SECAUCUS, NJ — About 30 minutes before the NHL holds its annual draft lottery, league commissioner Gary Bettman is making small talk and snacking on chips in a small room down the hallway from the NHL Network studio.
He breaks away from a short conversation about the recruiting matter and announces the result he is striving for. “I’m not arguing,” he said with a smile.
The NHL draft lottery itself came out without a hitch or hiccup on Monday. Chicago won Conor Bédard’s sweepstakes by jumping from #3 to #1 in the draft standings, pushing Anaheim into second overall and Columbus into third.
It was on the TV show about an hour later—when the draft matter was revealed to the public via ESPN—that the error had been made. As the network went into a commercial outage with the top three picks still murky, announcer Kevin Weekes spoiled the surprise.
Weekes said, “There’s our first change in the standings, with Columbus dropping to third, so now either Anaheim or Chicago will pick first overall.”
I am waiting. What?
It wasn’t until the show’s return from intermission—which seemed like an eternity to those watching at home—that NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daley confirmed Weekes’ mistake by flipping the #3 banner over to reveal the Blue Jackets’ logo.
Both Wikeez and the National Hockey League declined to comment. A source familiar with the situation said the athlete that a production error fueled the wrong words in the teleprompter Weekes was using, and that it wasn’t just a passing comment by the former NHL goaltender and veteran broadcaster.
Read more: NHL Mock Draft 2023: Connor Bedard to Blackhawks as we pick each lottery team
Most importantly, it had no effect on the actual draft order, which was decided about an hour before the telecast. It only spoiled the element of surprise in the draft, particularly in Columbus, where fans gathered at a local brewery for a watch party.
“It was very clear what was going to happen (when they came back from the break),” said Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen. “Spoil the moment, I guess.”
What makes the mistake so surprising is that the NHL goes to great lengths to make sure that the lottery is played out in strict adherence to many subtleties, with many checks and balances and independent eyes on the process.
on monday, the athlete It was one of three media outlets given permission to watch the Lottery in person, a behind-the-scenes look at one of the league’s most boring and important events. This is what it looks like from the inside:
6 p.m. ET: The League gathers all the lottery witnesses in a small room. There are about 20 people in the room, including three members of the media and representatives of the NHL franchise: Philadelphia Flyers hockey operations director Tom Minton and Alex Meruelo Jr., son of Arizona Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo and the club’s brand director.
A little later, Bateman’s grandson, Matthew, arrives to watch.
6:11 p.m NHL spokesperson John Dellapina outlines the guidelines for those who have never witnessed a lottery.
Cell phones will be placed in brown envelopes for safekeeping so no one will spoil the surprise. Laptops will also be taken. “Does anyone have an Apple Watch or something?” Dilapina asks. “This should bear fruit, too.”
No devices that can connect to the Internet are allowed once the lottery has started because the league does not want the lottery results leaked before the TV show. (Insert joke here.)
6:15 p.m Bettman can work in a room. He’s in a good mood and wants to talk about hockey, sitting next to his grandson in front of the three writers for thoughts on the postseason: “Who do you like in the Finals?” Asked. It’s a calm, relaxed conversation.
The league hands out a set of five sheets of predetermined lottery numbers that are assigned to all lottery teams. There are 1000 different number combinations. There are 255 combinations that will cause the Ducks to win the lottery, 135 for the Blue Jackets, 115 for the Blackhawks, and so on.
6:39 p.m Steve Meyer, NHL Vice President of Events and Entertainment, breaks down the mystery in the room. “In six minutes we’ll do this.”
6:40 p.m Cell phones, laptops, etc. are taken from everyone in the room. Twitching begins. The camera is played in the back of the room. This is all recorded.
6:44 p.m Bateman walks to the front of the room and says, “Is it time?” In his hands, he holds a small stack of papers … lottery rules. Reading the rules takes longer than the actual drawing itself, but Bettman reads every last line.
6:55 p.m This is old school. Bettman, to prove that this is a live recording of May 8, 2023, carries not one, but three daily newspapers: The Bergen Record, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.
