The NHL draft lottery sucks. Unless your team moves up, then it's great. But if you're like me and cheer for a team that's moved down twice in two years, or if you cheer for the Avalanche (who should've really gotten the first pick), or are excited for the Vegas Gladys Knights (who shouldn't've moved at all because how did they have a chance to secure a spot?), it sucks.
It sucks when all of a sudden a team is being cheered against by their "fans," who want a higher draft pick. "Tanking the season" is terrible. It's terrible to want your team to not succeed. It's bad for the moral of the players and management of the team you support to hear you saying you want them to lose. It's a terrible example to set for young fans. It's terrible to listen to the "long time fans" who call into radio shows with their opinions (as well as to those who verbally accost me in parking lots 'cause of the of team hat I wear). It's terrible for the actual fans who are happy as long as their team does their best-- yes, this is me and yes, I know that it's probably not a popular opinion, but only one team is winning the Cup this year so why not have a positive attitude if it's not going to be our season?
So how to change it for the better? I say, get rid of it.
Look, the best hockey is playoff hockey, right? I think everyone will agree on that. It's hockey where there's something to play for, other than just getting to the playoffs. So why only have 16 teams competing after mid-April? Why send half of the league home?
I mean, everyone's planning on making the playoffs. It's not like the Panthers are making plans for May at the beginning of November. Every team is ready and willing to play as long as possible.
So instead of everyone who isn't playoff bound going home and depending on a ping pong ball (or whatever) to determine the draft order, here's what I propose: Let's have a second tournament, a Spring Draft Tournament. Winner gets top draft pick. (Name of tournament to be workshopped...)
Think about it. A lot of the NHL players go and play in the Men's World Championship. They still want to play. Fans of [team not going to playoffs] aren't always going to support some other random team. More hockey is more hockey.
The owners win: they'll get to keep selling tickets. They'll get to keep promoting their team, and have their team on TV, and have their local reporters write about actual hockey and not just speculate for five months on what the team's going to look like next season.
The league will win: more hockey, more revenue. A Spring Draft Tournament, a parallel tournament that'll wrap up before the big show at the end of May, and will keep even more people watching.
The fans win: MORE HOCKEY FOR YOUR HOME TEAM, NO MATTER WHAT!
The season will become more exciting. Everyone will want to stay competitive for the post-season, no matter which of the two events you're playing in. Trade deadline won't be just about selling anymore. It'll be about actual trades that'll benefit both teams involved. And, hypothetically, there could be trades all season long, not just on Trade Deadline Day.
If the Avalanche finish in last place this year, and they're eliminated from contention early in the Spring Draft Tournament, they'll want to bolster their roster early on the next season. If the Red Wings are hit with a lot of injuries during the year, they'll have to look to trades in order to stay competitive or risk slipping too far down the rankings. Trades, baby! Remember the nineties? (Remember Enrico Ciccone?)
Every game will matter, every point will matter, because you want to be at the top of the second pile (if not somewhere in the top pile). The higher you finish, the better your chances of playing a weaker team and getting a shot at the top draft pick. The Flyers are out of the playoffs, but not by much. They know that even though they were eliminated with three games to go, those three games are important if they want primo position in the Spring Draft Tournament. No coasting to the spring.
It'll remove "The Tank." No team is going to want to go into the Spring Draft Tournament in last place. And if you are in last place, you want it to be by a hair. Every team in the NHL, no matter where they place, will want to be as strong as possible. Nobody will want to play the Islanders if they barely missed the playoffs. That's still a good team. You want to face [other team] who were unfortunately mis-managed and whose top eight goalies are incapacitated. (I know that's not likely to happen. I'm just saying...)
"Okay then," says the naysayer. "What about if the Devils miss the playoffs by a point, win the Spring Draft Tournament, and then the next year it's the Rangers, and then the Devils again? Wouldn't all of the weaker teams stay weaker and the middle-to-top teams rotate through first picks?"
Yeah, okay, that could happen. But the point is that EVERY game in the season will matter. EVERY moment. Your home team needs to continue to get better. If your GM can't make the trade, or your coach can't deliver, or your top line centre meets a romantic interest who doesn't want him to hurt his face so he's given up on fighting for pucks in the corners, then change will come.
Now, I havne't bothered to think through the actual organization of the SDT (name to be workshopped...). I imagine it would be series' that were best of three, or five, in order to get everything over before the Stanley Cup Finals. I mean, I've come up with the idea. I'll let Gary worry about the details.
I, personally, would love it if every team had the chance to fight for the top draft pick. Because I'm sure I'm not the only one who gets mad when certain teams get six thousand number one picks in a row, while we get pushed so far backwards we're drafting players for the MLS team in the stadium next door.
Wouldn't you rather get the fifteenth pick knowing that your team tried their best, and it wasn't just random chance?
Hockey should be about playing to win. Not playing to place last, in order to win two or three seasons from now.
Adam Canuck Zimmerman (not completely qualified to write an NHL think piece)