After over four-and-a-half months of waiting, the NHL's 24-team playoff tournament, through its Return To Play program, begins Saturday.
With fans being so close to seeing their favorite teams have the ability to compete for the Stanley Cup this year after the league paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 12, the talk of tanking for the possibility of a high draft pick seems to have died down.
In Phase 1 of the NHL Draft Lottery, the No. 1 overall pick went to a placeholder for one of the eight teams that will be eliminated in the qualifying round of the NHL's 24-team postseason tournament. Each of the eight teams knocked out of their respective best-of-five series in the qualifying round will have a 12.5% chance of selecting the top pick.
The expected No. 1 overall pick is Alexis Lafrenière, who recorded 35 goals and 77 assists for a league-leading 112 points in 52 games this season with the Rimouski Océanic of the QMJHL.
Phase 2 will be conducted some time between the Stanley Cup Qualifiers and Round One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In an interview for NBC Sports with Liam McHugh to highlight the tournament, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was asked how the possibility of a team selecting a top pick if they're eliminated from the qualifying round, like the Blackhawks, changes the experience for fans watching at home.
"I think everybody roots for their team to win," Bettman said. "I know all of our players and our other personnel at the team level play to win. I think (a draft pick) is a secondary afterthought."
It certainly seems that way. There's been little to no tank talk from fans and media since teams started arriving in NHL bubble cities Edmonton and Toronto for the tournament. Perhaps the reality has set in: under these circumstances each of the 24 teams has a shot at the Cup. Why not enjoy watching them battle for it in a (hopefully) once in a lifetime postseason tournament?