Well, this is not the situation anybody expected the Pittsburgh Penguins to be in this season.
Out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs before they even officially begin (even though they were a virtual lock to make them when the 2019-20 season was paused) and hoping that some lottery balls go their way for a 12.5 percent shot at the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft.
It has been a strange journey to get here (a global pandemic, a bizarre on-the-fly twist of the NHL season, a shockingly disappointing play-in round loss to the Montreal Canadiens, and some wild luck in the draft lottery) but now that we ARE here we might as well embrace it.
So let us do that.
This has the potential to be a pretty significant day for the Penguins organization.
IF the phase two of the draft lottery goes their way and brings them the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, it is going to give them an opportunity to add the type of long-term building block that does not come around very often. At a time when nobody thought it possible for the Penguins, but also a time that would be absolutely perfect for a variety of reasons.
Let us start with the short-term impact, because there absolutely could be an immediate boost here.
If the Penguins should happen to win the lottery, there is going to be a temptation for somebody, somewhere (do not let it be you) to suggest that maybe the Penguins should trade the top pick for a haul of a return and get more immediate help. This would be a terrible idea, and one that nobody should be on board with. There is not an Eric Lindros type trade to be made out there, and the No. 1 pick simply does not get traded. It is too valuable.
This particular pick would have immense value to the Penguins.
First, the player they use that selection on (presumably Alexis Lafreniere) would almost certainly be an immediate player in Pittsburgh. And not only that, if he lives up to the hype and becomes the impact winger he is projected to be you are talking about a potential star player, on what is still a Stanley Cup contender, playing on an entry-level contract for the next three years.
There are obviously a lot of “ifs” a play here (winning the lottery, Lafreniere becoming the player he is supposed to be, etc.) but if it works out the way you hope there would not be a more valuable asset on the team when it comes to bang-for-your-salary-cap-dollar impact. Even if the impact is not a significant one in year one, the potential for it is absolutely there in years two and three when Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin should still be elite players. You would be adding another potential top-line player to that group for minimal cost. You do not trade away that opportunity.
Long-term, the impact is even more significant.
We all know that the Crosby-Malkin era only has so many years remaining. There is going to come a point where they are either retired, or are no longer able to carry the team the way they have for 15 years now. Father time remains undefeated, and he eventually slows everybody down. It has been a foregone conclusion for a while now that when that happens to the Penguins’ top duo that some lean seasons could be on the horizon as a drastic rebuild would have to take place.
Getting Lafreniere would — in theory — give them a significant head start on that rebuild.
They would already have a potential franchise player in place to take the torch and be the foundational piece of the post-Crosby-Malkin era.
Not only that, he would theoretically already be entering his prime years in the league.
The simple reality is that you need a franchise, impact player to win a Stanley Cup, and the best place to get those players is usually at the top of the draft. That usually means a couple of bad seasons to put yourself in a position to get that pick. The Penguins could potentially get that type of player without having to actually tear things down to the foundation and start to rebuild.
In the salary cap era there have only been three championship teams that did not have a player on their roster that they selected with a top-two pick in the draft: The 2018-19 St. Louis Blues (they did have Alex Pietrangelo, who was a No. 4 overall pick), the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings, and the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks (Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer were top-three picks in their respective draft classes, but were not selected by Anaheim).
You need that type of player.
Now the Penguins have a chance to get another one without having to rebuild first to do it.
Pretty wild times.
It is not the ideal situation. It is still an exciting one to have in front of them.