6:57 p.m Bettman introduces Martin Gorbachik, a lottery technician with Smartplay International, which, according to its website, “maintains graphic integrity for lotteries and gaming organizations in 126 countries.” Gorbachik grabs a bag containing 14 numbered lottery balls which will be used to draw the four-number combinations that will reveal the first and second sweepstakes.
Bettman then introduces Steve Clark of the accounting firm Ernst & Young, who is seated to Bettman’s left at a table with two sets of papers: one the lottery rules, and two sets of numbers that apply to the clubs in the lottery.
Then he introduces the three journalists and club representatives. He asks everyone to wave towards the camera.
7 pm Gorbachik opens the bag and begins lifting numbered table tennis balls from the bag, showing them to the camera and dropping them into a collection tube connected to the lottery machine. says Bettman powerfully as Count Van Count from Sesame Street.
After all the balls were approved and in the collection tube, Gorbachik was instructed to drop them into the machine. The lever is pulled, it falls into the bin and the machine is started.
7:02 p.m Thomas Meaney, the NHL’s vice president of events, was positioned approximately 15 feet from the lotto game with his back to the rest of the room. Bettman instructs him to yell “draw” every 20 seconds so that Gorbachik, who is standing next to the machine, cannot be accused of timing the draw of his level to allow the ball to throw the cylinder.
Minnie has been doing this for several years. It’s not clear how the job fell to him, Dellapina said — he’s good at it. After about 20 seconds, the first one shouted: “Draw!”
And just like that, the lottery began, first to determine the first draft. Numbers revealed within 80 seconds: 5-13-4-9. (The order is not important, but they were quickly rearranged – 4-5-9-13 – to make it easier for Clark to search for the winner.)
“And the winner is…?” Bateman said. Clark, after a pause while sifting through the sea of numbers, found the match: “Chicago Blackhawks,” he said. The room is completely quiet except for the hum of the lottery machine.
Few people track the numbers to see how this went down. Vancouver was 4-5-9-12. Columbus got 4-5-9-14. Too 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 a great argument against those who might suggest that table tennis balls are manipulated in some way to get a certain result. If that’s the case, why don’t the same balls give the same numbers repeatedly?)
7:05 p.m The second draw begins. 9-8-10-6. Clark quickly searches 6-8-9-10 and declares the winner of the second pick. Anaheim Duck.
In this way, the lottery draft was completed.
The event, which has been at the multi-club cutting edge since Bédard became a rock star at the IIHF World Juniors Championship last winter, was quicker than some of Bédard’s turnarounds with the Regina Pats.
7:08 p.m Bateman seems pleased with how the draft went. Come to chat again with members of the media about the results. He asks if anyone has seen Bedard play in person and how they think he compares to some of the great players in the game.
He also explains that Daly requests that the lottery results not be told to him until he learns them himself through the TV show. Daly is clearly not in the room, and no one is allowed to leave the room except for those involved in the TV production, who need to work on the action.
7:12 p.m On a table at the other side of the room, the banners are removed from the carrying case and placed in front of the league staff. They take the just-created draft order and order the cards accordingly so Daly can turn them over one by one on the top table in the TV Show deck.
Over and over, they review the application to make sure everything matches.
7:23 p.m Bettman was called in to examine the pile of pennants, to make sure – one last time – that they were in the right order. The mound is then watched closely for 30 minutes before the TV show is ready to start.
7:38 p.m After a short conversation, Bateman and his grandson leave for dinner. The lottery is Bateman’s operation, but the TV show is all Daly’s.
8 m The show is about to begin. An ESPN camera was positioned in the lobby and Ernst & Young accountant Clarke carried the signs toward the studio. ESPN’s John Buccigross welcomes the TV audience ahead of Game 3 of the Edmonton-Vegas series and sets the stage for the Bedard Sweepstakes.
8:02 p.m A joke is made – the first of many – about how queasy the reporters are, knowing the results and not being able to share them via social media or their websites.
8:09 p.m Did Wikeez just say that?
8:12 p.m Dali flips through the last three paintings: Columbus, then 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 Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
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