Suggested NHL Draft System: Honour for Connor

Guest post by Kelvin Eisses edited by Chris Ralph

Fail for Nail is Out – Honour for Connor is In

A couple of years back I explored several options to overhaul the current NHL entry system which, in essence, rewards failure. The NHL has considered changes to the current lottery system, and change is coming, but there is much room for further improvement.

Kelvin Eisses, in this guest post, presents yet an alternative solution – an In-Season Playoff Method for NHL Entry Draft Order Determination.

The Objectives of a Sports Entry Draft

A good sports entry draft should be designed to contribute to parity in the league while not discouraging teams from winning. Ideally, it would actually encourage teams to win. The draft lottery system has removed some of the motive to lose down the stretch but has not provided a motive to win. The alternative outlined here attempts to provide that motive.

The Concept: In-Season Playoff Method for NHL Entry Draft Order Determination

Any team that does not reach 60 points by the 62 game mark (an approximate trade-deadline date) competes for the top draft picks. These teams (usually 4 to 6 teams have less than 60 points at 62 games) may not have quite given up at this point but are sellers at the trade deadline and do not have a realistic hope of making the playoffs. Under this concept, the draft order of these teams would be determined by their record over the final 20 games of the season. Bad teams would still get high picks; they would just be competing for these high picks. A standings table for teams who did not achieve 60 points would be added as a tab on sports websites once teams have played 62 games. Down the stretch this has the potential to be the most exciting storyline in the NHL.

[THW Archive: Fixing the NHL Entry Draft Lottery System: Playoff For Number One]

Motivation to Win

(Roberto Luongo’s reaction after the Florida Panthers won the 2014 draft lottery)

The last 20 games of the season would be better for everyone. Teams that had more than 60 points would still be in the playoff hunt without the distraction of fans wanting them to lose to possibly get a top pick. The teams that had less than 60 points get to play for something – something potentially franchise-altering. Over the last five full seasons, three out of five first overall draft races would have come down to one point and all of them would have been within three points.

The only part of the season where motivation may not be adequate for all the teams would be the games leading up to the 62 game mark. Those well below and those who still are very much in a playoff hunt will still have motivation to win. Only those few teams on the cusp may have incentive to lose to have a chance at a top draft pick. Given that this would be for a limited number of games for a limited number of teams that likely still consider playoffs a possibility, this shouldn’t be a deciding factor.

Parity

The draft is a crucial part of ensuring there is parity in the league. It must be structured in such a way that a team that has bottomed out and cannot attract free agents has a means to rebuild. This system would ensure that poorly performing teams still would get high draft picks and the first overall pick would still go to a bad team. Even a team that was relatively good at the trade deadline but falls apart down the stretch would only fall a couple of positions from where they are now. Here are some results looking at the average of the past five full seasons:

Team Current System Pick In-Season Playoff Method Difference
30th Team 1.75 3.4 -1.65
29th Team 2.374 4 -1.626
28th Team 3.136 4.4 -1.264
27th Team 3.992 3.2 0.792

The teams that finished in the bottom three in the league on average would pick 1 or 2 slots down from where they would pick under the current system.

*Note~ teams would have acted differently at the trade deadline and may have played differently down the stretch under this system.

Other Considerations

The dynamics of the trade deadline would certainly be different. The price for talent would likely go up. This in theory should contribute to parity as the best teams are the ones that would be paying the higher prices. It could also lead to less action at the trade deadline or at least less selling and more hockey trades.

OptionalUse concept for other non-playoff teams (own group)

All teams would now be guaranteed to be playing for something down the stretch no matter how many points they may have. These non-playoff teams’ differences in abilities are often small (seven points separated 17th from 24th in 2013/14) and the related draft picks are also not necessarily that significantly different in value. For this group though there is a negative correlation between where teams finished and what draft pick they would receive. Toronto’s monumental collapse down the stretch in 2011-2012 would have resulted in a 14th overall pick instead of a 5th. One needs to look at the teams in this group to see if positioning is really an indication of the future success of these teams. If it is, it is perhaps better not to pursue this option.

OptionalOnly use this format for the first round

The motivation to win is achieved by applying this concept to the first round. The other rounds, which also contribute to parity, do not need to follow this format. They could follow the worst to best order that is currently used to maximize parity.

OptionalRandomize Cut off Point

If the 60 points in 62 games cut-off was deemed to be a distraction for teams and their fans, the actual cut-off point could be randomized. After all teams have played a set number of games (such as 62) the NHL could have a lottery for the cut-off point. This can be done in a number of ways and obviously would add a level of complication.

In Summary

  • Appealing to owners and management
  • Appealing to coaches and players
  • Appealing to fans
  • Motivation to win and the related excitement is greatly enhanced
  • Parity is only slightly affected

What If This System was Used in Previous Seasons

Hindsight 20/20: To highlight how one team’s fortunes might have been altered, reflect back on what could have been for the Calgary Flames in the spreadsheet that follows had this system been implemented:

  • 2013-14: From 4th overall to 2nd overall draft slot
  • 2011-12: From 14th to 6th overall
    • Potential Flame: Hampus Lindholm (instead of trading down for Mark Jankowski)
  • 2010-11: From 14th to 8th overall
    • Potential Flames: One of Sean Couturier, Dougie Hamilton or Jonas Brodin (instead of Sven Baertschi)
  • 2009-10: From 13th to 10th overall

Draft Positioning Using the In Season Playoff Method – Two Groups – A Look Back at Last Five Non-Lockout Seasons

The following spreadsheet looks at this concept over the past five non-lockout seasons, highlighting draft slot position changes if the system would have been implemented for those years. Of course, things could have played out different if all the teams involved were cognizant of the rules and implications of the proposed system.

