On June 18, 2007, the lowly Philadelphia Flyers lost the NHL Draft Lottery despite being the worst team in the league. The Chicago Blackhawks, only the fifth-worst squad that year, drafted a highly regarded American right wing with the No. 1 overall selection. His name was Patrick Kane.
On June 9, 2010, Kane squeaked a shot through the five-hole of Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton in overtime of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals to give the Blackhawks their first Cup since 1961.
Kane led the Blackhawks to another Cup run June 24, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the process.
One is bound to consider what might have happened had the favored team won the draft lottery. Would Kane have led Philadelphia to its first Cup since 1975? Would the Blackhawks’ Cup drought be 52 years long and counting? We will never know.
Draft lottery systems are partially flawed. All teams who do not make the playoffs are involved in the draft lottery. The last-place team has the best odds of winning the top pick, the second-to-last-place team has the second-best odds, and so on. Even though a team is the worst in the league, its future is ultimately decided by pingpong balls popping about in an air-propelled gumball machine.
The draft lottery, which exists in the NHL and NBA but not in the NFL or Major League Baseball, theoretically deters teams from losing games deliberately to earn the No. 1 overall pick. However, a team is sometimes so bad that it deserves the top selection without the drama of a lottery. The 2006-07 Flyers were such a team.
Philadelphia featured declining veterans, such as Peter Forsberg and Derian Hatcher, as well as some burgeoning young talent like 21-year-old Mike Richards and 22-year-old Jeff Carter. However, with a shoddy defense, subpar goaltender Antero Niittymaki and an early-season coaching transition — John Stevens replaced longtime head coach Ken Hitchcock after eight games and a 1-6-1 record — Philadelphia was well on its way to a season full of struggles.
The Flyers were the worst team in the NHL by a long shot that year, as the team went 22-48-12 and earned a league-low 56 points. The next-worst team was the Phoenix Coyotes, who finished 31-46-5 with 67 points. It was the first time since the 1993-94 season that Philadelphia did not make the playoffs, let alone finish dead last in the league.
As mentioned before, the Blackhawks finished fifth-to-last in the standings in 2006-07, which meant they had an 8.1 percent chance of winning the draft lottery. The Flyers, on the other hand, had the highest probability of winning the lottery, a 25 percent chance.
Kane was not unanimously considered the best player available in the 2007 NHL Draft. Kane, American left wing James van Riemsdyk and Canadian center Kyle Turris were the best candidates to be drafted No. 1 overall by Chicago on June 22, 2007, at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Of course, the Blackhawks chose Kane, then Philadelphia followed by drafting van Riemsdyk, and the Ottawa Senators took Turris with the third overall selection.
While Kane jumped straight into NHL play, van Riemsdyk decided to attend the University of New Hampshire after the draft. After two years, van Riemsdyk joined the Flyers and made his debut Oct. 2, 2009, against the Carolina Hurricanes, tallying an assist in his first career game.
Kane had two full seasons under his belt at that point and had 46 goals and 96 assists for a total of 142 points in 162 games. In his rookie season of 2007-08, he won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s best first-year player. Kane had his best year yet in the 2009-10 season, tallying 30 goals and 58 assists in 82 games.
By the time April came around, Chicago was the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference going into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Philadelphia, on the other hand, was the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference, just squeaking into the postseason bracket.
In his rookie season, van Riemsdyk showed some promise, recording six goals and 12 assists in his first 16 games, but he finished with only 15 goals and 20 assists for the season, accruing only nine goals and eight assists in his final 62 games.
The Flyers surprised many when they upset the second-seeded New Jersey Devils and the sixth-seeded Boston Bruins and then defeated the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Finals. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks took care of business on the other side of the postseason bracket, most notably sweeping the top-seeded San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Finals.
Over the course of the playoffs that season, Kane rose to the occasion while van Riemsdyk fell back into the role of a supporting player. Kane had 10 goals and 18 assists in 22 games, and van Riemsdyk produced a disappointing three goals and three assists in 21 games.
Kane was especially impressive in the Stanley Cup Finals, scoring three goals with five assists in the final four games after being shut out in the first two. Meanwhile, van Riemsdyk had one goal and one assist in four games, including being a healthy scratch for games 2 and 3. Chicago’s superstar capped his incredible series by scoring the Cup-clinching goal in overtime of Game 6, cementing his name in the history books forever.
As the Blackhawks hoisted the Stanley Cup in the Wachovia Center (now the Wells Fargo Center), Philadelphia’s only two championship banners, from 1974 and 1975, hung in the rafters. Perhaps some of the stunned fans in attendance pictured Kane kissing the cup suited in black and orange instead of Chicago’s red and white away uniforms.
Three years later, Kane hoisted another Cup, this time on the TD Garden ice of the Bruins, and the Flyers were as far away from competing for a championship as they were in 2007. Meanwhile, van Riemsdyk, who was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for defenseman Luke Schenn before the 2012-13 season, recorded his best point-per-game rate of his career — 18 goals and 14 assists in 48 games.
Although Kane does not have the point-producing prowess of players such as Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos, the 25-years-old’s postseason production is already among the most notable in NHL history. On the other hand, van Riemsdyk might peak as a 30-goal scorer, which is a very respectable number but not what is expected from a No. 2 overall pick.
As the 2013 NHL Draft is set to begin June 30, there are two top prospects: American defenseman Seth Jones and Canadian center Nathan MacKinnon. In this year’s draft, the second-to-last Colorado Avalanche will pick No. 1 rather than the last-place Florida Panthers. These two teams might experience a repeat of the Flyers-Blackhawks franchise-altering draft in 2007.