No doubt the most intriguing aspect of the NHL’s “Return to Play” plan has to do with the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. In particular, who will get to make the overall selection, which as we found out last week, is a team currently still in the playoffs.

I could write a whole column about how hilarious it is that this scenario actually occurred (it had only a 2.5% chance of happening!) but in the end it was the NHL’s own impatience (why hold the draft lottery now at all?) that manifested this laughable situation.

Now the Nashville Predators, not to mention the other 15 NHL teams still alive in the Qualifying Round, have an important fork in the road.

Do they put everything they have into a five game series to advance to the next playoff round? Or do they quietly fold their hand and take their chances at getting the #1 overall draft pick, likely to select game-changing young winger Alexis Lafreniere?

The choice may be tough for some teams (particularly those who probably didn’t deserve a shot at the playoffs) but for the Nashville Predators it should be quite easy.

Preds should choose playoffs over draft

First things first. Winning the Stanley Cup is infinitely more important than winning the first pick in the draft. This is not up for debate. The Cup means more to the players, the staff, the fans, and the city.

In light of this, the only way for the Preds to claim the biggest prize in hockey would be to throw everything they have against the Arizona Coyotes.

Secondly, there is no guarantee that the Preds would even get the first pick if they were to lose to the Coyotes. The losing teams in the Qualifying Round have a 12.5% of getting the first pick. Those odds are hardly a sure thing.

Why would you throw away a chance at the Stanley Cup for a 12.5% chance at drafting a player who hasn’t played an NHL game?

Side note: Yes, I am aware that Lafreniere is as solid of a lock as there comes in the NHL. He’s very clearly a starter from day one for most teams, including the Predators. He would make them better instantly, just as he would make any NHL team better instantly.

But in this uncertain world, why add more uncertainty? Ahead of each team lies two paths: a known path of hockey games that lead to hoisting the Stanley Cup and an unknown path where you might draft a player who might be on your team in a year.

In today’s world, we should all be clinging to certainty as firmly as possible, as we’ve seen how quickly it can be ripped from our grasp.

The future wouldn’t be brighter by losing

If the Nashville Predators were to lose to the Arizona Coyotes and then beat the odds to earn the first pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, they would be set up better for the future in one way. They would gain Alexis Lafreniere and have a clearly brighter future on their forward ranks than they do now.

But what else would they lose in the process?

For one, they lose another year of Pekka Rinne, their best goaltender of all time and perhaps their best choice in net at nabbing a Stanley Cup. They also lose crucial years of players in their prime like Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene, Viktor Arvidsson, and Roman Josi. All of these players will get older and eventually their skills will fade. The sooner that happens, the sooner the Predators’ Stanley Cup window closes, and the addition of even a player of Lafreniere’s skill would do little to re-open it.

And don’t forget that if the Preds were to lose in this Qualifying Round it would be yet another step backward in their progress as a franchise. Since advancing to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the team has fallen shorter and shorter of matching that achievement in subsequent seasons. A loss in the qualifying round, which aren’t even technically “playoffs”, would be even worse than losing in the first round of the playoffs.

Missing out on another chance at a Stanley Cup would hurt the franchise much more than adding Alexis Lafreniere would help it, at least in the long run. Every year the Preds don’t win the Cup with their window open, the more than window closes.

There may be some teams in which this “choice” of how to attack the Qualifying Round is a difficult one. For the Nashville Predators, it shouldn’t be much of a choice at all. Go win the Stanley Cup, because you may not be in this position again next year.

— Featured image via Mark J. Rebillas/USA TODAY Sports —
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