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Three Straight First Overall Picks: An (Almost) Unprecedented "Victory"

Pictured: our number 2 number 1.
Pictured: our number 2 number 1.

By winning the NHL Draft Lottery on Tuesday, the Edmonton Oilers will presumably become only the second team in North American professional sports to pick first overall for three consecutive years.

Holy mackarel, we've got a lot of losses!

No National Basketball Association team has ever picked first overall three straight years. Neither has any Major League Baseball team or any team in the National Football League. The sole team from the big four to pick first overall for three straight seasons were the Quebec Nordiques, who drafted Mats Sundin (1989), Owen Nolan (1990), and Eric Lindros (1991).

Three pretty good players for the Nordiques there! None were still with the team when they won their first Stanley Cup in 1996, having since been shot in the back of the head, stuffed in a duffel bag, and sent to Denver, Colorado. Obviously if the Oilers draft somebody first overall who doesn't want to report and we trade him to Philadelphia in the greatest overpayment of the century that'll help too.

It took the Nordiques five more years and a heartbreaking international rendition to win their Cup after their last first overall pick. Even then, the players in question were mostly long gone; only Nolan played briefly for the Avalanche. The real Cup-winning stimulus was getting the winningest goalkeeper in NHL history for five cents on the dollar in an incident you may remember.

So that's what we have to look forward to. The Nordiques rounded into a fringe contender in 1992-93, bolstered by the ridiculous Lindros trade. The next year they missed the playoffs. Only in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 could you afford to mention them with the best.

Now, is Steve Tambellini going to stand up and say that, if he pulls off the greatest trade heist in franchise history, we should be good to go by 2015-16?

Even getting three first overall picks in four years is fairly unusual. The Montreal Canadiens did it; going first overall in 1968 (Michel Plasse), 1969 (Rejean Houle), and 1971 (Guy Lafleur). It's okay, I had to look up who Plasse was too; he played 32 games with the Habs in his career and managed a 5.41 goals against average and an .838 save percentage with the 1981-82 Nordiques so obviously a real winner. And you may recall that Montreal weren't exactly the Oilers, having traded their way into that Lafleur pick while winning the Stanley Cup that same year.

Closer to the Oilers were the expansion Ottawa Senators of the early to mid-1990s, who also had three first overall picks in four seasons from 1993 to 1996. The Senators should have had four in a row, but after finishing last in 1994 they picked after the expansion Anaheim Ducks and Florida Panthers. So even they aren't a great comparable... but, with three first-overall picks and a third-overall pick in tow, the mighty Senators didn't make the playoffs until 1996-97, didn't make the Stanley Cup Finals until 2006-07, and have never won the thing.

There isn't much precedent for a team drafting like the Oilers. Sucking that badly for that long is a truly historic feat, for which I hope Steve Tambellini will receive deserved recognition. The only previous example, the Nordiques, suggest that the future Kansas City Oilers can look forward to a lot of success from whichever players they trade Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, and New Guy for.

Of course, it should be obvious that picking so many times from the top of the deck is no guarantee of a playoff spot, let alone BAM! Stanley Cup. But every so often it's good to take a step back and look at the big picture. The Oilers aren't merely an unsuccessful team, they're a historically unsuccessful team. They're hanging with the late-80s Nordiques and mid-90s Senators. They're one bad season away from painting their names on a trash can and skating around like it's the Stanley Cup.

Love those rebuilds. We build it up so we can burn it back down.