Is Tanking Dead? The Story of the NHL Draft Lottery

Whether it’s the right thing to do, or if you think it’s despicable, or (my favourite) it ruins the integrity of the game, tanking as an artform may be all but dead. This year’s draft lottery might be the first sign of the NHL finally pulling the plug on the strategy as a whole.

Before you could just trade all your players and essentially be gifted the first overall selection. Then the league came up with the weighted lottery system where prior to this lottery, if you won the lottery you moved up four spots. In recent years that led to Colorado (2013) moving up a spot to take Nathan MacKinnon, Edmonton (2012) moving up a spot to take Nail Yakupov. Even Chicago (2007) moved up from 5th to 1st and took Patrick Kane.

Call It The “Oilers Rule” If You Must…

The lottery is bound for a shakeup and this will be the first of a two year re-juggling of the lottery if you will. You could win the lottery before but the catch was you only moved up four spots which if you were the 6th spot prior to the lottery or lower meant you weren’t getting the 1st overall pick. At best you’d get the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and so on depending on where you finished.

Now any of the teams that finish outside of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs can win the 1st overall selection which means yes, Connor McDavid could end up in Toronto. Even then what would be made of the irony if the Calgary Flames (currently picking 14th) with a 1.0% chance of winning the lottery, won and picked ahead of their tanking neighbours to the north in Edmonton?

The Oilers are in the process of having the worst season in franchise history if you can believe it. Even so they’ve traded a top six forward already in David Perron, one that they needed, all while being booed mercifully off the ice by their home fans asking for change via a letter posted in the Edmonton Journal.

Don’t worry Edmonton you still own a 13.5% chance of winning the lottery, but even then for all you mathletes out there that means there is a 86.5% chance that in all of Oiler management’s valiant effort to throw the season and be this horrible on purpose, that they don’t win the lottery.

Yes that means the Buffalo Sabres who are sitting ducks at the bottom of the NHL standings with 41 points in 61 games are still possibly going to be this bad or even worse next season when the lottery evolves again!

Draft Lottery Will Evolve Again in 2016…

The 2016 NHL Entry Draft will see three lotteries taking place to determine the 1st, 2nd and 3rd overall picks meaning Buffalo and Edmonton can bring Petr Klima back out of retirement and play him on the top line for all their glory and hope of burning their way to getting the top pick all for nothing.

The new goal isn’t to reward teams for being straight up god-awful, it’s to reward parity.

The new odds going forward for the 2015 and 2016 NHL Entry Draft’s will be as follows courtesy of

  1. 20.0%
  2. 13.5%
  3. 11.5%
  4. 9.5%
  5. 8.5%
  6. 7.5%
  7. 6.5%
  8. 6.0%
  9. 5.0%
  10. 3.5%
  11. 3.0%
  12. 2.5%
  13. 2.0%
  14. 1.0%

So currently the Sabres and Oilers have a combined 33.5% chance of winning and selecting either McDavid or Eichel in 2015. Unfortunately the odds are down from years prior when the 30th and 29th overall teams combined for  43.8% chance of landing the 1st overall pick.

Now for everyone else the odds have gone up sizably from 56.2% to 66.5%, so all that tanking could be for nothing.

That means Buffalo you might want to fix that whole “Tyler Ennis is leading the team in scoring with 33 points” thing.

Are The Good Ol’ Days of Tanking Gone?

Gone will be the days of the 1984 Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils who realized there is no morality in sports and that those without any morals are the one’s who prosper. Case in point, the Penguins tanked and got Mario Lemieux, the Devils didn’t and got Kirk Muller. One was a generational talent that transformed a city, won two-Stanley Cups, a few Art Ross trophies and an Olympic gold. The other was a decent player in the 1980s and eventually won a Stanley Cup with the 1993 Montreal Canadiens.

Gone will be the days of the Quebec Nordiques and Edmonton Oilers being so bad on purpose that they landed not one, not two, but three consecutive 1st overall selections in the draft. The Nordiques (soon to be Colorado Avalanche) were so bad in the late 80s and early 90s that they were able to use three consecutive 1st overall selections on Mats Sundin (1989), Owen Nolan (1990) and Eric “Thou Shall Not Be Named” Lindros (1991). The Oilers on the other hand used their charity picks on Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov and have yet to pull out of the NHL basement surprisingly.

We can still possibly see teams trade the first overall pick in the future, but it won’t be in the same fashion of swan diving to the bottom standings like the 2003 Florida Panthers only to move to the 3rd selection and select Nathan Horton. The Penguins would take Marc-Andre Fleury with the 1st selection. Now what we will see is marginal teams that just missed the playoffs possibly auctioning off the pick to the most desperate team in the league.

Is There A New Hope For Tankee’s?

Unfortunately if you’re Arizona, Buffalo, Carolina or even that pesky bunch from Edmonton you likely have very little of value that you’d want to give up for that 1st overall pick and likely won’t see yourself in those talks unless you’re willing to swap your pick in the Top 10 and give away a quality roster player (Jordan Eberle, stumbling to think of a Sabres player worth trading for) you more than likely wish to keep.

So have we seen the last of tanking or will the league’s bottom-feeders find a new way to backdoor themselves? Are we going to see the reverse and have MORE teams make an effort to botch the season?

Oh and remember the Leafs are notably bad when it comes to tanking. They must need an instructional video after twice trading their tanked for Top 3 selections; 1991 3rd overall pick (became Scott Niedermayer) and 2010 2nd overall pick (became Tyler Seguin).

Until then I leave you with what can only be Buffalo and Edmonton’s reactions when the new draft lottery system was unveiled last summer.

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