2016 NHL Draft: Behind The Scenes

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TORONTO — Pitched on a blue stand in the middle of a grey room deep inside the CBC building in downtown Toronto is the lottery machine that will soon determine the top of the 2016 NHL draft.

The results of the lottery, which sees the Toronto Maple Leafs land the No. 1 overall pick for the first time in 31 years, will become known to the 30 or so people inside this room more than an hour before the result is revealed on a live television broadcast.

This room will be shut off from the outside world until that time. 

A look behind the scenes of the NHL draft lottery reveals a thorough, well-rehearsed process led each and every step of the way by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

Unlike even the 2015 draft lottery from one year earlier, no general managers or team presidents are present to witness these proceedings. They will find out like everyone else. There are instead representatives from each of the 14 lottery teams, mostly leaders of each club's media relations.

Thus the growing smile of Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan following the revelation of Toronto's lottery win was genuine. The sneer of Calgary Flames president Brian Burke likewise. Both were sequestered in another room of the CBC while the lottery was performed, soon to learn the results in heart-pulling fashion on live TV.

brendan shanahan toronto maple leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan speaks to the media after winning the first selection of the 2016 NHL draft lottery in Toronto on Saturday. The Toronto Maple Leafs will pick first at the NHL draft for the first time in more than 30 years. (Photo: Chris Young/Canadian Press)

"I think it sort of caught us all a little bit by surprise the way they did it this year," Shanahan said afterward. "They made us all sweat a little bit."

Bettman steers every inch of the process. He and the lottery machine are the two centres of attention inside the bunker-like room, which is dark and filled with TV monitors, couches, an assortment of food and all the pertinent equipment and personnel for the lottery. 

Just before the process is due to begin, cell phones of every person in the room are placed and sealed into yellow envelopes. Use of electronic devices are prohibited. The phones are held until 8:20 p.m. when the sequester will end.

Only one person keeps his phone: Bettman.

"I think it sort of caught us all a little bit by surprise the way they did it this year."

The lottery process begins with the commissioner in front of a camera. He's holding up a copy of the Saturday Toronto Star newspaper to demonstrate the realness of the events for the record. With help from representatives from Ernst & Young as well as Bortz and Company, one black briefcase locked by red clasps is cut open to reveal the 14 lottery balls.

Each ping-pong ball, numbered from one to 14, is shown to the camera before being inserted, one at a time, into the machine by the lottery technician.

1,001 combinations possible

The lottery process is then explained to those in attendance. One thousand and one four-number combinations are possible. A TV screen lists the varying number of winning combos for each lottery team: from 200 for the Leafs to 75 for the Winnipeg Jets to just 10 for the Boston Bruins.

A drawing of 11-12-13-14 will signal a redraw, Dean Matsuzaki, senior VP of events for the NHL, explains.

The first lottery for the No. 1 overall pick begins at precisely 7:04 p.m. The lottery technician is responsible for pulling one ball at a time from the machine every 15 seconds as announced by Matsuzaki, who is close by with a stopwatch.  

The machine spits out a No. 6 ball to start with. It's shown to the camera for verification. The numbers eight, five and finally 13 are pulled after that as everyone in the room scrambles to the five-page NHL-provided booklet which lists every possible combination and to which teams it's randomly attributed.

Officials from Ernst & Young are responsible for confirming the winner, which Bettman announces to the room at 7:11 p.m.: the Maple Leafs, with the combination of 5-6-8-13, have won the first draft lottery.

Toronto's rep in the room and director of media relations, Steve Keogh, keeps his response mostly muted.

A later look reveals that the Edmonton Oilers were one number off from their fifth No. 1 overall pick in seven years. They held the combination of 5-6-8-14.

Additional lotteries for second and third picks

For the first time this year, the NHL performs additional lotteries for the second and third overall picks, selections that will soon be won by the Jets (5-10-7-14) and Columbus Blue Jackets (5-7-3-4) as announced by Bettman.

But none of this known, not yet at least, to anyone beyond this room. It's 7:16 p.m. and the lottery is done, but nearly everyone in attendance, excluding Bettman who departs a little while after the work is done, is sequestered for another hour and four minutes.

With the results in, the group gets to work on assembling the placards that NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly will soon reveal on the TV broadcast. The placards are labelled one to 14, each one requiring a sticker of each NHL club to match the lottery order.

Again it's Bettman who steers even this process. The NHL commissioner lines up each and every sticker with the help of an L-shaped tool, pressing it down on the individual placards, one by one. The group runs through the 14 placards, ensuring the correct order for the much-anticipated reveal, one that will soon please fans from Toronto and Winnipeg.

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