Reports are swirling that the NHL is strongly considering holding its draft in early June, despite the fact that the season isn’t yet canceled.
According to a report from ESPN, the NHL sent a memo to teams on Friday, in which deputy commissioner Bill Daly supported holding a virtual draft on June 5.
The draft, which was originally scheduled to take place June 26-27 in Montreal, has never taken place in-season before. This unprecedented move would come at an unprecedented time though, of course.
With a captive audience ready to consume any live sports content available, there are many reasons for the NHL to hold its draft next month. Look no further than the ratings boom for this year’s NFL Draft, which set an all-time record with 15.6 million viewers of the first round last month.
But holding a draft before the conclusion of its season will present a mountain of problems for the league, which it will need to sort out.
1. Deciding on the final standings
Because the season is still ongoing, not every team has played the same number of games. The league has a few options in terms of determining the final standings, but the most widely accepted idea is to go based on points percentage.
Here’s how the overall league standings would look by points percentage:
2. Finalizing conditional trades
There are currently 12 trades involving conditional draft picks, which have yet to be resolved.
The most significant deal involves the Vancouver Canucks, who sent a first-round pick to Tampa Bay (which has since been flipped to New Jersey) in the JT Miller trade. The pick was slated to become a 2020 selection if the Canucks made the playoffs, or would be deferred to 2021 if Vancouver missed out on the postseason.
While the Canucks could be seen as “in a playoff spot,” they also haven’t technically “made the playoffs” yet.
The lawyers may need to get involved for this one, but the league is reportedly trying to get teams to sort out these deals themselves.
Another messy trade to complete is the one between the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, as part of the Milan Lucic-James Neal swap. The Oilers are supposed to give up a third-round pick if Neal scored 21 or more goals and finished with at least 10 more goals than Lucic. Neal currently has 19 goals — 11 more than Lucic.
3. Draft lottery alterations
The draft lottery is typically based on the final standings, although the league is said to be considering another wrinkle.
Instead of giving all 15 non-playoff teams a shot at moving up to one of the three top picks, the NHL is said to be seriously contemplating changing the rules.
Basically, the draft lottery odds would stay the same, but only the first overall pick would be decided by a lottery and teams could only move up a maximum of four spots. The big winner in that scenario would be the Detroit Red Wings, who would not only get the first overall pick if their number was called, but would also pick first if any team in spots 6-15 “win” as well.
Friday’s NHL memo said normal lottery odds would apply, but only for No. 1 pick. That would give worst team (DET) an 18.5% chance of winning the No. 1 pick but an additional 38.5% chance of retaining No. 1 if a team outside top 5 wins the lottery. So 57% chance of picking first.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) May 4, 2020
The league’s rationale for changing the rules appears to be to avoid a situation where a team wins the lottery, then qualifies for the playoffs if/when the season resumes. But in avoiding that one unlikely chance, the NHL would be penalizing multiple teams who have had poor seasons and would otherwise have much higher odds of moving up in the lottery.
4. No wheeling and dealing
The draft is typically a trade bonanza, with NHL GMs completing numerous deals. The rumors and the completed deals are part of what makes the NHL Draft such a fun event for fans.
An in-season draft would surely pour cold water onto that, as the trade deadline has already passed.
The leaked league memo reportedly concluded that about half of draft-day trades “would still have been permissible in the context of an ‘early draft.'” While that may be technically true, the vast majority of the most interesting deals (i.e., not simply trading a fifth-round pick for a sixth and a seventh-rounder) won’t happen.
5. How will the show look?
The NFL did a great job of making its virtual draft (in which the Seahawks picked 27th overall) look as good as possible for television, and the NHL will surely steal some ideas from it.
Should a June draft go ahead, the league’s marketing engine will need to work overtime. Will each individual team announce their pick as is tradition? Or will NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announce the selection like commissioners do in the NFL and NBA?
Cameras will need to be set up at the top prospects’ homes, with NHL jerseys and caps at the ready for whoever gets picked. If a big part of moving up the draft is to capitalize on TV ratings, it’s important to ensure the production value is as high as possible.