Should the NHL ban the draft lottery?

Puck Daddy

Say, have you heard of Connor McDavid?

He’s THE NEXT ONE, after Sidney Crosby and Eric Lindros were THE NEXT ONEs before him. He’s the Canadian major junior ice hockey player with preposterous talent, vision, skills and potential. Put him on a struggling franchise, and it’s like terra-forming a barren planet. At least, in theory.

So it’s expected that the 2014-15 season, after which McDavid can be drafted, will feature more tanks than a parade in Red Square. Teams will be falling over themselves in a race to the bottom. It’s possible the best team in the NHL will have 164 points, standing proudly as the only one that wants to win anything that season.

Of course, the NHL’s fail-safe for teams throwing their seasons is the draft lottery, which was instituted in 1993 after the Ottawa Senators tanked for Alexander Daigle. (Who knew the NHL just needed to wait for karma to do her thing?) The format called for the bottom four teams to have a chance at No. 1 overall, although it was tweaked to allow all 30 teams a shot at Crosby after the 2005 lockout. Under the new CBA, all non-playoff teams have a chance to win the top pick, but their odds dramatically increase as their number of wins decrease.

The question is whether it’s time to reinvent the wheel on the Draft Lottery.

It’s the question being asked in the NBA, according to Zach Lowe of Grantland. From his piece on the new lottery-scrapping format that's being considered by the Association:

Grantland obtained a copy of the proposal, which would eliminate the draft lottery entirely and replace it with a system in which each of the 30 teams would pick in a specific first-round draft slot once — and exactly once — every 30 years. Each team would simply cycle through the 30 draft slots, year by year, in a predetermined order designed so that teams pick in different areas of the draft each year. Teams would know with 100 percent certainty in which draft slots they would pick every year, up to 30 years out from the start of every 30-year cycle. The practice of protecting picks would disappear; there would never be a Harrison Barnes–Golden State situation again, and it wouldn’t require a law degree to track ownership of every traded pick leaguewide.

… Put another way: The team that gets the no. 1 pick in the very first year of this proposed system would draft in the following slots over the system's first six seasons: 1st, 30th, 19th, 18th, 7th, 6th. Just follow the wheel around clockwise to see the entire 30-year pick cycle of each team, depending on their starting spoke in Year 1.

Here's "The Wheel" to better understand it. It’s a game-changer, obviously, and a move that revolutionize the way teams build teams.

At the very least, Brian Burke would love it.

The pros are obvious: The end of the traditional draft format means the end of teams being in a race to the bottom. It would incentivize teams to remain competitive, to not gut their rosters for the sake of high draft choices.

It would also turn the first overall pick into something tangible during the season. Could you imagine the top pick, guaranteed to be in one team’s possession, being in play at the trade deadline with not lottery protections?

(From a marketing standpoint, you could award the NHL Draft to whichever team owns the top pick that season, too.)

The cons? Well, this is a bit like kicking a guy begging for a dollar on the street, isn’t it?

The draft exists as a mechanism to get “amateur” players into the professional ranks in an equitable manner. And equitable means that teams that need to turn their fortunes around are given a chance at drafting foundational players for that turnaround: The Pittsburgh posse, John Tavares, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos, to name a few.

In a league where parity is paramount, where even the losers get a point in the standings in overtime, does it make sense to allow the rich to get richer just to ensure the poor aren’t inflicting this pain on themselves on purpose?

There is, after all, something to be said for the power of dynastic teams when it comes to a sport’s popularity. (See: Yankees, Bulls, Steelers and Cowboys of the 1970s, Montreal Canadiens.)

The NHL has a long tradition of borrowing from the NBA, be it the draft lottery or Gary Bettman. If the NBA went in this direction, “the wheel” couldn’t be implemented until all of the league’s currently traded draft picks had been used. It’s years away. But in the meantime, it presents an interesting moral debate for fans of all sports:

Should the meek be rewarded, or does the draft format corrupt more than it encourages?

More to the point: What would your reaction be if the Chicago Blackhawks were already promised the top pick in the Connor McDavid draft, just because it was their year?

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