Why The Pittsburgh Penguins Won by Losing The 2004 NHL Draft Lottery

J.R. LiputContributor IMay 8, 2010

The 2004 and 2005 NHL Entry Drafts were two of the most star-studded drafts in the history of the NHL--featuring the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby. Together, these three superstars have amassed two Calder Memorial Trophies, three Art Ross Trophies, three Hart Memorial Trophies, one Conn Smythe Trophy, and two Stanley Cup Rings (albeit from the same team).

For those who are unfamiliar with the process, the NHL uses a lottery system to determine the order of selections to be made by the 14 teams who failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The five teams with the worst record through the regular season are the only teams with a chance of winning the first overall pick. The team with the worst record has the highest odds of winning; the team with the second worst record has the second highest odds, and so on.

What transpired in the 2004 and 2005 Drafts defied the odds predicted by the lottery for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Pens finished the 2003-2004 regular season with the worst record in the NHL and were the front-runner to win the first overall selection in the 2004 Entry Draft--a spot destined for Russian Winger, Alexander Ovechkin. The Chicago Blackhawks had the second highest odds of winning the pick and the Washington Capitals had the third highest odds. 

As we all know, the Capitals jumped both the Penguins and Blackhawks to win rights to the first overall draft pick and, as expected, selected Alex Ovechkin.

If the team with the highest odds of winning the lottery doesn't do so, they are guaranteed the second overall selection, which is why Pittsburgh wound up with the second pick and drafted the consensus second best player of the draft, Evgeni Malkin.

Those results greatly affected the transpirations of the ensuing draft.

Being that the 2005 Draft followed a lockout, the lottery worked differently than years past. Teams were allotted one, two, or three balls based on playoff appearances and first overall draft picks from the previous three years.

The four teams with three balls and the greatest chances of winning what was then being called the "Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes" were the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, Buffalo Sabres, and Pittsburgh Penguins.

However, had the Penguins won the previous draft lottery, as they should have, their odds of winning the lottery in 2005 would have diminished greatly, thus rendering them Sidney Crosby-less.

If the 2004 and 2005 Drafts had gone as the odds predicted, Pittsburgh would be home to just Alexander Ovechkin—not Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

Could you imagine how different the NHL would look today if that were the case?

The Penguins would not be defending Stanley Cup Champions, and would not be current favorites to win the Eastern Conference for a third consecutive season; they would not be one of the elite teams of the NHL; and Pens fans would find themselves cheering on Alex Ovechkin and incessantly heckling "Cindy" Crosby.

Disgusting, I know.

But thanks to the 2004 Draft Lottery not going as it should have, we'll never have to worry about this scenario.

I think it's safe to say, when it comes to the 2004 NHL Draft, the Pittsburgh Penguins won by losing.