• Mathew Silver

Phoenix Coyotes’ Captain Shane Doan proposed a solution to tanking that, ostensibly, would make the remainder of the season more competitive for teams that have fallen out of the playoff race, and thus more enjoyable for their fans. Doan’s proposal is as follows: once you are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs you begin to accumulate points for each win. At the end of the year, the team with the most points gets the first overall pick. If I understand Doan’s proposal correctly, it gives an advantage to the last placed teams, because they have more regular season games to earn points after elimination from the playoff race.

This addresses several issues.  Firstly, teams that have fallen out of playoff contention now have something worthwhile to compete for.  This would effectively eliminate “tanking”, or losing games on purpose to gain better position in the draft.  This is also better for fans, who will ultimately enjoy a better on-ice product while having the chance to win the first overall pick, which oddly enough, might end up being more valuable than a first round exit from the playoffs.  Secondly, when teams still jockeying for position play a team that is already eliminated, some might consider this an “easier” win.  This means less exciting games down the stretch, and as I can imagine, an annoyance for teams with a tougher strength of schedule. Under Doan’s new rule the non-playoff team, at least from a psychological standpoint, would still have something worthwhile to compete for.

Now we arrive at my only issue with Doan’s proposal. The whole point of the draft is to ensure a balance of power. So we give the worst teams an opportunity to select the best up and coming prospects, and in doing so reward mediocrity. In theory this should work, but the Edmonton Oilers, who have have had the number one pick four times since 2010, seem to be a glaring counterexample.  Now imagine that your team is so awful that they can’t win any games after playoff elimination. In reality, the fact that you are still trying to win doesn’t guarantee that you will actually be able to accumulate more points toward a high draft selection. And it’s exactly the teams that can’t win these games that should be given first take at young talent.

All of that being said, I think we should take Doan’s proposal very seriously. In its current state, where your chances of getting the first pick rises as you fall in the standings, the draft lottery ultimately comes down to balls rattling around in a cage. It’s sort of strange to consider that we leave the future of a franchise up to calculated randomness.  Here are each team’s percentages of winning the first overall pick, based on how low they finished the last season.  The 30th placed team will have the best odds, the 29th second best, and so on through the first 14 teams.

  1.  20%
  2. 13.5%
  3. 11.5%
  4. 9.5%
  5. 8.5%
  6. 7.5%
  7. 6.5%
  8. 6.0%
  9. 5.0%
  10. 3.6%

Note some important changes to the 2016 draft format courtesy of NHL.com, “Beginning in 2016, the Draft Lottery will be utilized to assign the top three drafting slots in the NHL Draft, an expansion over previous years when the Draft Lottery was used to determine the winner of the first overall selection only.

Three draws will be held: the 1st Lottery draw will determine the Club selecting first overall, the 2nd Lottery draw will determine the Club selecting second overall and the 3rd Lottery draw will determine the club selecting third overall.”

In my opinion, it would be better under Doan’s format where (A) teams have an incentive to be competitive in games after elimination, and (B) teams exercise more control over their draft position the following year. I think these two considerations – and their consequences – outweigh the equality that seems to follow from giving teams with the worst record the best draft pick, both for the fans, and the teams that don’t end up with a top-10 pick.  I think we should eliminate randomness at any opportunity, and Doan’s proposal seems to do that.