The NHL finds itself in a situation unique to professional leagues looking to adjust their calendars this summer with an eye on resuming play as soon as possible.
Commissioner Gary Bettman's stated intent on completing the remainder of the 2019-20 season has created a possibly awkward situation for the NHL's annual draft, as well as the lottery process that precedes it.
Not only is the draft order determined by the outcome of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but conditional draft picks that have previously been traded away are awarded based on which teams make the postseason. It would be difficult at best, controversial at worst, to hold the 2020 draft without having a true order flushed out. Yet there remain two more dilemmas.
First, the vast majority of contracts for scouts and front office executives are set to expire on June 30—with Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman counting at least 18 expiring deals within just one organization. Extending those agreements could be costly at a time when league revenue has taken a significant hit.
The other problem teams have expressed, according to Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, is the fear a team could be awarded the No. 1 overall pick for the draft and then end up hoisting the Stanley Cup when the 2019-20 season resumes.
LeBrun spoke to front office executives from 29 teams, with only six on board with starting the draft June 25—it's original date before it was suspended indefinitely. Of the remaining responses, 15 believed the draft should be moved, and eight teams were either unwilling to comment or had mixed feelings.
Yet the common refrain came back to teams winning the draft lottery and then going on a deep run through the playoffs. One solution that's been floated would come down to tweaking the lottery process.
"To that end, interesting to hear what TSN colleague Bob McKenzie reported on our Insider Trading segment Thursday, that the draft lottery could be amended to the old system, just one winner, not three and the winning team couldn't move up any higher than four spots. Or McKenzie added, you could expand the draft lottery to 20 or 21 teams and decrease/level the odds for playoff bubble teams between 8 and 21 because the bottom seven teams are the real lottery teams."
Enacting the first proposal in this plan would mean if the eighth-worst team in the league were to win the lottery, it would draft no higher than fourth overall. That doesn't address the problem with conditional picks, yet it does help even out the competitive balance between teams like the Chicago Blackhawks—who have an outside shot at making the playoffs—grabbing a franchise-changing prospect and a club like the last-place Detroit Red Wings, which is searching for its next generational talent.
LeBrun says the NHL is mulling over multiple lottery revisions, but time is running out. After watching the success of the WNBA and NFL drafts in the past few days, the league would surely like to capitalize on the increased viewership available.
If it can't assuage the concerns of its clubs, plans for a draft in the fall would become the next option—one that creates its own host of problems, with executives and scouts hitting free agency at the most crucial time of year.