NHL Draft Lottery System Remains Broken to This Day

Tuesday night in the NHL was a night full of excitement for many reasons. Several teams had playoff spots on the line. Other teams were battling for positioning in the standings. It was the kind of night hockey fans look forward to at the end of the regular season.

Even at the bottom of the standings, teams were jockeying for position in the race to get the best odds to draft first overall. That’s where today’s story begins.

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Despite recent changes to the system, the NHL Draft Lottery remains broken to this day. While part of the issue was addressed with the changes, prevailing issues remain that should never be part of the game. Let’s set the scene for you in both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Setting the Scene

Two games on Tuesday night were going to have a dramatic impact on what the bottom of the NHL standings would look like. The Columbus Blue Jackets played the Philadelphia Flyers while the Chicago Blackhawks played the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Both the Blue Jackets and Blackhawks had one mission in the eyes of their fans. Lose. Winning or gaining points would seemingly defeat the purpose of having the best draft odds.

2020 NHL Draft Lottery
The NHL Draft Lottery system remains broken when there is incentive to lose games. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/NHLI via Getty Images)

It was the Flyers’ home finale where a win wouldn’t change their position in the standings. The Penguins had everything on the line. Two wins this week meant a trip to the playoffs.

So what happened on Tuesday night? Chaos.

Let’s start with the Blue Jackets. They trailed the Flyers 3-2 in the third period. Sean Kuraly then tipped home a goal to make it 3-3. There was no more scoring in the third period. Most Blue Jackets’ fans are upset now. They got a point. Overtime was required.

Then with about 15 second left in overtime, Owen Tippett scored the game-winning goal to send the Flyers to a 4-3 win. The overtime point put the Blue Jackets at 57 points. That was one ahead of the Blackhawks pending their game against the Penguins. Speaking of that game…

The Blackhawks led 1-0 going to the third period. Uh oh. The Penguins tied it in the third. Surely the Penguins had the momentum they needed to finish this off. Except for one tiny detail. The Blackhawks scored the next three and then cruised to a 5-2 win in Pittsburgh. What?

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Two fanbases wanted the Penguins to win in regulation. Two fanbases also wanted the Flyers to win in regulation. That’s never good.

Games Show System Broken

Here in lies the problem with the current system the NHL has in place. It still provides an incentive to lose. That’s never acceptable.

While last place has a 75% chance of losing the first pick, last place still is guaranteed to pick in the top-three should they lose both lotteries. In the 2023 draft, there is incentive for teams to do that. That’s a problem because it rewards losing.

There should never be a benefit in losing games. But that’s where things stand. Now look at this from the lens of each respective fanbase.

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Blue Jackets’ fans were actively rooting for their team to lose. That should never happen either. Thanks to the system in place, that’s business as usual. While the Blue Jackets ultimately lost, that one point could prove massive in where they finish in the standings.

Blackhawks’ fans were likely even more outraged. Instead of celebrating a huge win while destroying their opponent’s playoff chances, their thought was so much for our draft odds. Yikes. The Blackhawks went from 31st to 32nd to 30th in the span of about 20 minutes Tuesday night. That actually sums up the emotional state of the fans in that time.

Meanwhile Penguins’ fans are asking themselves why? What incentive did Chicago have in winning this game? It once again proves that players will not tank. They will perform to the best of their ability even if it destroys a chance at the future with someone like Connor Bedard or Adam Fantilli.

Connor Bedard Team Canada
Connor Bedard is giving teams incentive to lose in the eyes of their fans. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

On top of the last place team being guaranteed a top-three pick, they get significantly better odds at drafting first overall. It’s 25.5% for last and just 13.5% for second last. There’s still too much incentive to lose. Change is needed. Here is an idea that should be explored to take tanking out of the game once and for all.

More Evened Out Odds

Alter the odds for everyone in the standings. If you make the odds more even across the board, teams won’t have incentive to tank. Here’s an example involving the botton-16 teams.

  • Teams 1-4: 10% chance to pick first.
  • Teams 5-8: 6% chance to pick first.
  • Teams 9-12: 5% chance to pick first.
  • Teams 13-16: 4% chance to pick first.

These numbers can be slightly altered some. For instance, you could go 10%, 8%, 5%, 2% and so on. This way, the bottom-four have the same odds to draft first. No need to tank in that case. If this doesn’t work for some reason, there is a second option. A mini playoff.

In that case, take the four worst teams as of a certain cutoff date. Have them play a round robin tournament amongst themselves after the regular season, three games each. Whoever finishes on top by winning wins the right to draft first.

Incentivize Winning

Winning should be the ultimate goal always and forever. Fans being upset at their team winning shows a broken system. While it’s understandable why they do it, it points at a bigger issue that needs dealt with.

Until the NHL takes further steps in ensuring teams don’t have an incentive to lose, this will continue to be a problem. That’s a shame too.

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