Five changes the NHL should make to the draft lottery

May 3 2018, 5:43 am

Death, taxes, and the Canucks dropping in the NHL Draft Lottery.

These are the things we can count on in life.

After a third straight year of draft lottery disappointment, Canucks fans were not happy when it was revealed their team would pick seventh at next month’s draft.

And you can understand why.

No team has lost more games than the Vancouver Canucks over the past three seasons. When it comes to the NHL’s draft lottery, the Canucks have been the unluckiest team in the league.

Only three other teams (Buffalo, Arizona, and Carolina) have participated in each of the last three draft lotteries. The Canucks and Coyotes are the only teams to have lost out all three times.

The Canucks dropped two spots in 2016, three spots in 2017, and one spot in 2018. Arizona, by comparison, kept their spot in 2016, dropped three spots in 2017, and dropped two spots this year.

Did I mention that all of this coincided with the NHL changing the rules of the lottery, allowing teams to drop three spots instead of just one as was the case previously?

That’s Canucks luck for you.

But the problem here isn’t simply luck. The fact of the matter is that moving down in the lottery isn’t unlikely, even for a team like the Canucks, because it’s always the most probable outcome.

The Canucks finished with the third-worst, second-worst, and sixth-worst records in the overall NHL standings in the past four years. The probability of them coming up empty-handed in three straight lotteries was 36.4%, which seems like a really high percentage for such a bad team.

A perfect system doesn’t exist, but a better one does. Here’s five ways the NHL could improve its draft lottery.

1. Give better odds to the worst teams

It just so happens that the league’s worst team, the Buffalo Sabres, came away with the No. 1 pick this year. While that doesn’t raise anyone’s eyebrow, it was still a remarkably unlikely scenario, and that’s a problem.

The Sabres had a less than a one-in-five chance (18.5%) of getting the first pick, and only a 49.4% chance to end up with a top-three pick. The most likely scenario (50.6%) was that they would pick fourth – which is what happened to Colorado (the worst team by a mile) last season.

The last-place team shouldn’t be gifted the top pick, but it should have better odds than that.

2. Good teams shouldn’t be allowed to win

As the best team not to make the playoffs, the Florida Panthers had just a 1% chance of winning the draft lottery, and a 3% shot of getting a top-three pick. They didn’t, but Carolina did, winning the second overall selection despite having the 11th-best odds heading into the lottery.

While Carolina had to be extremely lucky in order to move up, the fact of the matter is that it’s not improbable for a good team to snag a top pick.

Look, the draft lottery is around for a reason, it lessens the incentive to tank, and that’s a good thing. But the draft is around for a reason too: to help out the teams that need the most help.

Teams that are fighting for a playoff spot are never in danger of trying to tank. So why offer them any chance of the No. 1 pick?

When a good non-playoff team wins at the lottery it’s a gift from the heavens, at the expense of the league’s bottom-feeders. It makes no sense.

Fifteen teams miss the playoffs every year, but there’s a huge difference between a team like Florida (96 points) and Buffalo (62 points). The Panthers were closer to winning the Presidents’ Trophy than finishing last, as were the Blues and Stars. But the odds of one of those teams sneaking into the top-three was 14.9%.

Good teams miss the playoffs every year nowadays – they shouldn’t have any chance of hitting the jackpot.

3. Make every pick a lottery pick

While not every team should be able to win a top-three pick, every team ought to be able to move up or down.

Why couldn’t Florida move up from 15th to 10th? Shouldn’t Edmonton be able to move from #9 to #7? Seems kind of bizarre to make it an all-or-nothing scenario.

Imagine how much more exciting it would be if every pick was in doubt instead of just the top three?

Of course, there would need to be limits.

4. Maximum number of spots to move up/down

One way to increase the odds for the league’s worst teams, while leaving room for movement (and keeping the incentive to tank low), is to put a limit on the number of spots you can move up and down.

Teams should be allowed to move up or down a maximum of five spots.

If this were the case for this year’s lottery, Buffalo would have still taken first place, Carolina snagging sixth (their ball would have been drawn second, but they could move up only a maximum of five spots from 11th position), and Montreal would have grabbed third (up two spots from fourth).

Then the remainder of the lottery would continue until all 15 positions were filled.

From a Canucks perspective, that would have meant potentially picking as low as 11th, but it also would have increased their odds of moving up too.

5. Better pomp and circumstance

Ok, that’s enough math for today.

How about changes to the flair and dramatics?

First off, announce all the picks at the same time. Making fans wait two hours was completely unnecessary, and likely caused fans of most teams to tune out completely after they knew their team didn’t win.

Secondly, get rid of Bill Daly. Nothing against the deputy commissioner, but why not bring in a former player with some personality to do the card flipping?

Imagine Jeremy Roenick flipping cards and cracking jokes in between? That would be fun.

And lastly, get rid of the GMs and replace them with… Anyone else.

It doesn’t have to be a mascot (sorry Fin), but how about a fan of the team’s choosing? I want to see emotion – a fist pump when their team moves up or a groan when they fall – and that’s not something hockey executives are known for.

None of them look like they’re enjoying themselves anyway, so why not make this into a show?

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