SECAUCUS, NJ — About 30 minutes before the NHL holds its annual draft lottery, league commissioner Gary Bettman is eating chips in a small room down the hallway from NHL Network’s studios.
He breaks away from a brief conversation about the draft order and announces what decision he wants to get. “I’m not rooting for any controversy,” he laughs.
The NHL Draft Lottery went off without a hitch or a hiccup on Monday. Chicago’s Connor Bedard swept the sweepstakes with the No. 3 to No. 1, pushing Anaheim to No. 2 overall and moving Columbus to No. Pushed to 3.
Confusion ensued about an hour later in the telecast — when the draft order was made public via ESPN. With the top three picks still a mystery, the network was interrupted by a commercial, with broadcaster Kevin Weekes spoiling the surprise.
“There’s our first change in that order,” Weeks said, “Columbus dropped to third, so now Anaheim or Chicago will pick first overall.”
It wasn’t until the show returned from intermission — which must have seemed like an eternity to those watching at home — that NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daley confirmed Weeks’ slip by flipping the No. 3 card to reveal the Blue Jackets. Symbol.
Both Weeks and the NHL declined to comment. A source familiar with the situation said Athletic A production error resulted in incorrect wording on the teleprompter Weeks was using, and it was not a comment sent by the former NHL goaltender and veteran broadcaster.
Also Read: NHL Mock Draft 2023: Our picks for every lottery team, from Connor Bedard to the Blackhawks
More importantly, it had no effect on the actual draft order, which was decided about an hour before the televised event. That only ruined the surprise element of the draft, especially in Columbus, where fans gathered at a local brewery for a watch party.
“It was obvious what was going to happen (when they came back from the break),” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekkalainen said. “It kind of spoiled the moment, I think.”
The surprising mistake is that the NHL takes great pains to ensure that the lottery is implemented strictly following minute details, with multiple checks and balances and independent eyes on the process.
on Monday, Athletic It was one of only three media outlets allowed to watch the lottery in person, a behind-the-scenes look at one of the league’s most difficult and important events. Here’s what it looks like from the inside:
6 p.m. ET: The league gathers all the lottery witnesses in a small room. About 20 people were in the room, including three members of the media and two NHL franchise representatives: Tom Minton, director of hockey operations for the Philadelphia Flyers, and Alex Meruelo Jr., son of Arizona Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo and the club’s chief brand officer.
Sometime later, Bettman’s grandson, Matthew, comes to visit.
6:11 p.m NHL spokesman John Dellapina offers guidelines for those who haven’t watched the lottery before.
Cell phones are kept safe in brown envelopes so that no one spoils the surprise. Laptops will also be taken. “Anyone have an Apple Watch or something like that?” Dellabina asks. “That needs to come out too.”
No devices that can connect to the Internet will be allowed once the lottery starts because the league doesn’t want the lottery results to be leaked before the TV show. (Insert joke here.)
6:15 p.m Batman can work a room. He’s in good spirits and loves to talk hockey, sitting next to his grandson in front of three writers and asking, “Who do you want in the Cup Final?” he asks. It’s a light, relaxed chat.
The league provides a five-sheet collection of predetermined lottery numbers assigned to all lottery teams. There are 1,000 different number combinations. There are 255 combinations of the Ducks winning the lottery, 135 for the Blue Jackets, 115 for the Blackhawks, etc.
6:39 p.m Steve Meyer, the NHL’s vice president of events and entertainment, breaks up the murmur in the room. “We’re going to do this in six minutes.”
6:40 p.m Cell phones, laptops, etc. are confiscated from everyone in the room. Nerve twitching begins. The camera is running in the back of the room. All this is being recorded.
6:44 p.m Bettman, “Is that time?” He goes to the front of the room. In his hands, he holds a small set of papers…lottery rules. Reading the rules takes longer than the actual draw, but Betman reads every last line.
6:55 p.m It’s old school. Bettman, not one, but three daily newspapers: The Bergen Record, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, to prove that this is a live recording on May 8, 2023.
