With talk of the NHL Draft Lottery format being potentially modified, it seems as good a time as any for a writer to write an article on the subject. So here’s mine.
Timing is Everything
First things first. If, and it’s still only an if, the NHL changes its Draft Lottery rules effective immediately, the explanation for doing it ought to be a good one. Why? Because as anyone who can tell a puck from a Ring Ding is aware, the 2015 NHL Draft will have a couple of franchise-changing players sitting at its top.
An immediate change will throw the few years’ old clearly-stated rebuilding approaches of a few teams, most notably the Buffalo Sabres, right out the window. How in the world would that be fair after the Sabres sacrificed their season and several prominent players primarily to take a run at Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel?
Pulling the rug out from under the Sabres and other teams now would be, to borrow a phrase from a generation or two before me, dirty pool.
And before you inundate me with “cry me a river” comments, bear in mind that tanking is not only legitimate, but also a time-honored strategy for teams to improve themselves. And sometimes it’s the only one available.
The NHL didn’t feel the need to halt the Pittsburgh Penguins from waddling up to the trough for Sydney Crosby in 2005. Or even better in 1984, when the Pens’ spent more time in the tank than an Orca at Seaworld to ensure getting their flippers on Mario Lemieux.
And you think Crosby’s good? In 1981 the Montreal Canadiens traded 50-goal scorer Pierre Larouche to their division-rival Hartford Whalers merely to switch 1984 1st round picks with the Whalers, just in the hopes that three full years later Hartford would finish last and the Habs could land their hometown hero Super Mario.
The point is, this isn’t a rule change akin to suddenly deciding to make defensive end pucks flipped over the glass two-minute penalties. This is much different and would have huge repercussions.
For teams like the Sabres significant personnel decisions have already been made, and certainly Friday’s draft strategy-which would’ve been worked on for months-were all based on the current NHL Draft Lottery rules being in place next year.
And whether you approve of tanking or not it does comes at a steep price; primarily paid by the fans who buy tickets and merchandise as they patiently continue to support the tanker.
As it seems like I’m starting to go off on a tangent, I’ll just add one more thing before moving on. If the NHL does adopt new lottery rules, they should be implemented no earlier than 2017.
Opinions, Everybody’s Got ‘Em
In recent days there have been several ideas tossed around by fans, pundits and NHL sources alike. They seem to range from fairly reasonable to patently absurd. Among the most ridiculous suggestions was to give the #1 overall pick to the Stanley Cup Champions. I mean really, come on.
If the NHL was going to even consider such a ludicrous thing, it’d make more sense to give the #1 pick to the Stanley Cup Finals runner up. Though even that would only be slightly less ridiculous.
Another questionable recommendation is to rotate the #1 pick annually through all 30 teams so that every three decades each team gets to choose first. Let’s just say I put that one up there with MLB’s brilliant decision to award home field advantage in the World Series to the winner of a irrelevant exhibition game. But as usual, I digress.
Somewhat more realistic proposals include using a rolling aggregate point system over the previous three or five years, or giving all non-playoff teams better odds at winning the #1 slot.
The coolest idea I’ve ever heard on this subject (and I wish I’d thought of it, but didn’t) would never happen, but should. It was to have the two bottom teams play either one game, or a Best-of-3 series to which the winner would go the top overall pick. To my knowledge that would be unprecedented and, quite frankly, awesome.
So, What’s the Solution?
It’s supremely unlikely that the NHL will be calling me to ask my opinion, but since I’m writing this article I might as well at least give it here. And I shall.
The NHL should simply jettison the lottery altogether and once again follow the NFL’s model of last-picks-first, period. They’ve done it before. And as I’ve said the teams that opt to go after that first pick sacrifice a lot over a decent period of time to get it. And not only is there no guarantee that they will get it, there’s no guarantee that it’ll work out anyway.
Don’t believe me? Ask the 1983 Minnesota North Stars. They drafted Rhode Island’s Brian Lawton #1, and then watched as Sylvain Turgeon, Pat Lafontaine, Steve Yzerman, Tom Barrasso, John MacLean, Russ Courtnall and Cam Neely were selected with seven of the next eight picks.
However with that said, some form of the lottery is surely here to stay. So be it.
If there needs to be a lottery, then have it include only the bottom three teams. The 30th place team would be given a 50% chance at the top prize, and the 28th and 29th teams would have 25% apiece. The 30th team would also be assured of choosing no lower than second overall. There, simple.
Oh by the way one more thing, NHL: how do you think the populace would react if a $500 Million PowerBall drawing were held clandestinely in a dusty office somewhere, and then a few days later some guy walks out in front of a camera and simply flashes a card with the previously-drawn numbers on it?
Yeah, me too. So ditch the logo cards, and switch to logo balls that some Vanna White-type can draw out of a transparent vacuum cleaner in front of everyone.
I’ve got plenty more suggestions too, if anyone in the NHL offices would like to ask.