With the Toronto Maple Leafs poised to make the playoffs under traditional circumstances, the fair assumption was that they had waved sayonara to their 2020 first-round draft pick and any faint hope of winning a stud prospect like Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield.
Suddenly, under the NHL’s return-to-play program and revised lottery format — a one-time response to unusual circumstances, commissioner Gary Bettman says — clubs who weren’t even contemplating a lottery windfall could end up with a top-three pick.
That could be one heck of a consolation prize for organizations that aren’t even thinking rebuild.
That bubble group of 16 is led by powerhouse Pittsburgh, which finished the season with a .623 points percentage, and includes six Canadian teams: Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Montreal.
The seven clubs already eliminated from contention will have identical lottery odds as they would under normal circumstances, based on points percentage, and will be watching intently as Phase 1 of the lottery is conducted June 26.