Fixing the NHL Entry Draft Lottery System: Playoff For Number One

The NHL Draft Lottery system requires revamping

NEW YORK/TORONTO – For the eighteenth time* since its inception in 1995, the National Hockey League Draft Drawing, a weighted system to determine the order of selection for the first 14 picks of the 2012 NHL Draft, will take place Tuesday, April 10, at 8 p.m. ET.

The League, in cooperation with TSN, will announce the results of the Draft Lottery live during a 30-minute program, produced and televised by TSN in Canada. The special presentation also will air in the U.S. on NBC Sports Network.

Here’s hoping there’s not a nineteenth time.

*Sidenote: In 2005, a.k.a. the Crosby Draft, teams were assigned 1 to 3 balls based on their playoff appearances and first overall draft picks from the past three years.

The NHL entry draft lottery system is broken and it’s about time to revamp it.


For much more information on the NHL entry draft, be sure to check out our live updated draft home page:

2012 NHL Entry Draft Guide – The Next Ones


Fixing the NHL Entry Draft Lottery System: Playoff tournament for number one and three other potential solutions


The Current System:

Per NHL rules, the club selected in the Draft Drawing may not move up more than four positions in the draft order. Thus, the only clubs with the opportunity to receive the first overall selection are the five teams with the lowest regular-season point totals, or the clubs that acquired an eligible club’s first-round draft pick. No club will move down more than one position as a result of the Draft Drawing.”

The Odds of Winning Standings in 2012: 

Based on team finish (i.e. 30th to 17th), the percentage chance of being selected in the 2012 Scotiabank NHL® Draft Lottery is:

Columbus Blue Jackets – 25.0%
Edmonton Oilers – 18.8%
Montreal Canadiens – 14.2%
New York Islanders – 10.7%
Toronto Maple Leafs – 8.1%
Anaheim Ducks – 6.2%
Minnesota Wild – 4.7%
Carolina Hurricanes – 3.6%
Winnipeg Jets – 2.7%
Tampa Bay Lightning – 2.1%
Washington Capitals (from Colorado) – 1.5%
Buffalo Sabres – 1.1%
Dallas Stars – 0.8%
Calgary Flames – 0.5%


The History of the Draft Lottery: 

NHL 2012 Draft Lottery Simulator:


The Problem:

Simply put – the NHL draft lottery in its current state heavily rewards failure.

When the most prominent draft theme of the year is “Fail For Nail” or “Fail For Nail or Mikhail”, one has to recognize the problem. And the first step in the process of recovery is identifying and admitting there is an actual problem.

Although I would not accuse any franchise of tanking a season in an effort to obtain a better draft slot, there is no doubting the temptation is a clear and present danger to the integrity of the game.

Besides rewarding failure, the current system also leaves middling teams (those narrowly missing the playoffs) in a sort of hockey purgatory. Just ask Calgary Flames fans. 

The basis for the current system is striving for parity.  The logic is that teams who finish with the worse records require the most help. Giving said teams higher draft picks is a potential way of leveling the playing field, so to speak.

However, sports should be inherently about striving for success and aiming to win. While that is often an ever evolving process, it should not involve losing with a resultant enhancement of draft position.


The Alternatives 

There are many alternatives – each with its own merit, and arguments for and against. I’ll highlight what I consider to be the real contenders.

1. Single Elimination Tournament of Non-playoff Teams 

There would definitely need to be plenty of minute details to be sorted out should this option come to fruition, but this is the most intriguing and exciting option.

After recently watching one of sports’ greatest of tournaments, NCAA College Basketball March Madness, this type of format would garner some much needed excitement for fans of non-playoff teams.

Here’s a quick rundown of how this option could be executed:

  • 14 non-playoff teams would partake in a single game elimination tournament.
  • For the first round, the two teams closest to making the playoffs (i.e. 17th and 18th in overall standings) would have a bye.
  • Thus, the first round matchups would be: 19th Vs 30th, 20th Vs 29th, 21st Vs 28th, etc.
  • The team with the better regular season record does get home ice advantage.
  • There would be then the quarter finals of the 8 remaining teams.
  • Note: In order to move up in draft position, the 17th and 18th place teams (1st round bye) would have to win their quarter final match-up (otherwise falling back to the 13th/14th draft slot)
  • Next would be the semi-final round of the 4 winning squads, followed by the final matchup.
  • Therefore, 1st through 8th draft position determined by how the team finishes in the tournament (this likely means consideration for 3rd, 5th  and 7th place games).
  • Slots 9th to 14th determined by reverse order of overall standings.
  • Thus, the two worst teams in the league’s overall standing would draft no later than 9th to 10th, and therefore assured a top 10 draft pick.

