It’s time to change the NHL’s draft lottery rules

The 2016 NHL Entry Draft will have a slightly different look to it this June as the league will be introducing a lottery system for the top three picks rather than just the number-one selection. The idea is to stop teams from tanking and finishing as low as possible to receive better odds at the top pick. But while the chances of gaining that first pick have been reduced from last year, the fact remains that the last-place team in the league still has the best odds in the lottery. Therefore, several clubs are still hoping to end the season in 30th place in the 30-team league rather than 29th or 28th etc.

It appears the only way to stop the tanking will be to ensure that all non-playoff teams are given the same odds at winning the lottery. This year’s system means the last-place team may draft as low as fourth whereas they were guaranteed a top-two pick last year. In fact, the last-place team this season may have better odds at getting the fourth pick instead of first, but the club still has the best shot at number one. This still gives NHL franchises an incentive to finish as low as possible in the standings once they realize they’re not going to the postseason. This puts general managers in a conflicting position since their job is to improve the team through the draft and the best way to achieve that goal is to lose games.

Once the season heads into the final stretch teams could see their lottery chances take a hit if they win a few games and climb the standings. Some fans feel they’re actually being punished by racking up points. Perhaps the NHL should freeze the draft lottery standings earlier in the season when most teams are still trying their best to reach the playoffs instead of purposely trying to finish as low as possible. One suggestion has been for the league to rank the teams and announce the lottery winner at the trade deadline. This year’s lottery winner for the top pick won’t be announced until April 30th, a few weeks after the 2015/16 campaign has ended.

Once the lottery winners have been announced there will be no reason for clubs to ice weakened teams and attempt to slide down the standings. There will be no incentive or reward for this and fans may see weaker teams suddenly give it their all in a late push for a playoff spot. The NHL could also even the playing field somewhat by altering the rules of the draft lottery. For example, the current system allows the same team to win the lottery year after year. This makes it hard for fans to believe the lottery is purely random when the same club has been fortunate enough to win it several times.

The Edmonton Oilers have selected first overall four times in the last six years and could make it five for seven this summer. Many fans would like to see rules introduced which would exclude a lottery winner from taking part in the process for a period of three to five years. For instance, if the Maple Leafs should happen to choose first overall in 2016 they wouldn’t get another shot at it again until 2020. The current system enables the same club to continue to stock up on star prospects while the rest of the league sits idly by.

If this continues, fans in the majority of cities may never see their team land a bright young franchise player. This is especially disappointing for clubs that could use a high-profile draft pick such as Conor McGregor or Auston Matthews to help their sagging attendance base. The draft should still help teams which finish near the bottom of the league, but these clubs should be given only so many chances to improve their rosters. It’s obvious the Oilers haven’t gotten any better with so many top draft choices so perhaps it’s time the league gives somebody else the opportunity to improve their squad with the top pick.