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Cracks of Don: Farcical lottery could help Rangers to Cup a year after having first pick

Brendan Lemieux and Mika Zibanejad (93) of the New York Rangers celebrate an overtime victory over the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden on March 05, 2020 in New York City. Zibanejad had five goals in the game.
Brendan Lemieux and Mika Zibanejad (93) of the New York Rangers celebrate an overtime victory over the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden on March 05, 2020 in New York City. Zibanejad had five goals in the game.

The good news for Gary Bettman is that from his plush office at NHL headquarters in New York City, it should take his chauffeur no more than 12 minutes down 7th Avenue to get him to the home games of the league’s next superstar.

Also a plus: At least the Pittsburgh Penguins and Edmonton Oilers didn’t wind up with the No. 1 pick again. Had either won the Lafreniere Lottery, Bettman would have really looked bad.

The 68-year-old commissioner should still be embarrassed — not because both his hair and ears seem to have handsomely grown during the pandemic or that he robotically “confirmed” to NHL Network’s Kathryn Tappen that each logo on the balls did, in fact, correctly correspond with the teams they were supposed to represent — but for the Rangers winning the unfixed determination of who gets to take Rimouski Oceanic winger Alexis Lafreniere first overall in the 2020 entry draft.

There should have been one lottery, not a two-parter, and it should have been held Monday, just ahead of or early into the playoffs, as usual. What was the rush for the seven losers that didn’t qualify to find out where they’d be picking?

At the risk of sounding like Brian Burke, the draft is supposed to help the teams that have proven they need it most. The weighted system is to protect against a full-out tank job, but Bettman allowed this to turn into a farce.

The Rangers finished the regular season with a .564 winning percentage. They were tied with the Calgary Flames as the 13th-worst team in the NHL, one measly percentage point behind the Vancouver Canucks, Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers.

They were a goal or two from being in the top half of the league.

The Rangers, who moved up with the lottery last year to select Kaapo Kakko second overall, have a nice collection of good young players. If they can find a goalie (assuming 38-year-old Henrik Lundqvist is near the end) their rebuild could be finished. They could be the first team in any sport to get the No. 1 pick one year and win a championship the next.

At least Bettman would only need to travel 12 minutes from his office to present the Stanley Cup. And fans at Madison Square Garden probably wouldn’t even boo him when he did.


Is it just me or did Rangers GM Jeff Gorton look a little embarrassed when interviewed by “K.T.” (what Eddie Olczyk calls Tappen) immediately after the lottery? … The last time the Rangers had first-overall pick was 1965, when they took Andre Veilleux from the Montreal Jr. B’s in the NHL amateur draft. Even isn’t sure of the position played by Veilleux, who wasn’t either of the two players (of 11) selected that day to suit up in the NHL. One was defenceman Pierre Bouchard, who went fifth to Montreal and played 595 games for the Habs, and the other was winger Michel Parizeau, who was drafted in the second round by the Rangers and made it to the NHL for one season (in 1971-72 he played for the St. Louis Blues and Philadelphia Flyers) before bolting to the WHA … As expected, TSN 1050 in Toronto had a number of calls Monday from Maple Leafs fans furious over their pratfall in the decisive game against Columbus the night before. Apparently there was a lot of venom directed towards GM Kyle Dubas, which is rather rich given the Leafs problem was their inability to score against the Blue Jackets and they’re paying $40 million to four goal scorers. When will we see the day players demanding big money should give it back when they don’t perform?


Suddenly, the Colorado Avalanche are the popular pick to win the Cup. has their odds to hoist the mug at +500, while the Philadelphia Flyers are +600, Tampa Bay Lightning +600, Vegas Golden Knights +600, Boston Bruins +1000 and St. Louis Blues +1200. As for the three remaining Canadian teams, Calgary Flames are at +2200, Vancouver Canucks +2500 and Montreal Canadiens are tied with Arizona and Columbus and the greatest long shots at +3000 … Odds from are almost identical, with the only real difference being Montreal (30/1) slightly less of an underdog than Arizona (40/1).

ON THIS (Aug. 11) DATE

Dubas, of course, isn’t the only boy-GM in Leafs history. Exactly 31 years ago, Gord Stellick quit his job as Toronto’s boss and the youngest general manager in the NHL. He was 32 and had survived just one season under meddling, 86-year-old Harold Ballard, who prompted the resignation by telling Toronto Star columnist Milt Dunnell that Stellick was too young to run the team. And no, Stellick didn’t get younger from the day Ballard hired him. “You know when you’re getting the squeeze and I was getting squeezed pretty good,” Stellick, who is now a radio talk show host in Toronto, said at the time. Ballard was notoriously difficult to work for, but like Pierre Dorion in Ottawa, Stellick was a Toronto native and it was his dream job. “I went in with eyes open,” Stellick said. “It’s like the nicest girl in high school … you know she’s going to dump you in two weeks, but you’ve got to go with it.” Ballard was also famous for tipping his hand in the media on such matters before telling his employees. “His releasing things through Milt Dunnell is a time honoured tradition,” Stellick joked. “It’s like an inter-office memo.” … Exactly 62 years ago, Ken (The Rat) Linseman was born in Kingston. No player has ever fit his nickname better. A former seventh-overall pick (1978) of the Flyers who had two stints in Philly (1978-1982; 1989-90), Linseman also played for the Oilers (1982-84; 1990-91), Bruins (1984-1990) and finished his career with two games for the Maple Leafs in the 1991-92 season. In 860 career games, the 5-foot-11, 175-pounder somehow found time to score 807 points while serving 1727 penalty minutes.


Nearing his 64th birthday (Sunday), TSN’s Robert Malcolmson McKenzie announced Monday he is stepping into semi-retirement now that the draft lottery has come and gone. Otherwise known as Bob, the Bobfather and hockey’s foremost insider, McKenzie will sit out the rest of the playoffs, but fulfill his relatively new five-year contract with TSN by doing his draft rankings three times a year, covering the world junior hockey championships, the NHL deadline, Free Agent Frenzy and a handful of Leafs games regionally next season. As you’d suspect, a job in sports media is not an easy one to completely walk away from … As pointed out by the Toronto Sun’s astute Lance Hornby, Lafreniere is going to need to change his number. The No. 11 he wore in junior has been retired by the Rangers in honour of Mark Messier … Why didn’t they take balls out one at a time, with the last one belonging to the team that wins first pick? At least that way the lottery would have had a little drama to it.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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