6:57 p.m Bettman introduces Martin Gorbachik, a lottery technologist with Smartplay International, which, according to its website, “protects drawing integrity for lottery and gaming companies in 126 countries.” Gorbachik grabs a briefcase containing 14 numbered lottery balls that will be used to draw the four-digit combinations that reveal the first and second overall picks.
Bettman then introduces Steve Clark of the accounting firm Ernst & Young, who sits to Bettman’s left at a table with two stacks of papers: one with the lottery rules and two with the number combinations that match the clubs in the lottery.
He then introduces three members of the media and two club representatives. Everyone is asked to wave to the camera.
7 pm Gorbachik opens the briefcase, lifts numbered ping-pong balls out of the briefcase, points them to the camera, and drops them into a collection tube attached to the lottery machine. Bettman says the numbers as firmly as if he were Count Von Count from Sesame Street.
With all the balls recognized and in the collection tube, Gorbachik is instructed to drop them into the machine. A lever is pulled, they fall into the tank and the engine is started.
7:02 p.m Thomas Meany, the NHL VP of events, is about 15 feet away from the lottery match machine with his back to the rest of the room. Bettman instructs him to yell “Draw” every 20 seconds so that Gorbachik, standing next to the device, can’t time his level pull to hit the ball over the cylinder.
Meany has been doing this for years. It’s not clear how the job fell to him, Dellabina said — he was good at it. After about 20 seconds, the first shout: “Draw!”
Just like that, the lottery was launched, originally to determine the No. 1 overall draft pick. The numbers are revealed in 80 seconds: 5-13-4-9. (The order isn’t important, but they’re quickly rearranged — 4-5-9-13 — to make it easier for Clark to find the winner.)
“And the winner is …?” Bettman said. Clark, after a moment’s pause, found the competition as he scrolled through the sea of numbers: “Chicago Blackhawks,” he said. The room is completely silent except for the hum of the lottery machine.
Some trace it by the numbers to see how it fell. Vancouver had 4-5-9-12. Columbus 4-5-9-14. Very close.
7:04 p.m The same ping-pong balls are loaded back into the machine and allowed to bounce for several seconds. (This is an excellent argument against those who suggest that ping-pong balls must somehow be manipulated to produce a certain result. So why shouldn’t the same balls produce the same numbers over and over again?)
7:05 p.m The second draw begins. 9-8-10-6. The clerk quickly looks at 6-8-9-10 and announces the winner of the second choice. “Anaheim Ducks.”
Just like that, the draft lottery is over.
The event, a forerunner for many clubs since Bedard became a rock star at last winter’s IIHF World Juniors Championship, ended quicker than some of Bedard’s transitions with the Regina Pats.
7:08 p.m Bettman is pleased with how the draft has been executed. He came back to chat with media members about the results. He asks if anyone has seen Bedard play and how they think he compares to some of the best players in the game.
He also clarifies that Daley is asking not to announce the lottery results until he knows them through the telecast. Talley was not in the room, apparently, and no one was allowed to leave the room except for those involved in TV production who had to work on the event.
7:12 p.m At a table at the far end of the room, the cards are removed from the carrying case and placed in front of the league staff. They now take the established draft order and order the cards accordingly so that Talley can flip them one by one on the top table in the TV show suite.
Again and again, they go over the order to make sure everything fits.
7:23 p.m Bettman is invited to inspect the pile of logos – one final time – to make sure they are in the right order. The pile is always closely watched for the next 30 minutes before the TV show gets ready to start.
7:38 p.m After more small talk, Bettman and his grandson head out to dinner. The lottery is Betman’s operation, but the TV show is all Talley.
8 pm The program is about to begin. An ESPN camera is positioned in the hallway and directed toward the studio by a Clark, Ernst & Young accountant. ESPN’s John Bucycross greets TV viewers before Game 3 of the Edmonton-Vegas series and sets the stage for the Bedard sweepstakes.
8:02 p.m A joke — the first of many — about how sad reporters seem to know the results and not be able to share them via social media or their websites.
8:09 p.m Did you just say weeks?
8:12 p.m Daley flips the last three cards: Columbus, then the winner, Chicago and finally Anaheim. The lottery is over. So is the TV show. The first went better than the second.
(Photo by Gary Bettman: Mike Stobb / NHLI via Getty Images)