This system would give non-playoff teams something to cheer for. It will also be a revenue generator for these teams.

I envision a pre-game rink screen brilliant presentation ensuring fans know what’s at stake and showing video highlights of the top prospects on the planet eligible for the relevant draft.


2. NBA followers also toy with idea of fixing what they deem to be their broken system. From ESPN’s Hoop Idea column, here’s another intriguing system to consider, which is statistically sound:

“This one comes from the 2012 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in early March. In a TrueHoop post from the event, Jared Wade describes the work of researcher Adam Gold, who has a clever way to apportion lottery balls. The following is an excerpt:

Adam Gold suggested what he considers a better way: winning to win.

Give the first pick in the draft to the team that wins the most games after being officially eliminated from playoff contention. Then the team with the second highest number of wins gets the second pick. And so on.

The theory is that the worst team in the league will be the one that is mathematically eliminated first. Thus, it will get the most chances to pile up wins. If it takes advantage of those opportunities, it will be rewarded with the No. 1 pick.”

The White Mamba blog also agrees with this system, looking at it from both the NBA and NHL perspective.


3. All non-playoff teams get an equal chance at the #1 overall pick. This would essentially be a non-weighted lottery system really building excitement as every team that does not make the playoffs would have an equal shot.


4. A weighted draft lottery in which teams that narrowly missed the playoffs have the highest probability of obtaining the first overall pick. That is, the 17th place team in NHL’s overall standings would have the greatest percentage chance, with the 30th overall team having the slightest chance. Think of a team that just missed out on the playoffs potentially being put over the edge the following year should they add a top prospect from that draft year. In this draft year, for instance, the Calgary Flames would have the highest probability of drafting a potential game breaker in Nail Yakupov.

Nail Yakupov: A new NHL draft position system would give the 17th overall Calgary Flames the best shot at drafting the phenom (Metcalfe Photography)


The Issues 

(Obviously, not an inclusive list)

  • In a tournament style draft slot playoff as I proposed, players’ compensation would come into consideration; this is timely with the CBA due to be renewed – work it into the new agreement.
  • The home team would likely have revenue share with the road squad.
  • Teams and players will be concerned about extra games and the potential for injuries. There could be bonus incentives for players should they improve the team’s draft position.
  • Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders, Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs fans may start rioting.


Which system would you prefer or do you like the current draft lottery system as is? Be heard in the comments section below, email your thoughts, or join the conversation on Twitter – @ChrisRalphTHW.


Christopher Ralph is THW’s lead prospect and draft analyst & a Managing Editor.

Follow @ChrisRalphTHW on Twitter as he infiltrates, dissects & analyses all happenings of hockey prospects & the NHL draft.


12 thoughts on “Fixing the NHL Entry Draft Lottery System: Playoff For Number One”

  1. Hi Chris,
    That was a very thoughtful and intriguing view.  Yes, the draft lottery system is without a doubt flawed and requires revamping.  Teams should not be rewarded for aiming to fail.  It is not fair to the stakeholders, it is not fair to the other  NHL teams fighting for a playoff position, and it is not fair to the  season ticket holders and fans.  Right now, if a team at the beginning of the season realizes it won’t make playoffs or doesn’t have a chance at the stanley cup, it is okay for them to finish last in hopes of getting the next franchise player ie. Kane,  Crosby, Fleury, Lemieux, Lecavalier… or perhaps the “next one.”   (all these #1 picks have won a cup) I think it is approximately 16% of  first overall picks lead to a stanley cup, which is higher than any other draft number.   One could argue the strategy of finishing last is a good strategy, which I think Edmonton Oilers are doing and will be force to be reckoned with in 5 years time, with a cup ring or two to show.   

    The goal of every hockey franchise is to win the coveted Stanley Cup.  Ideally, to win the cup, you want the best players on your team, so you can be a top team in the NHL.  Top tier teams win Stanley Cups, not mediocre or teams that just squeak into the eighth or seventh position. Obtaining the best players by finishing last is just too easy.  The term “rebuilding” is a cop out to glorify failure. Teams should fight from beginning to the end, for the franchise and for the fans.  That’s what we pay our hard earn dollars to watch, that’s what hockey players are paid there high salaries for as well.

    I agree that there should be a restructuring of the draft system.  The “consolation” playoffs is a fun and interesting concept.  It will for sure bring in revenue for the NHL.  I previous post mentions a problem with trading away first round picks, but that is a problem anyways with the system now as well. 

    Anyways, I believe the NHL should relook at the draft lottery.  You have brought up a very good topic.  The NHL has made many changes to try to improve the game, this should be one as well.

    Great job Mr.Ralph.

