There Are Plenty of Ideas on How To Fix The NhL’s Entry Draft To Prevent Awarding Losers-Why Not Try Rewarding Winners?
When the NHL held it’s lottery last weekend to determine which team would own the coveted first overall pick, millions of hockey fans and pundits had their fingers crossed that any team other than the Edmonton Oilers, who had won the first overall selection four times in the past six seasons, would have their name announced as the winner. Once upon a time the NHL awarded a year’s first selection in the entry draft to the team that finished last that season. It eventually changed the process to a lottery system to discourage teams from tanking the season with visions of drafting the next future super star dancing in their heads. The system was still weighted to favour the league’s bottom feeders as the teams that finished at the bottom of the standings had a greater chance of landing the cherished first overall pick, which still attracts criticism that the NHL rewards teams that lose.
The lottery system still hasn’t exorcised the possibility of teams deliberately losing to land the top pick. Last season the Buffalo Sabres and the Arizona Coyotes traded away just about every marketable player they could in an effort to lose as many games as possible and increase their odds of landing generational phenom Connor McDavid. Neither team got their wish though, and they had to settle for the second and third overall picks respectively (still not too shabby).
And while you could say that last year’s lottery proved the system worked, Mr. McDavid fell into the arguably undeserving lap of the perpetually failing and criminally mismanaged Edmonton Oilers (see above). And while the NHL tweaked the rules so that the team that finished dead last had less of a chance at the top pick in 2016, the Oilers were once again in the running for the top prize last weekend and they had a better shot at it this year then they did last spring. The Oilers wound up drawing the fourth pick, but if they had won number one the calls for the NHL to burn the current system to the ground would have been deafening.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on how to improve the NHL’s lottery system and to prevent teams like Edmonton from constantly feeding at the loser’s trough. And everyone agrees that the current lottery system rewards losing teams (under the current system, the team that finishes last not only has the highest odds of landing the top pick but can also draft no lower than fourth). So what if the NHL changed the system to reward its winning franchises?
Currently, the team that wins the Stanley Cup is rewarded for their victory by drafting last in every round. The team that they defeated in the Stanley Cup final drafts 29th while the two teams that made it to the Conference semi-finals wind up drafting in the bottom four as well. So in essence, the NHL’s most successful teams and its eventual champion are actually punished at the draft. Why not reverse that?
What if, when the NHL’s two top teams battle for the Stanley Cup at the end of an exhaustive, brutal playoff campaign, they were playing for more then the right to hoist Lord Stanley’s chalice, but the right to drape their jersey over the League’s next superstar as well?
What if instead of having to host a fire sale of players while the confetti was still falling from their Stanley Cup parades, the Chicago Blackhawks were rewarded with Taylor Hall, Nate Mackinnon and McDavid? What if the Boston Bruins were the ones to agonize over making Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Gabriel Landeskog the top pick in 2011? What if L.A. was rewarded with the number one selection in 2012 and again in 2014 for their brilliant Cup runs? If the Washington Capitals or Pittsburgh Penguins or St. Louis Blues are the top dog this year, why not reward them for their herculean effort by allowing them to call out Auston Matthews name? The entire landscape of the League would be vastly different.
And why stop there? Award the Stanley Cup runner up the second overall pick. Call it a consolation prize if you like, but coming up a victory or two short of winning it all should also have it’s own reward. Could you imagine Jack Eichel in a Lightning jersey or Alexander Barkov wearing Bruins black and gold? And give the Stanley Cup semi-finalists the third and fourth picks based on their regular season point totals. Then assign the remaining picks to teams based on their regular season performance. That would mean that this year the Toronto Maple Leafs would draft fifth overall, followed by the Oilers at sixth, the Vancouver Canucks at seventh and so on.
Would it hurt teams rebuilding? Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Morgan Reilly, Mark Scheifele, Doug Hamilton, Jacob Trouba and 2011 Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner are just a handful of impressive names that have been drafted between slots five and ten in recent years. Ottawa Senators super star Erik Karlsson was drafted 15th in 2008, Vladimir Tarasenko and Evengi Kuznetsov, a pair of young talents that had huge breakout seasons this year, were drafted 16th and 26th respectively in 2010, Jamie Benn, who lead the league in scoring in 2015 and finished second in 2016, was a third round pick in 2007 while goalie Braden Holtby, who will likely win the Vezina trophy this June, was picked up by the Washington Capitals in the fourth round in 2008. Franchise defensemen Duncan Keith, P.K. Subban and Shea Weber were all second round picks and the Detroit Red Wings have made the NHL post season 25 consecutive seasons because they became experts at drafting (and patiently developing) excellent players in later rounds (Pavel Datsyuk was drafted a jaw dropping 171st in 1998). There are plenty of elite, even franchise players available after the top four picks.
This would force teams to be smarter in their drafting, investing more time and resources into scouting and development. Would the Edmonton Oilers be in the sad state they are today if they weren’t allowed to depend on so many first overall picks, but instead had to approach the draft more carefully (that may be a moot point given how horribly mismanaged they were until last May when they finally fired just about everyone)?
It would also make the trade deadline more exciting. The NHL’s deadline has turned into a final opportunity for the teams who think they have a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup to scavenge useful parts from the basement dwellers to address any outstanding needs headed into the two month war that is the Stanley Cup playoffs. Contending teams don’t blink twice at parting with their first round pick (the Rangers haven’t had a first round pick since 2012 and won’t until 2017 at the earliest), but what if Chicago or New York or Washington think they have an actual shot at the Cup, would they be willing to part with a pick that could end up in the top four or even first overall? And if so, how much more valuable is that pick and how much more could they get for it? How much of a gamble would the selling team be taking? What if you send a decent player to a contending team in return for their first round pick and nothing else, only to see that team upset in the first round and watch said pick’s value plummet? It would add a dozen more layers of intrigue to last minute deals.
Until the NHL called out the Toronto Maple Leafs name last week, there was a genuine fear that the Oilers would land their fifth first overall pick in seven seasons (Calgary President Brian Burke even promised to beat someone up if that happened). This would end the trend of rewarding mismanaged franchises and force them to improve themselves more efficiently while rewarding the League’s top teams.
And it would change everything.