The NHL announced Wednesday that it is changing the lottery format used to determine the top 14 picks in the NHL Entry Draft beginning in 2015. These changes now make it five percent less likely that the team that finishes in last place in the NHL will earn the first-overall pick. The rules will change even further in 2016.
The fact that this is occurring ahead of one of the most exciting drafts of the last decade is bound to make some GMs of lower-level NHL clubs more than a little perturbed. The 2015 NHL Entry Draft is expected to be deep, but eyes are fixed securely on the top two prospects scouts have been drooling over for years – Connor McDavid of the Erie Otters and Jack Eichel of Boston University. Either one is believed to have serious star potential and their arrival could alter the course of any franchise's future.
Here's more from the NHL on its changes for 2015:
The odds of winning the first overall selection in the NHL Draft for the 14 non-Playoff teams will be adjusted to more appropriately reflect the current state of competitive balance in the League. This will result in a more evenly-balanced allocation of odds, with the 10 highest-finishing non-Playoff qualifying teams receiving higher (better) Draft Lottery odds than they received previously and the four lowest-finishing teams receiving lower (worse) odds. The revised set of odds will remain in effect year-to-year in the future.
Here's how the new format breaks down for all 14 picks (via NHL.com):
So why does this matter? Though the league is growing in parity, most teams' lots have already been cast for next season. Clubs like the Buffalo Sabres and Winnipeg Jets are unlikely to have a lot of success in the standings. If either finishes with the worst record, the odds of them nabbing the No. 1 pick are now are decently worse off (5% is not nothing) than they would have been in previous years.
Considering the profile of the players available at the top of the draft, it seems a little bit questionable on the league's part to make the change.
Sabres general manager Tim Murray was one of the most outspoken GMs when the possibility of lottery changes came up. He advocated for making the changes, but not enacting them for a few years so the league has less of an idea which teams would suffer from the decision. As of right now, Murray's club looks likely as one of the teams getting the short end here.
Perhaps it's less about the fact that the worst teams' chances are lowered than the fact that the middling teams that just missed the playoffs' chances have been significantly increased. For instance, the team that finishes with the 11th worst record in the league is now twice as likely to get the No. 1 overall pick. Sure, it's only up to a 3% chance, but that's a significant spike from 1.5%.
There are even more drastic changes ahead for 2016 according to the league that could force the team with the worst record to drop as low as fourth in the draft order as opposed to the one slot they currently fall.
From the NHL:
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.
The 11 clubs that don't hear their names called after the three lottery drawings will then fall in slots four through 14 in the inverse order of their regular-season points. The odds are expected to be the same for each team in 2016 as they are in 2015 despite the altered drawing format.
That could be an extremely interesting drawing, but a nervous one for teams that finishes with the worst record. Going from first overall to fourth can be a wide gap sometimes.
The timing of the changes is the big issue here, not the actual changes themselves. The fact that the NHL is lowering the incentive to tank by making it less likely a team with the worst record could get the No. 1 pick – though even with the changes they still have the best shot at it – is a good thing. Rewarding futility with such value in a first-overall pick is kind of nice in theory, but anything that lowers the incentive for teams to win, particularly late in the season when there are playoff races going on, diminishes the on-ice product.
Still, the new adjustments ahead of such a crucial draft year seems just a little bit on the unfair side. That said, there could be a great player available at No. 1 in 2016, too. There's never really a right time to do something like this even though this offseason seems particularly wrong.