This weekend, the hockey world lit up with the news that, for the fourth time in six years, Edmonton got the first overall pick in the NHL draft lottery. This year was extra special, as the projected first-round pick Connor McDavid is supposed to be the chosen one who will lead us from our years of darkness (...or something).
The question I was faced with is just how unlikely is it that Edmonton came first 4 times in the last six years. After all, it is a lottery. The fact that the team who gets the first overall draft pick is randomly determined each year is good because it hopefully reduces the chances of a team tanking on purpose to be the worst team in the league in a given year, and keeps games interesting for fans.
Over the last six years a few different odds distributions were offered for the 14 lottery teams that didn't make the playoffs. Until 2012 only the five worst teams had a chance of getting the first draft pick (the absolute worst team had a 48.2% chance), but since 2013 all 14 of the worst teams have some chance or another.
Edmonton and Carolina were the only two teams to not make it in the playoffs over all six of those years, so it stands to reason that they had the best shots at getting the first draft picks at least once or twice in that period, right? This is what happens if you actually crunch the numbers though:
It turns out Edmonton's chances of getting four first-round picks over the last six years was actually around 1.9%. This is certainly low, but not necessarily anything impossible.
There are two reasons that this may be higher than you'd think. First of all, I was looking at the chances of Edmonton winning any four of the last six drafts, not specifically the first three, losing two, and then winning the sixth. Those odds are astronomically low, but deceptive since nobody is up in arms about the lotteries Edmonton didn't win. Secondly, Edmonton's chances were so much higher than Carolina because the first three years Carolina was in the draft lottery, they weren't in a position where they could have won first pick overall (as before 2013, a team winning the lottery could only move up a maximum of 4 positions).
All told, this gives Edmonton an expected return of 1.456 overall first picks over the last 6 years, where they actually got 4. To put that in perspective, they were expected to get almost twice as many overall first picks as the next worst team over the last six years. Of the 27 teams who made at least one appearance in the draft lottery over the last six years, we have:
Realistically, this means that the luckiest teams in the draft have been Edmonton, Florida, and Colorado, and the unluckiest has probably been Columbus. The four teams at the bottom happened to have their bad seasons in years where they weren't quite bad enough to have a shot at first overall pick (poor guys).
So yes, Edmonton has gotten lucky with draft picks over the last six years, but it's not quite as impossible as it would have otherwise seemed. We were helped out by being the worst team in the league in two years where we had nearly 50% chances of winning the draft, and by generally being terrible in the rest of the years to keep our chances high. We've gotten lucky at the draft, but only by being genuinely terrible over the last six years, and I sincerely hope that trend starts to reverse soon.