Red Wings Deserve A Break In Their Deal With The Devil

Alexis Lafreniere
Photo credit Vaughn Ridley / Stringer
By 97.1 The Ticket

It's been a long time since the Red Wings had so much on the line in June.

If the balls finally fall in their favor in the NHL Draft lottery Friday night, they'll have the right to select consensus No. 1 pick Alexis Lafreniere. He could be an instant-impact player for a franchise that badly needs one. 

But it's a big 'if,' as Detroit knows all too well. 

The Wings had the seventh best odds in the 2017 lottery, then fell to ninth. They had the fifth best odds in the 2018 lottery, then fell to sixth. They had the fourth best odds in last year's lottery, then fell to 12th. (They actually fell to *sixth, but you're so numb you read right through that.)

Is Detroit paying off a deal with the devil? Is this the price of Datsyuk in the sixth round and Zetterberg in the seventh? Is the cost of four Cups and an epic playoff streak? What's going on here!?

Friday night should give us some answers. The Red Wings have the best odds on the board. They can't possibly be swindled again. Not without the interference of evil forces. Evil forces sometimes referred to as math. 

Fact is, Detroit has a better chance of slipping to No. 4 than settling anywhere in the top three. The Red Wings decided to rebuild through the draft at exactly the time the NHL revamped the lottery to disincentive tanking. Coincidence, huh? 

Not that the Wings have ever tanked. They've bottomed out naturally, even nobly. But there's no reward for that. Whereas the NHL's worst team used to be guaranteed a top-two pick, the only guarantee these days is that said team will be soaked in cold sweat by the end of the lottery. 

Since the NHL began drawing for the top three picks in 2016, rather than the No. 1 pick alone, we've seen the favorite drop to fourth -- twice. The victim in both cases was Colorado, but don't feel bad for the Avs. They basically won the lottery the first time when Cale Makar fell in their lap at No. 4. And they literally won the lottery in 2013 when they landed Nathan MacKinnon. 

The Red Wings have never won the lottery, because it was instituted just as they were beginning to dominate the NHL. Coincidence, huh!?

If you're looking for good omens, the lottery has leaned toward the favorite in even years. The last-place Maple Leafs won the Austin Matthews sweepstakes in 2016, and the last-place Sabres won the Rasmus Dahlin sweepstakes in 2018. So the last-place Red Wings will win the Lafreniere sweepstakes in 2020. 

Here's the catch. (Sweating yet?) Detroit isn't really the favorite. That would be Ottawa, which has a 25 percent chance at the No. 1 pick because it also owns San Jose's pick, courtesy of the Erik Karlsson trade in 2018. The Wings have an 18.5 percent chance of picking first. 

Continuing down the ladder, they have a 16.5 percent chance of picking second and a 14.4 percent chance of picking third, adding up to a 49.4 percent chance of picking somewhere in the top three. That's ... less than 50 percent. 

Meanwhile, there's a 100 percent chance Lafreniere will be a star. He racked up 217 points over his last two seasons in Quebec Major Junior, in 113 games. He was equally dominant at the World Juniors. There's a place for him in Detroit for the next 15 years, right beside the team's captain in waiting
It already rolls off the tongue: Larkin to Lafreniere. 

Look, if the Wings did strike some demonic deal, don't they deserve a break? Their draft hopes have been crushed three years in a row. Their rebuild has progressed slowly. They took enough abuse on the ice this season to account for a decade's worth of success. They're a long, long way from where Steve Yzerman is trying to take them. 

And when did Yzerman ever shake hands with the devil?