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A Toronto Maple Leafs fan with a taped "McDavid" jersey reacts during the game against the New York Islanders during their NHL hockey game in Toronto, Monday March 9, 2015. Connor McDavid is the top prospect in the upcoming draft.Mark Blinch/The Globe and Mail

For at least a half-dozen fan bases, it'll be the biggest event on their NHL calendar in months.

The league's draft lottery, which will determine the top pick, has been on the tips of tongues in Buffalo, Edmonton, Toronto and elsewhere for ages because Connor McDavid – a generational talent who had 120 points in 47 Ontario Hockey League games this season – is available at first overall.

Rather than play that interest up, however, it appears the NHL would rather keep the McDavid sweepstakes as low-key as it can.

In the past, the lottery has been held in prime time on one of the two or three game-less nights between when the NHL's regular season ends and the playoffs begin.

TSN, which had the rights, typically dedicated a half-hour show to the results and added other draft-related programming before and/or after.

But this year, with McDavid at the top of draft lists and anticipation for the draw as high as it's been in a decade, the lottery is scheduled for a Saturday night in the midst of first-round playoff games.

Scuttlebutt around the league is that it may even simply be worked into an intermission show, in the span of a few minutes.

"Plan's not 100-per-cent locked in, but likely on the first Saturday of the playoffs," a league spokesman said Wednesday on the timing of the lottery. "Time is TBD."

That feels like a huge missed opportunity for Sportsnet to capitalize on the great ratings and drama the lottery presents this year, but it speaks to the difficult negotiations between the rights holder and the NHL over events such as this.

The league is wary this year of the lottery putting extra focus on the bottom four or five teams and the concept of tanking, which has received plenty of attention given how terrible the Sabres (in the NHL) and the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers (in the NBA) have been.

It is more than pure coincidence, for example, that there are three NHL teams – Buffalo, Arizona and Edmonton – on pace for fewer than 60 points this season in what is an uncharacteristically strong draft year.

Odds of winning the NHL draft lottery

Finish

1st

Team currently in spot*

30th

20.00%

Buffalo

29th

13.50%

Arizona

28th

11.50%

Edmonton

27th

9.50%

Toronto

26th

8.50%

Carolina

25th

7.50%

Columbus

24th

6.50%

New Jersey

23rd

6.00%

Philadelphia

22nd

5.00%

San Jose

21st

3.50%

Colorado

20th

3.00%

Florida

19th

2.50%

Dallas

18th

2.00%

Boston

17th

1.00%

Los Angeles

   

*- prior to Wednesday's games

(In addition to McDavid, Boston University freshman Jack Eichel, OHL-leading scorer Dylan Strome and Boston College defenceman Noah Hanifin are considered sure-fire stars.)

With so few star players making it to free agency under the NHL's new economic order, the top end of the draft is more than ever viewed as the best way to rebuild a franchise, just as teams such as Pittsburgh and Chicago did in landing Sidney Crosby (2005, the last lottery that was this heavily anticipated) and Jonathan Toews (2006).

To some, however, it's a black eye for the leagues that there are so many teams playing not to win games in the hopes of landing a McDavid type at the draft.

Tanking has become such a focal point in recent seasons that the NHL has altered its rules so that the top three picks will be determined by a weighted lottery beginning next season.

As it currently stands, the already rejigged lottery means the league's worst team (Buffalo) has only a 20-per-cent chance at the top pick.

The furthest the Sabres can fall, however, is down to the second spot, meaning there's a 100-per-cent chance they'll get McDavid or Eichel, the consensus No. 2 pick.

Even with Buffalo guaranteed to do well, the lottery will present considerable drama, whenever it is held. Not only will the Toronto Maple Leafs have a roughly 10-per-cent chance of jumping up to the top pick, but teams below the top four will have a 45.5-per-cent chance of winning it.

That means a surprise team such as San Jose, Dallas or even a recent Stanley Cup winner such as Boston or Los Angeles – should they miss the playoffs – could end up with McDavid.

It will likely make for compelling enough theatre that many viewers will tune in regardless of whatever nook and cranny the results are slipped into.

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