Understanding the NHL Draft Lottery

Scott LoblawContributor IApril 1, 2009

So, say you are a fan of the New York Islanders or the Colorado Avalanche and the only race your teams are in are the race for the bottom of the cellar to get that next superstar that will put your team back into contention.

There will be no hoisting “Lord Stanley” this year and you can put that parade route on hold.

As we know, with the advent of the NHL entry draft lottery, finishing last, however, does not ensure that you will get that first overall pick.

Take two-years ago for instance, where the Chicago Blackhawks had only an 8.1 percent chance of getting No. 1 but they managed to get the right concoction of numbers to pull off the feat.

We all know the rest of the story: They drafted Patrick Kane, the young American forward from South Buffalo, N.Y. who went on to win the Calder Memorial Trophy.

So, to understand how these formulas work and calculate what your team's chances are, we have to delve deeper.

All 14 teams who miss the play-offs are entered into the lottery in order from worst to first, but the teams selected in the lottery may not move up more than four positions in the draft order, therefore, only the teams finishing in the bottom five have a possibility of picking first overall.

Teams can move down from their position in the order by no more than one spot. Under this weighted system, the last place team will have a 25 percent chance of getting the first overall pick and can pick no lower than second overall.

Fourteen balls, numbered one to fourteen are put into a lottery machine and four of the balls are drawn, forming a series of numbers.

A probability chart is than used that divides the possible combinations among the 14 non-playoff teams. The four numbers are compared to the probability chart to determine which team has that number combination.

After the team selected moves up, the remainder of the teams are adjusted by one with teams moving up or down one slot to accommodate the winner, assuming that they were not originally in that slot.

30th........... 25.0% (250 combinations)
29th........... 18.8% (188 combinations)
28th........... 14.2% (142 combinations)
27th........... 10.7% (107 combinations)
26th.............8.1% (81 combinations)
25th.............6.2% (62 combinations)
24th.............4.7% (47 combinations)
23rd.............3.6% (36 combinations)
22nd............ 2.7% (27 combinations)
21st.............2.1% (21 combinations)
20th.............1.5% (15 combinations)
19th.............1.1% (11 combinations)
18th.............0.8% (8 combinations)
17th.............0.5% (5 combinations)

Since, we know the last place team will get either the No. 1 or No. 2 overall, it works out that they have a 48.2 percent chance of picking 1st compared to their 51.8 percent chance of picking second.

Thehe best non-playoff team has a .5 percent chance of picking 10th and a 95.5 percent chance of picking 14th.

So, if you are an Islanders fan (they seem destined for 30th), don't run out and get that John Tavares (expected to go first overall and highly touted) jersey just yet, your chances are only 48.2 percent.

Almost a 50/50 chance that they get the No. 1 pick, however, in the 13-year history of the draft lottery, the last place team overall has retained the first pick just four times, barely 30 percent of the time.

Luckily, like dice, the random numbers have no memory so, it is a still 48.2 percent chance.