The NHL has reached a tentative agreement! The Lockout is over after the NHL and the PA take their obligatory votes, but there is one bit of news that has leaked out that doesnt have me smiling: The NHL has changed the rules of its Draft Lottery to allow all 14 non-playoff teams the chance to win the 1st Overall pick.
We have not seen all of the details surface just yet, but several sources have reported that the weighting will remain the same as the previous draft lottery but the limit on how many spaces you can move up will be removed. I dont know what the motivation behind this change really was, but it is probably safe to say that the Oilers choosing 1st in three consecutive drafts may have put a desire for change into the minds of many. Certainly the Oilers “Burn it to the Ground” rebuild strategy had worked under the rules of the last CBA. Perhaps the league didnt like the idea of franchises “Tanking” so they could climb out of the basement. Certainly the efforts of the Oilers were a little Ham-Fisted and obvious. They iced bad teams and played Khabibulin despite his obvious inability to stop pucks. The Draft is there to break the cycle of being a bad team by allocating the best available players to the poorest clubs. Edmonton just didnt do so well at pretending like it was an accident that they were so bad. It was advertised to the world that this Shitaneously Bad Hockey was by design.
Now, every team outside of the Stanley Cup Playoffs could have won the lottery before, but they were capped at moving 4 spaces up from their regular season position. Thus only the bottom 5 teams had a chance at selecting 1st overall. This meant that only the truly poor teams could select 1st Overall, but some teams could still win the lottery and be rewarded with a significantly higher pick. This was, of course, a good thing for parity in the NHL. It gave truly atrocious teams the opportunity to select Franchise players. These were just good players, but players teams could market to their fans. If we can assume that (generally) Bad Teams = Bad Attendance then the strength of the League depends on all teams having the chance to sell tickets. There is no denying that there is a lot of hype surrounding 1st Overall picks. These players put asses in seats.
The fact is that the Draft has done its job. Teams that do well draft late and teams that do poorly draft early. Bad teams dont generally stay bad unless there is some other force at work(read: Incompetence). Many of the teams we all know as strong clubs today were laughing stocks at one point or drafted their talent in early spots. A decade ago the Pittsburgh Penguins were a joke Franchise that was on the verge of extinction. The team was broke, the best players had left one way or another, and Jim Balsille was circling like a Vulture. An incredible run at the top of the Draft over several years gave them their Goalie and their 3 best Centers. Nobody calls the Penguins a joke franchise anymore. The Blackhawks took their best players in the top 5. With Kane and Toews 1st and 3rd they found their Captain and the man that scored the Stanley Cup winning goal. The Canes found their 1C via the draft and took the Cup a few years later. The heart of the Vancouver Canuck lineup was selected 2nd and 3rd Overall in the same draft year. They may be the first sister duo to play in the NHL but they have taken their team to Presidents Cup trophy wins and are the bane of every penalty killer in the NHL.
The Draft was doing its job. Truly bad teams werent just getting good players, they were getting better. And the worst teams were getting truly marketable players that sold tickets and reversed the fortunes of the clubs that drafted them (Patrik Stefan and the Thrashers excluded). The ability to find that Franchise altering player is opening up, and I’m not convinced thats a good thing.
I can honestly say that the thought of the Flames fighting for a playoff spot with 90 points, finishing just short in 9th place to sold out crowds, and selecting 1st overall makes me ill. The Draft isnt just some reward for non-playoff teams. The Draft is supposed to create a cycle where bad teams can rise in the standings. If you finish with 90 points and are playing meaningful games in February then you arent a bad team, and you shouldnt be in the hunt for a Franchise altering player. There are going to be bad teams that will miss out on their chance to get out of the basement because the best player in the draft went to a club that barely missed the playoffs. I dont think it accomplishes what the Draft is supposed to accomplish. I dont think it serves any purpose except to hype up TSN’s Annual Tambellini and Friends Lottery Extravaganza.
I will admit though, the odds of that happening will be very low. The top 5 teams will still have the best chance to pick 1st overall in any draft. I just disagree with opening the opportunity to better teams at all. For the most part the lottery winners and the team that selected 1st have been the same team, but every once in a while a team outside the top 5 wins it. Here’s a chart by TSN that lays it out pretty well. The odds will keep this scenario from happening very often, but every once in a while the NHL will end up giving the best player in the draft to a strong team having an off year.
I’m going to finish off by noting that if these changes were included in the last CBa then the Nuge would not be an Oiler. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would most certainly be a New Jersey Devil today. Yes, he wouldnt be an Oiler and finished last season 29th because he was drafted by a bad club. Instead he would be playing for the New Jersey Devils, a club that competed for the Stanley Cup last season.