Note:

  • Only a portion of the table displays by default; you can scroll through or select “View full-size workbook” option, which is the icon in the bottom right hand corner, to view the full table.

How did your team fair and what do you think of the proposed draft system overhaul?


surveys & polls

Christopher Ralph

Christopher Ralph

Managing Editor/Lead Prospect &Draft Analyst at THW
Chris is THW's senior draft/prospect analyst and a Managing Editor. Watch for Chris' regular column "The Next Ones" Prospect Profile series as well as the annual THW NHL Entry Draft Guide. Follow @ChrisRalphTHW on Twitter as he infiltrates, dissects and analyzes all happenings of hockey prospects and the NHL entry draft. Email: cralph[at]thehockeywriters[dot]com
Christopher Ralph

10 Comments

  1. While they need to do something to fix the draft, I hate this proposal–exactly as much as I hate the “best record after elimination” proposal. The worst teams should be the teams that get the best picks. There are ways to do that however where no advantage is conveyed in losing games.

    I think a better proposal would be a lottery of only the four worst teams where all four of the top-4 picks are lottery-determined–the odds of picking #1 are equal for all 4 teams (25%) and the likelihood is even that a team will get #1 as #2 or #3 or #4. (also 25%) In addition, a “lock” rule where you cannot be in the lottery more than 3 years out of last 5 starting after 3 years of this system…the 4/5th year, you pick #5 (or #6…lower record still picks earlier) and the 5th-worst (or 6th-worst) team gets your lottery spot and a shot at #1. (While odd, it furthers disincentive-to-lose because it means that beyond a certain point (3 years) any future-advantage to being bad is negligible…at the same time, the ability of a team to lose their way into the lottery is more dependent upon the performance of teams behind them in the standings than their own performance.)

    It does all of the things a pick-determination system should do: insure the worst teams get the better players, make it harder to game the system, and create a disincentive to losing without expanding the ability to pick #1 to the nearly-made-the-playoffs.

  2. I watch Hockey says:

    There could possibly be other strategies employed as well. Perhaps more coach firings after 62 games and more “interim coaches”. A chance for some assistant coaches to get some time in the big chair and have a 20-game interview.

    Or maybe bring up your top prospect from the minors for the stretch run. See if he can spark something. Roster management and salary cap might hinder this though.

    The NHL seems more willing than other pro leagues to tinker with the rules to find things that work.

  3. I’ve always thought that the team with the most points after they are officially eliminated from the playoffs should get the 1st pick. That way the actual bad teams would have a couple of games head start as they would be eliminated first.

  4. Fraser Read says:

    I like the idea but would rather it be based on points amassed after being removed from playoff contention (real playoff contention- a.k.a. sportsclubstats). As this would still give an advantage to the worst teams, as they would be eliminated earlier, but still gives all non-playoff teams incentive to win. Also there would never be any sort of lull period where you would want to fall under a certain point line, as this would only start after you are statistically removed from fighting for a playoff spot. One game your fighting for your playoff lives, the next your fighting for your draft position, but winning always remains in the positive light.

  5. I think the best approach would be to take every non-playoff team and do a random drawing in which every team has an equal chance of winning the #1 overall pick. And every draft slot would be up for grabs. You might finish with the worst record but get the #14 pick, or you might finish with the 14th worst record but get the #1 pick. Equal chance. It would make for an amazing made-for-TV event with a ton of interest!

    • That’s an alternative as well DrewL – admittedly wouldn’t be my first choice but could see some fans taking a liking to it. I don’t think the NHL would go to that level for the lottery though. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  6. Hey Chris,
    The best system I’ve heard of thus far is to have the race for the #1 pick start as soon as a team is eliminated from the playoffs. That way the bottom feeders have a head start but must put it on themselves to win games. I think this is the most exciting way to experience it.

    The only thing is it may be to complicated to explain to the average fan, and although I heard it previously once, no other sports writer has brought it up.

    Anyway it was a good read and keep writing!

    Best,

    Warren

  7. Thanks for stopping by Mike and leaving a great comment. Your suggestion is actually my #4 option from the article linked in this piece, written in 2012. Here’s the link again: http://thehockeywriters.com/fixing-the-nhl-entry-draft-lottery-system-playoff-for-number-one/

  8. There should still be a lottery for the draft, but the team being awarded the most chances of getting the 1st pick should be the team that came closest to make the playoffs. Let’s reward those who fought till the end and were “this close” to make it. In such a system, teams would fight till the last game (either to make the playoffs or getting the best pick possible). Every game would mean something. GMs would think twice before “dumping” good players to other teams.

    The team that ends last would have something like a 15th pick. That’s still better than a 30th. Over time, you will improve and the year after, aim to finish 25th, then 20th, then 18th… As you improve, you are rewarded getting better picks. Until you reach a playoff spot.

    I can’t imagine a GM voluntarily missing the playoffs for a better pick spot…

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