“To be honest with you, I’m not surprised,” said Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman after finding out that Detroit—who is 23 points worse than the second-worst team in the league —will be picking fourth in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
After the lottery chaos subsided, the harmful byproduct of a broken system was revealed. Regardless of what happens throughout the rest of the abbreviated season, one of the teams that will have an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup will also have a chance to receive the first pick in this year’s draft.
Let that sink in.
The first overall pick will be made by a team that is competing in the 2020 NHL playoffs. On top of that, the first overall choice—presumably Alexis Lafrenière—is considered the best draft prospect in five years.
Lafrenière is regarded as the best NHL draft prospect since Connor McDavid, and he will most likely be chosen first overall by a team that is able to compete for a Stanley Cup this season.
This draft lottery glorified all the things wrong with the NHL Draft process—specifically the lottery.
The NHL is a very niche sport when compared to the other three major American sports leagues. It gets less viewership than the other three sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA) and sometimes has viewer ratings that are similar to the NFL combine. This means that the league needs to do all it can to make its product more desirable to consume since it competes with the NBA for coveted viewership ratings.
The way to make the league more marketable is to promote the well-known teams whenever possible. There is a reason that the Dallas Cowboys and Boston Celtics are consistently on national television— they help increase exposure—those teams also have a long and storied history of winning and tradition, which brings in a passionate fanbase.
In a way, the Celtics and Cowboys are analogous to Detroit. The Red Wings have won 11 Stanley Cups since their inaugural NHL season in 1926 and just recently had their 25-year playoff streak snapped.
Detroit is now in a rebuilding phase with all-time NHL great Steve Yzerman at the helm. Mind you, this is the same GM who built the best regular-season team of all time in the 2018 Tampa Bay Lightning. That kind of story is marketable, and the NHL and its terrible draft lottery are preventing it from being able to compete with the other leagues.
Detroit is no stranger to being duped by the dishonorable lottery system. In the four years since the playoff streak ended for the Red Wings, they have continually regressed. The nonsensical method that the NHL has in place is figuratively stepping on the neck of the most successful NHL franchise in U.S. history.
To be clear, this is not an advocation to rig the draft in favor of teams that are more desirable to the public; this is an advocation to let the teams decide who picks first instead of having ping pong balls dictate the future success of a franchise.
This isn’t the first time the flawed system has hurt the league either. Last year was the Jack Hughes draft year (Hughes was another amateur player that was a projected unanimous No. 1 overall pick for over a year). The Ottawa Senators —who had a minuscule 64 points—were poised with the best odds to land Hughes. Once again, the lottery ruined another draft year by giving the New Jersey Devils yet another No. 1 overall pick that they didn’t deserve (This was similar to 2017 when they won the lottery with an 8.5 percent chance). The second overall pick went to the Rangers who had less than an 8 percent chance to win it, and the third pick went to Chicago, who had a measly 3 percent chance of acquiring a top-three spot.
Ottawa is still hurting from that lottery as they were the second-worst team in the NHL this year. The Rangers selected Kaapo Kakko, and the Blackhawks selected Kirby Dach. Both helped lead their respective teams to a playoff berth this season.
The current system in place makes the rich even richer, and it makes it much harder for the teams who need good draft capital to get it. No one argues that the Bengals didn’t deserve to win the first overall pick this year and select Joe Burrow—a player who people want to see. The Bengals went from dead last to having a captivating young player who will command attention and respect.
The NHL needs to follow the lead of the NFL. They can’t keep allowing the competitive gap to widen because the very thing that makes the NHL so desirable to its passionate fans is the parity. If that gets taken away and the same predictable clubs start popping up in the lottery every year, then the NHL will lose a big component that makes it such a great league.
The NHL is arguably the most underrated sporting league in the world. It has likable superstars, a unique playing surface, diehard fans, and the best playoff format in North American sports. If they can fix the draft lottery that fans hate so much, they can take a step in the right direction and give fans what they deserve.