You May Have Suspected This For Awhile. It’s Finally Time For Me To Say It. I Am 100% Against Equality (For The NHL Draft Lottery)
Follow me @SharkCircle
Real title: Why The New NHL Draft Lottery Rules Are A Bad Idea
Look, tanking sucks. I get it. I feel it. That’s right, I can still feel empathy. The SSRIs don’t start working for a another few days. But I’m right there with you. I’m not even right there with you, like you led and I came along for the ride. No, it’s more like we’re right there together, arriving at speeds totally identical to each other’s, starting from a totesly identical distance, absolute in our parallelism of distaste for tanking, commensurate, equal–if, of course, I didn’t hate equality.
For the 2015 NHL Draft Lottery.
No one wants to see teams losing on purpose. No one wants to see teams rewarded for it. No one wants to reward managerial incompetence, or the purposeful positioning of a roster to finish last. However by allowing not just the worst few teams to qualify for the #1 overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, but all fourteen teams who miss the playoffs, the NHL is asking to see the competitive balance of the league, and its greater rivalries, doused in gasoline and lit on fire, as unfortunate as it is to say.
Here’s the easiest way I can explain. Let me take you back to 1997. The Detroit Red Wings had just won the Stanley Cup. Their rivalry with the Colorado Avalanche, who had won their first Stanley Cup just the year before in 1996, had become the greatest rivalry in the NHL. The two franchises were tied 1-1 in Stanley Cups during this era. Both of them were favorites to win the Cup the following year.
Of course, we all know that the Red Wings would go on to win the Cup once more the next year. But imagine, for a moment, something else had happened. Imagine Steve Yzerman and a few other key players on the Red Wings had suffered season-long injuries. They still would have had a great roster on paper, but imagine that, due to these injuries, the Red Wings had finished the season just out of a playoff spot. Under the current NHL draft lottery rules, this would have given the Red Wings a small chance at the #1 overall pick in 1999, who of course turned out to be Vincent Lecavalier.
With the draft lottery taking place today at 5:00PM, what I want NHL fans, and particularly NHL executives to think about for a moment, is this. What would have happened if the Red Wings had won the draft lottery in this hypothetical scenario and drafted Vincent Lecavalier? Because of a low finish in the standings that in no way would have represented the talent on their roster, the Red Wings would have lucked into acquiring a young superstar player for absolutely nothing. The effects of this chance acquisition on the NHL would have been drastic. Remember that awesome back and forth rivalry between the Avalanche and Red Wings that I was just talking about? Yeah, forget that. It wouldn’t exist. It’s all Red Wings after this. Why? Because the competitive balance, and competitive integrity of rivalries, is kind of dependent on one team not being handed superstar players for free, while their competitors all get nothing of similar value.
Are there any Dallas Stars fans out there? I hope you enjoyed your 1999 Cup in reality, because in this hypothetical scenario, that never would have happened. A Red Wings team with Yzerman, Federov, and Lecavalier up the middle wins pretty much every year. Same goes for your Cup, 2000 Devils.
What does this have to do with today? Everything! There is a very similar situation unfolding before our eyes. The Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks have split the last four Stanley Cups. Like the Red Wings and Avalanche in 1998, they are tied this decade. However, for various reasons including the legal troubles of Slava Voynov, the Los Angeles Kings have missed the playoffs despite having a roster on paper that most view as playoff caliber. They now have a 2% chance at the 1st overall pick and Connor Mcdavid. The Boston Bruins, another Cup winner in the last five years, also has a shot.
These odds aren’t high, but if the NHL continues to operate the lottery like this every year, perhaps even give such teams a better chance at winning the lottery than they have now as its been rumored, eventually one of them is going to win it. So people need to ask themselves, what will it do to the current landscape of the NHL, particularly the competitive balance of rivalries like Chicago-Los Angeles, if one of these Stanley Cup-calibre rosters lucks into a superstar on an entry-level-contract? Chicago could lose in the Conference Finals (or even the 1st round) this year, while Los Angeles wins the lottery, and then the rivalry would have a good chance of becoming all-Los Angeles over the next five years.
