If you’ve been longing for a good, old-fashioned sports conspiracy theory to take your mind off of the real world, the NHL delivered in a big way Monday.
Let’s see if you can follow the bouncing ping-pong ball on an interesting journey that ended with the New York Rangers getting the No. 1 overall pick and the chance to draft star-in-the-making Alexis Lafreniere.
*First off, “phase one” of the weird NHL draft lottery process this year happened in June. It was determined then that a placeholder team — one of the eight that lost its qualifying round series — would get the No. 1 overall pick.
That meant that eight pretty decent teams all had an equal (at least in theory, wink-wink) 12.5% chance of landing the pick. The Wild, after losing to Vancouver, was one of those teams — fueling hopes and dreams of Minnesota fans.
But so were the Rangers, a large-market team that sure could use a boost. Even before the drawing actually happened, the seeds of a rigged drawing were being planted in a (mostly) humorous way.
*That brings us to Monday, when the actual drawing of ping-pong balls was shown to the masses. It made for really good theater, but it only accelerated the conspiracies.
First, the poor guy placing the balls in the hopper accidentally let go of the Rangers ball too early before cameras could focus on the logo. He had to reach back in and grab it before re-dropping it.
Was it heavier than the others? Slippery? The mind wanders.
*The best draft conspiracy theory, of course, is the 1985 NBA lottery in which the New York Knicks’ envelope was chosen — giving them a chance to draft Patrick Ewing. All sorts of theories abound regarding that drawing, with the most popular being that the Knicks’ envelope was bent and/or frozen so that then-commissioner David Stern would know which one to grab.
If you want to deepen the NHL conspiracy 35 years later, you could note that current NHL commish Gary Bettman was working for the NBA at the time of the 1985 draft lottery. And that Bettman is a New York native. I wouldn’t make those connections. But some might.
*All that said, Wild fans might not have the most to gripe about in all this. In fact, Leafs fans seem to be mad at the Wild.
That’s because if you watch closely — as so many people already have — it appears that the Wild’s ping-pong ball knocks the Leafs’ ball out of the tube to No. 1 pick freedom, leading the way for the Rangers’ ball to shoot to the top moments later.
Wild fans will have to be content with the No. 9 overall pick. But the Leafs? Because their pick bounced out of the top 10, they lost it as part of the Patrick Marleau trade.
All of this of course guarantees a decade of success for the Rangers. After all, the Knicks went on to win — checks notes — zero NBA titles with Ewing.