    • Thanks for the feedback and comments Hockey Analyst PY – your passion for the game exudes through in your message. I personally like options 1 or 2 best, with some necessary details required to work it all out, of course. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I’m all for seeing more hockey! However, as you mentioned there would be major implications involving the NHLPA/Owners about how extra revenue would be distributed.
    The current trend that teams must “blow it up” or “rebuild” via lottery (and subsequently “failing”) irks me to no end. People have the notion that gutting and restocking with lottery picks is a surefire way to get Stanley. There needs to be a realization that other tools, such as free agency, trading and scouting are key to a championship team. 
    Overall, the current system just makes it too easy for teams to tank and get that lotto pick. If changed, it would hopefully make teams be more creative and smart in order to ice a winning product. I like the idea of the “winning to win” proposal by Adam Gold. It still gives a weaker team a good chance to win the top pick while giving the players something to play for (besides a paycheck). Would generate buzz with fans as well.

  3. Another problem I see with the tournament, is teams that don’t own their first round pick in that year’s draft (i.e. Colorado this year). Let’s imagine that via a trade (or series of trades) Vancouver (a division rival and the NW Division Champion) was to end up with Colorado’s first round pick. Knowing that winning that tournament would give their biggest division foe the first overall pick, any motivation for the Avalanche to go out and win that tournament is gone. Probably not something that would happen every year, but it would be possible.

  4. heres my suggestion 
     flip flop draft positions after first round….

    so assuming columbus wins (current scenario)
    1 pick is columbus  and 31 pick is columbus

    (proposed scenario) if columbus wins the draft and Vancouver wins the cup..
    1 pick is columbus ,,,,,,30 pick is vancouver and the next round vancouver picks first and columbus picks last…and so on.

    so essentially teams in playoffs are rewarded better second round draft picks and teams who are out still get good picks in first round…

    (only problem i see right now)
    a team who barely missed the playoffs like flames are getting  mediocre picks each round.

  5. NHL

    17 different teams in the NHL finals; 10 different champions


    16 different teams in the World Series; nine different champions


    16 different teams in the Super Bowl; nine different champions


    11 different teams in the NBA finals; six different champions.

    past 10 years

  6. Personally, I am not a fan of any of these ideas. As you mentioned in the beginning the point of the draft is improve parity (not “parody”) within the league. Maybe the current system “heavily rewards failure” by the fact that it gives the team with the lowest point total the best chance at getting the first pick. In my opinion, though…that is not promoting failure! It is simply trying to help this struggling teams for years to come. It is why we have resurgences of franchises like Pittsburgh and Chicago after so many years of disappointment. It is rare to have a team be good for 21 straight years (Detroit), let alone 5+ years. If that is accomplished, good for you! You did a good job wheeling and dealing and/or drafting players later on.

    All that said, I might even agree that the system is a bit flawed. Why should any team besides the WORST team in the league have a shot at the #1 pick?! To be completely frank, the Blue Jackets were horrible this year. That is not due to them tanking (if anyone accuses an NHL team of tanking, you have been sorely mistaken). They should have that #1 pick locked up (all percentages aside) because they deserve to have a good young player added to their system. Why does any other team deserve that pick as much as they do?

    On top of that, though…having a high pick is not a lock for being a star in the NHL, as we have seen on numerous occasions. And having a pick later in the first round also doesn’t mean you may not end up with a top player for years to come. It is up to the GM and the scouting staff of each individual team to do their job. In my mind, that is what separates a GREAT franchise, from one that struggles with mediocracy.

    • Appreciate the detailed comment, mginsburg. 
      (Parody vs parity was an admitted Freudian slip and corrected – hope there’s not a trio of brain freezes in the article!)

      Anyway, I guess (and I expected these counterpoints) we stand at opposite sides of the spectrum in viewing this issue. 

      I simply cannot stand rewarding failure. Because the Blue Jackets have been mis-managed, do they deserve the opportunity to potentially build a dynasty through the draft. It’s obviously not an easy process (ask the Oilers), but there are other ways these teams can retool and rebuild (ask the Senators). All the other elements come into play – free agency, trading, player development, scouting, etc., etc. These teams should not be relying on the fact that they’ll simply get a high draft pick after a horrible season.

      The middle of the road teams (i.e. 17th-24th)  often get caught in a state of flux – barely on the outside looking in, and are unable to catch that difference maker in the draft. 

      Would it not be great for the league, the promotion of the league, to have to the top gun draft eligible guys come into a league immediately on a team that has a chance to get in the playoffs? Imagine Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the Calgary Flames this season potentially centering Jarome Iginla. The Flames finished 17th last (and this season). They’ve had some management issues of their own for their current state, but they are just one example. 

      In a way one of the new proposed systems also rewards prospects who have put together an excellent body of work in their respective junior/NCAA/high school/international league. Don’t they also deserve better?

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