The NHL has done a nice job reducing the odds of winning the draft lottery to limit the possibility of a team tanking in order to get the first pick in the entry draft.
Now the league should take it a step further and change the rules so that no team gets the No. 1 pick in consecutive years.
Failure should not be rewarded. And yet it is. And it might be again.
The Edmonton Oilers are once again battling for last place which would give them the greatest odds of winning this season’s lottery and thereby selecting Auston Matthews.
This is an atrocity.
The Oilers have had the first pick in four of the past six drafts and what good has it done them? Since 2009, the Oilers have not finished higher than 21st – and that was in 2008-09. Since then they have finished 30th, 30th, 29th, 24th, 28th and 28th.
In 2009-10 Edmonton was 30th and earned the right to pick Taylor Hall first overall. The addition of Hall helped them to finish 30th the following season which meant they could choose Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with the No. 1 pick. Hall and Nugent-Hopkins shot them all the way up to 29th place. The Columbus Blue Jackets finished 30th in 2001-12, but the Oilers won the draft lottery and picked Nail Yakupov with the first pick.
After back-to-back seasons of 24th and 28th finishes the Oilers finished ahead of two teams, then beat the odds and won the lottery again, this time earning the right to draft Connor McDavid. The Buffalo Sabres did everything in their power to finish last, thus guaranteeing themselves the best odds of winning the draft lottery, but they could not overcome Edmonton’s unusually good luck.
So McDavid – a generational player who will ultimately help this bumbling franchise climb the standings, in spite of itself – goes to Edmonton and joins Hall and Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov, as well as Darnell Nurse (picked seventh in 2013) and Leon Draisaitl (third in 2014) and what happens?
The Oilers still stink.
Okay, I get that McDavid is injured. But is a broken clavicle on an 18-year-old really the reason why the Oilers are in last place yet again? A team that has three other first overall picks from the past six drafts and a bum collarbone on a teenaged hockey player sinks the ship?
I don’t think so.
Nope, this kind of disaster runs much deeper than that.
This is a team that, since 2008-09, has had three general managers (Steve Tambellini, Craig MacTavish and Peter Chiarelli) and seven coaches (Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger, Dallas Eakins, MacTavish, Todd Nelson and Todd McLellan).
Now there’s a formula for success.
The coaches and GMs were all good men with good intentions. And yet the Oilers are still bottom dwellers. They have been handed opportunity after opportunity to dig themselves out of their ever-deepening hole and they are no further ahead than they were in 2010.
And now the Oilers may get another first pick? This should not happen. The NHL must make teams work harder to earn the right to get the first pick in the draft.
The Oilers recent history should be the impetus for change. You get the first pick, continue to suck and your luck runs out.
Let a team that picks first and is in a position to have the top pick in the following year’s draft pick second. Or third. Just not first.
Naturally, having the No. 1 pick in the draft does not mean guarantee an instant reversal of a team’s fortunes. It is rare for a player, at 18-years-old, to enter the NHL and take a team from worst to first. Only six players – Bobby Smith, Bryan Berard, Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Nathan MacKinnon and Aaron Ekblad – have been drafted first and won the Calder trophy as the NHL’s top rookie.
The Avalanche finished third in 2013-14 after selecting MacKinnon with the first pick but, regardless of his first-year heroics, Colorado’s drastic rise in the standing had more to do with goaltender Semyon Varlamov’s brilliant play than anything else. Patrick Roy’s coaching notwithstanding.
Florida drafted Ekblad first in 2014 and moved up from 29th in 2013-14 to 20th in ’14-15. Didn’t make the playoffs, though.
One argument against a change in the draft that does not allow a team to pick first in consecutive years is the quality of the draft. The Blues chose defenceman Erik Johnson first in 2006, a weak draft class, and had they finished last in the 2006-07 season they would have had the chance to draft Patrick Kane with the first pick.
Too bloody bad.
Building a champion is more than good drafting. It involves developing players, making wise trades and building an organization players aspire to join.
It is time to stop rewarding continuous failure.