The point I’m making is this: people seem to forget, or maybe they never thought about it, but the reason the top pick was awarded to the bottom feeders for so long wasn’t just to help the worst teams that needed it most. It was to prevent situations where the team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and a Stanley Cup just six years ago doesn’t end up with Connor Mcdavid as their 3rd line center for the next seven years (before he asks for a trade to Carolina). (Lest we forget, this year’s Penguins team was only one game away from qualifying for the draft lottery in Boston’s place). It was to make sure that Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls would not have a chance to draft Shaquille O’Neal 1st overall in 1992, or Chris Webber in 1993.
These top teams are already established. They have rivalries. They have other teams who are likewise established that they compete with to win the Championship every year. It is not fair to let one of these teams add a superstar for free, while all the others don’t. That upsets the competitive balance. That’s the great thing about giving the #1 overall pick to the worst team in the league. Those teams are usually so far from being competitive, one player, no matter how talented, is not going to let them leapfrog the rest of the league. Essentially, you can let that player enter the league without upsetting the competitive balance of the teams that are actually competing for the championship in the here and now. In contrast, those bottom teams are busy competing with the other rebuilding teams, who are also getting very high draft picks. Then it moves in cycles, and eventually the bottom teams improve to the point where they can challenge the championship contenders from before, at which point those championship contenders either figure out a way to stay on top, or they fall back and start receiving higher draft picks themselves, and the cycle repeats itself again. But at least at no point do you have a superstar coming into the league at #1 overall and immediately upsetting the championship aspirations of the best teams in the league.
Just imagine if your favorite team is a serious championship contender, and your most hated rival lucks into Connor Mcdavid, thereby taking over the rivalry completely. How is that fair? Teams like Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Boston, Anaheim, Nashville, they are all tightly bunched together and very competitively matched. I’m not saying they’ve all been built fairly: some have benefited from uneven trades, and some have benefitted from high draft picks in the past such as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. However at least when the Blackhawks drafted Toews and Kane, their team was awful. Those players lifted them from awful to good. They still had to become great on merit, by drafting studs like Duncan Keith and Dustin Byfuglien outside the first round, to name just two. It’s one thing to give superstars to last place teams, who are by definition awful, and watch them improve to being average or good. It’s another thing to give a superstar to a team that is already great.
In essence, it’s okay to help a bad team improve drastically, because even then, that team still isn’t going to magically be great enough to upset the balance of the league. But to suddenly, randomly put a player like Connor Mcdavid on the Kings, Bruins, Blackhawks/Penguins/etc (if they’d missed the playoffs), would immediately have huge implications on the playoffs the next year and potentially the Stanley Cup, which is not the case if he goes to Buffalo or Arizona.
That’s the difference. I just think the way the draft lottery rules are set now, while it’s obviously very exciting for the fans if every non-playoff team has a chance to win, it’s a recipe for disaster. There is a chance that what happens in the draft lottery today is going to totally and immediately change the competitive balance of the league at the very top, which is not something you can say for draft lotteries in recent memory. Whatever the current course is that we’re on right now, like when the Red Wings and Avalanche split four Cups from 1996 to 2001, that could all be washed out immediately depending on how those ping pong balls roll. I think it’s very risky. You give Mcdavid to Buffalo or Arizona, teams that don’t already have a bunch of star players, and the impact on the competitive balance of the league is minimal, at least until they add more elite players to surround him, in which case you can attribute their improvement to those moves just as much as the acquisition of Mcdavid, which is how it should be. You give Mcdavid to Chicago, Los Angeles, or Boston, teams that already have their fair share of talent, and not only do you really screw over the other elite teams that don’t get him, but you make the mountain for the teams that need him most, like Buffalo and Arizona, that much further to climb in order to catch up.
The 2015 NHL Draft’s 1st round should not help the Los Angeles Kings or Boston Bruins more than it helps the Buffalo Sabres. However, there is a 3% chance that it will. That’s not a lot, but 3% every year is, and eventually a team like that is going to win the lottery. When they do, I’m not sure the hockey fans in 29 other NHL cities are going to like the results.
Written by Shark Circle