NHL Draft: Why the NHL Needs to Fix Its Current Lottery System

John B MathesonCorrespondent IApril 16, 2012

Gaining their 1st of three consecutive No.1 Draft Pick in 2010
Gaining their 1st of three consecutive No.1 Draft Pick in 2010Abelimages/Getty Images

The NHL draft lottery has already passed for the 2012 Entry Draft, with Edmonton gaining its third-consecutive first overall pick. This marks the first time since the 2007 draft that the last place team did not win the lottery.

The current system tends to favour the last-place team to draft first. While it can be argued that the team in last place needs the first overall pick to improve their team, what's to stop a team from trying to increase their odds?

It was believed that Ottawa did just this for the 1993 draft, and the Pittsburgh Penguins coach from the 1984 season has admitted doing so to obtain Lemiuex. These incidents were the basis for the lottery system coming into existence. Yet—with the odds—the last-place team has won the lottery roughly 50 percent of the time, usually losing to the 29th-ranked team.

Chicago has been the only team—that was not an expansion or 29th-ranked team—to win the lottery, rising from picking fifth to picking first.

The lottery was designed to level the playing field for teams that did not make the playoffs, giving teams floundering at mid-season no reason to throw games. However, teams finishing in 29th or 30th have won almost every lottery since its inception in 1995.

In order to give the lottery a truly random feel, the NHL needs to give all non-playoff teams a better chance to move.

If a team finished ninth in its conference, having the ability to draft low could be the difference-maker in  the playoff race the next year.

Former No.1 Draft Pick. Tampa Finished 30th overall
Former No.1 Draft Pick. Tampa Finished 30th overallBruce Bennett/Getty Images

On one side, the naysayers feel that the teams floundering at the bottom of the league need the draft to propel them into the playoffs. Take a look at Pittsburgh; it took four draft years with the first or second pick to assemble the current group.

On the reverse side, the Detroit Red Wings have made it to the postseason every year since 1989, which has guaranteed them a mid to low pick each season. Yet they have been contenders every year through smart trades, free agent signings, and excellent scouting.

This goes to show that the draft does not predict future champions, but it can help quickly turn a team around.  However, they usually loiter the bottom for a few years before making the postseason. A good example is the Islanders, who have missed the playoffs 13 times since the lottery began.

Under its current structure, the only teams that truly benefit from the lottery are the bottom five. The teams that are barely missing the playoffs tend not to see much movement from their overall finish for the season.Should the lottery become more random, the teams on the cusp of playoff contention would stand a better chance of garnering the prized No.1 overall draft.

An example of how this can be done is the 2005 Draft.

Due to the lockout, all teams were given a set amount of lottery balls, with the best teams of the 2003-04 season receiving the fewest balls. Pittsburgh had lost the lottery the year previous to Washington, even though they were last in the league. They ended up winning the lottery in 2005.

The chances were greater for the teams who missed the postseason to have a higher draft selection. This caused a more level playing field for the lower teams and held no guarantee that the two teams who finished the lowest would get the top draft. The bottom four teams received three balls, meaning any of those teams had equal chance to win the top draft selection.

The lottery was designed to deter coaches and GMs from purposely aiming for last place. Giving more chances to some of the lower-seeded teams would make throwing a portion of the season completely pointless, as exact seeding would have less impact on the lottery.

The lottery is a good concept that needs some minor tweaking before next season, just enough to give the lower teams a better chance at the coveted No.1 draft pick.

At the same time, it shouldn't lock those who failed to make the Cup Finals into the position where they finished the season. More movement should be allowed in the two halves of the lottery: those who did— and those who did not—make the postseason.

The date of the lottery should also be changed. Rather than preforming it immediately after the season ends, the lottery should wait until the Finals are decided. This could allow for teams who have placed in the postseason to potentially draft in the top ten. This would help those teams remain competitive in the years to come, rather than waiting until their talent is gone, and then rebuilding.

For teams that are rebuilding, the draft is key, yet with good scouting, it is possible to have a number of talented players coming into the system from a lower draft, and utilizing trades and free agent signings can help the team in the short term.

Giving all teams a chance to move around would benefit the league, also.  The older teams would have chances for some younger prospects, while the lower teams could rebuild faster with a better possibility of the No.1 draft pick.

Having a more random draw for the draft lottery would make things more exciting, and it would kill off any thoughts of purposely finishing last.