In recent years, Patrick "20 cent" Kane, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have been picked with the top spot and ended up either as bone fide studs, or at the very least, studs in the making. This year, Nail Yakupov is expected to go first overall. The kid definitely has some sweet moves. And while I'd love to see me some of that in Saint Paul next season, I can't count on it. Even if the Wild ended in the 26th spot in the league, their odds of winning the lottery and thus Yakupov would be only about 8% (assuming the odds don't change from year to year).
The question of ethics comes into play, both for the team and for the fans. While part of me hurts every time the Wild lose a game, it's equally hurtful to see the team surge right at the end of the season and end up outside any chance of a great draft pick. How many times did we see a Jacques Lemaire-coached team limp into the bottom of the playoff bracket or just out of the playoffs? Under the current system, the 2003 team would have earned the 27th overall pick. As it is, they got the 20th overall pick and landed Brent Burns. Had the team tanked, they may have been able to snag a Zach Parise, a Dustin Brown or a Ryan "Sourpuss" Getzlaf.
The draft lottery exists because there were suspicions of tanking in the early nineties to get the best player in the draft. (My memory is fuzzy in my dotage, but I believe it had to do with the Sens and Sharks mutual desire to snap up Alexandre Daigle. Not sure who won that one.) Now we have Wild fans shamelessly pleased that their team appears on the brink of ending in the bottom five in the NHL and thus at least having a dream.
Of course, the last time we had a top-five pick, Doug "Manager of Expectations" Risebrough decided that Benoit Pouliot was the best player available. Not as bad as AJ Thelen, but definitely worthy of a "kick me" sign on his back.