and as we approach the actual draft we will provide Mock Drafts and profiles of potential draft picks.
I’m interested to hear from the fans, how do you go about rooting for the Panthers the rest of the way? Do you want to see Florida get the number one pick or would you rather see some wins the rest of the way?