This Lotto Was A Lost Chance To Keep Canadian NHL Fans Entertained
With apologies to Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, Saturday night’s NHL Draft Lottery was the night of nights for Canadian hockey fans this spring. With zero domestic teams in the playoffs, folks from Nanaimo to Cornerbrook have taken the opportunity to stain the deck or change thetires on the SUV— instead of watching the playoffs on CBC and Sportsnet.
But Saturday’s Night of the Living Dead was the chance for fan redemption, the possibility of their team drafting one of this year’s baubles on the hockey tree. Representatives from all the teams missing the postseason— including Canada’s Sorry Group of Seven — were present in a studio in Toronto to see if they’d receive Auston Matthews or Patrick Laine to preserve their jobs.
In a spring devoid of hockey story lines, here was a choice gathering of sweating men looking puffy under the glare of the TV lights. Like a remake of 12 Angry Men (okay, there were 14), the assembled executives awaited the NHL’s beneficent reward for failure. BoxCar Willie, aka Brian Burke of the Flames, led the delegation that had oh-so-casually managed to collapse at season’s end in hopes of payback.
(Who can forget the penultimate Edmonton game where players took to the ice in flip-flops against a Calgary squad with time-share brochures tucked in their jockstraps?)
With so much on the line, the long-awaited program had an embarrassment of story riches. Instead it went to the 1990s handbook for predictable programming. There was a painful time-delayed double-ender with Matthews— who was awake at 3 AM Finland time— to see if he could possibly look more despondent than had Connor McDavid last year when he was selected to do hard time in the NHL’s Alcatraz— the Edmonton Oilers.
Then, mercifully, there was the result of the draw itself. Gene Rayburn on Match Game had better production values than the low-tech procedure led by NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. Daly thanked the representatives for coming to Toronto to attend. As if they had reluctantly forsaken a cocktail party with Prince Harry instead of attending this Hail Mary at keeping themselves employed. Of course they were going to be there, Bill. Where else would they be?
Now I may be a little confused on this point, but I hear they have this contraption known as the computer that allows you to do all sorts of graphics and illustrations. Thank goodness the NHL ain’t buying that. Instead, Daly turned over a series of printed cards, like it was Community Chest, to show who was going in what slot in the June draft. (Can’t be upsetting Don Cherry with no high falutin’ stuff.) God bless twentieth-century tech.
In what passed for atmosphere, a music bed that sounded like it came from Bates Motel played beneath Daren Millard’s drum-roll-please narration. If that wasn’t turgid enough, the pacing suggested nothing less than a high-school dance where boys and girls are paired off so they can dance together in shame. The dead air of the studio was like the silent terror of the teen girl matched with a pimple-faced geek boy.
One of the fascinations of the Lottery (yes there were some) are the cruel twists of fate and fortuitous bounces that awaited the teams in the weighted lottery. For example, had the Calgary Flames won one more point in the season they’d have vaulted into the top three of the lottery. Instead they fell back to sixth. The Winnipeg Jets, meanwhile, leapt into the Holy Trinity from their lower perch in sixth place, due to the wacky logic of the lottery.
It might have been noteworthy had the producers paused a few moments in between the picks to point out these interesting reversals of fortune. With, maybe, a computer graphic to illustrate the point. Instead the producers sped through the event as if they had reservations at the Olive Garden in a half hour and were worried about losing their table.
Picks fell like dominoes, ashen-faced managers were caught in the bright light of crushing defeat, and Daly pile-drove the pace. When Toronto was finally left standing with the No. 1 pick, viewers could be forgiven for asking, “What in the name of John Zielger just happened?” Instead they were treated to a giddy Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan trying to explain how Toronto getting the top draft pick could turn out better than Edmonton’s disastrous cavalcade of first-overall failures the past decade.
The lipstick on this beauty was supplied moments later by a sleep-deprived Matthews who mumbled something about having “mixed emotions”. What they are he didn’t elaborate, and no one in the broadcast had the alertness to ask the Arizona product to explain. Needless to say social media went ballistic on Matthews’ tepid reaction. He was soon being compared to Steve McQueen in Papillon, exiled to a hockey Devils Island in the north country.
(Ironically, if Matthews is even a sliver of the player Leafs fans desire, he’ll be a hero forever, a la Wendel Clark or Dougie Gilmour. Which also means he’ll be a national hero when broadcast execs— who assume the world palpitates for things Torontois— promote him to the country as a God.)
Imagination is rarely the long suit if the NHL. But having had weeks to prepare for Canada’s one big night, they might have done better. Much better.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy
Bruce's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).