The NHL should make major changes to the draft lottery

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draft lottery

Before the Canucks game on Saturday night, I was scoreboard watching. “Yes, the Jets and Sens are winning” I told my friend.

You see, that’s a good thing, because I want the Jets and Senators to pass the Canucks in the overall standings, to improve the Canucks’ draft position.

I was at the Canucks game and watched as the Canucks scored a late goal to beat the Kings in dramatic fashion. I should have been happy, but in the back of my mind I knew that would mean the Canucks just dropped from 6th to 9th position with regards to the draft next season.

Something is wrong with this picture. Isn’t there a draft lottery in place to stop this kind of thinking? Why is my team losing a handful of meaningless games in the last two weeks of the season so vital to the future of the franchise?

While a draft lottery exists in the NHL, it is not a ‘true’ lottery.

Until recently, the NHL draft lottery allowed teams to move up a maximum of four spots. The New Jersey Devils actually won the draft lottery in 2011, but did not get the first pick (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) because they could only move up four spots. The same thing happened to LA in 1995 (Bryan Berard) and Chicago in 1999 (Patrik Stefan).

One of the biggest problems with the draft lottery system is that teams can only move down one position as a result of it. That means there will be very little change in the order, and very little opportunity to move up.

The second biggest problem with the system is that the odds of winning the lottery change dramatically based on where you finished in the standings, regardless of point total changes.

Here is how the draft lottery odds would look if the season ended today (with regular season point totals in parentheses):

Team 1: Buffalo (51 points) 25.00%
Team 2: Edmonton (63 points) 18.80%
Team 3: Florida (64 points) 14.20%
Team 4: NY Islanders (73 points) 10.70%
Team 5: Calgary (73 points) 8.10%
Team 6: Carolina (79 points) 6.20%
Team 7: Winnipeg (80 points) 4.70%
Team 8: Ottawa (80 points) 3.60%
Team 9: Vancouver (81 points) 2.70%
Team 10: Nashville (81 points) 2.10%
Team 11: Washington (83 points) 1.50%
Team 12: Toronto (84 points) 1.10%
Team 13: New Jersey (84 points) 0.80%
Team 14: Phoenix (86 points) 0.50%

The odds are based off of positioning and not point totals, although they should be. Does it make any sense that Edmonton gets a 4% better chance at winning than Florida, who has only 1 point less than them? It gets worse with the teams bunched up at the moment, as Carolina has a 6.2% chance to win, well ahead of Nashville (2.1%), a team that is only 2 points ahead of them in the standings.

Beyond the micro-level to decide who deserves the first overall draft pick, the standings don’t always reflect which team is in dire need of a high draft pick. Look no further than Colorado last year, who received the first overall pick because of their poor regular season, just as their young core group of players were ready to mature. Perhaps a team like Florida, Winnipeg or Calgary was more deserving. Obviously figuring that out beforehand is very difficult, but my point is that the last place team often doesn’t deserve the first pick over the second, third or fourth last teams.

The NHL is contemplating a system that would weigh the last 5 seasons, as Elliotte Friedman explained in his 30 thoughts article, but that has its problems too. Often times it takes high draft picks 2-4 years before they become serious impact players in the NHL. Imagine Pittsburgh continuing to benefit from their poor seasons, even after drafting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Or imagine Chicago getting to draft high, even after having Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in their lineup.

At present, teams are being punished for trying to win games, while teams that completely tank on purpose (like Buffalo this season) get rewarded.

So what can the NHL do? Well here are a few suggestions:

  • Every team that misses the playoffs gets a chance to win the first overall pick, with the odds weighted by point totals. That means that if you finish with 1 point or 10 points more than the next team in the overall standings, it matters.
  • No team is permitted to win the draft lottery two years in a row (sorry Edmonton).
  • All non-playoff teams can move up in the draft order, while teams can move down in the order no more than six spots (ie. the #14 team can pick 1-14, but the #1 team can pick no later than 7th). That will allow for a lot more movement for every one of the top 14 picks.

Yes, I’m fully aware that my system would make it possible for a decent team like Washington to win the draft lottery this year while a team in complete disarray like Buffalo could pick 7th. But what needs to stop in the NHL is the feeling that the way to build a championship team is to suck for many years in a row. Teams should be given incentive to try to be good, not incentive to lose.

I hate the thought that if I want the Canucks to win the Stanley Cup one day, they should trade away all of their good players in order to stink for the next couple of seasons. I mean, aren’t the Buffalo Sabres doing the best job of building a championship team right now? In the last two seasons they traded Ryan Miller, Steve Ott, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Robyn Regehr for mainly draft picks and young players. That will ensure that they are a terrible team for the next 2-3 years, ensuring high draft picks. That should make them Stanley Cup champions in about 6 years from now.

Right now, there is huge incentive for teams to lose. And if you give teams incentive to lose, aren’t we left with no more than that Olympic badminton debacle in 2012?

http://youtu.be/nA_0mbuN4hU

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Rob Williams Sports Editor at Vancity Buzz covering all sports in Vancouver.
@robthehockeyguy

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