With the 2015-16 season ending with a hotly contested race for the bottom of the standings, the topic of the draft lottery and alleged tanking has once again been raised. The NHL has recently changed the draft lottery, including all non-playoff teams and holding a lottery for each of the top three draft picks. However, many say this is not enough, as once again several teams and fanbases spent the last stretch of the year hoping to sink as far down the standings as possible. Others say these new rules punish those teams that are legitimately awful and need help.
With that in mind, here is my proposal to fix the issue of tanking while still retaining the spirit of the draft.
First, the issue, in brief:
1) The draft is meant to balance the league, allowing the weakest teams to acquire the best new talent. However…
2) …this leads to “tanking,” where a team makes no real attempt at winning in order to ensure a high draft pick.
3) The league has instituted various draft lotteries to combat tanking, but unfortunately this does not totally prevent tanking, and it does hurt teams that really are talent-depleted and need a high draft pick to rebuild.
I believe I can solve all of these issues and strike a balance between the two purposes of an ideal draft system: to help struggling teams gain talent and to avoid tanking.
Proposal: Award the top 8-14 draft slots partway through the season, at about the half or two-thirds mark. Preferably, before the Trade Deadline.
1) Would mostly eliminate tanking. While a few teams set out to tank from the beginning of the season, oftentimes teams decide to begin tanking when their team appears totally out of the playoff picture. With this change, the draft would already be decided before any team could be completely out of the playoff race.
2) Even if teams decided to tank for the first half of the season, they would have no incentive to do so after the draft had been decided. There is no reason why a team at the bottom of the standings shouldn’t attempt to gain as many wins as possible after the draft has been set. This makes for more exciting hockey for the fans throughout the season. Rebuilds can begin mid-season instead of requiring entire years to be written off.
3) It would encourage all teams to try to stay in the playoff race. Imagine the exciting comebacks. The potential benefits from a season where a team gets a high draft pick and then comes roaring back to make the playoffs are enormous. This would be a very rare occasion, but very dramatic. Even if a team is totally out of the playoff race, a late season win streak should be something to be celebrated, not decried as pointless and harmful to the long-term success of the club.
4) If the draft is set before the Trade Deadline, teams have less of an incentive to trade off their assets at the deadline. While a team out of contention may still want to cash in their expiring contracts for assets, the idea of trading veterans to start playing unpolished youth and tank in the standings will be gone, preventing fans from having to watch sub-par rosters for a quarter of the season.
5) It still rewards the weakest teams. This is the most important part. After all, this is the whole purpose of the draft. The teams that need help the most will usually struggle all season. While early season streaks or slumps certainly exist (look at Anaheim this year), these anomalies are mostly ironed out by the halfway point. By then, the weakest teams are almost always at the bottom of the standings. Teams that sink drastically after the trade deadline are usually suffering from injuries or player loss due to trade. Neither is a valid reason to earn draft picks.
I would definitely appreciate feedback about this idea!