Should teams have to earn the right to draft a talent like Steven Stamkos? (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)
The NHL’s draft drawing system isn’t severely broken, but rewarding futility with the privilege of selecting the best prize available has always gnawed at me.
In some years, the “happenstance” of being brutal can translate into outrageous fortune – a Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Mario Lemieux, Vincent Lecavalier.
The end-of-season lottery for the non-playoff teams provides a modicum of disincentive to “tank” the season, but doesn’t go far enough. We still see instances where bottom-feeder lineups more closely resemble AHL than NHL rosters. Heck, in Toronto this season many fans were clamoring for the club to trade some of its best, highest-priced assets in the hopes of losing more games and securing a better draft position.
Deep down, however, no real fan wants to see his or her team lose. It runs contrary to our competitive instincts. One solution would be to tweak the lottery weighting, giving all non-playoff teams increased odds at improving their draft slot, effectively eliminating the temptation to stink.
But if you want to get revolutionary and put some bite into what has traditionally been pooch time, how about installing a system whereby a team would actually have to “win” the right to select first overall?
Here’s a suggestion, one a friend of mine floated a few years ago and I’ve since modified:
• Reduce the length of the regular season by four games and invite more teams into the playoffs (either two or four).
• The remaining 10 or 12 teams would compete in an NCAA-style, single-game elimination tournament for the first overall pick. The higher-seeded teams would get home-ice advantage.
• The winner of the final game would draft No. 1, the runner-up No. 2 and so on. The traditional draft order would kick in after the non-playoff teams are positioned.
A radical concept? Perhaps. But imagine the buzz that would still exist in places such as Phoenix, Columbus and Long Island. Those franchises have diminished hopes at selecting Steven Stamkos as things exist, and little incentive to compete hard the rest of the way (other than pride and, for some, job security). Put the carrot of the No. 1 pick in their paths, however, and coaches and GMs would be compelled to ice their absolute best lineup nightly in order to secure home-ice in a one-game playoff. Fans in Toronto, Atlanta and St. Louis would still have something to cheer for.
And the biggest loser wouldn’t be handed the biggest opportunity to land the biggest prize.
My two cents
There’s a school of thought that says as long as you tolerate fighting at the NHL level, you need to keep it in major junior in order to prepare players for the big leagues. Hogwash.
While it’s true the majority of bruisers develop in the CHL, 40 percent of the league’s players don’t and fisticuffs aren’t permitted in the NCAA or Europe. And we’ve absolutely seen punchers emerge from those feeder systems. Among this season’s 12 most frequent fighters, three played U.S. college (George Parros, Adam Burish and Aaron Voros). Historically, a smattering of fight club members such as Chris Nilan (NCAA), Andrei Nazarov (Russia), Krzysztof Oliwa (Poland), have come from outside major junior.
Combine that with the fact more than 300 players will have engaged in at least one NHL fight this season, and the original premise is rendered moot.
Whatever path the three CHL loops eventually forge on fighting, a culture shift is required. Players who don’t want to brawl shouldn’t feel compelled to do so, especially considering the age gap between some of the teen participants. If they aren’t going to outlaw it completely (my personal preference), leave it to the willing participants. A punch thrown at an opponent who clearly doesn’t want to engage should result in an automatic match penalty and suspension.
Jason Kay is the editor of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.