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Suggestion For a Fair NHL Entry Draft

by Bill Placzek on Dec. 3, 2012

None of us want to face the possibility of there not being a 2012-13 hockey season, but that may be where we are headed. So I have spent some time thinking about how this 2013 NHL Draft could be set up if there is no season.

The big difference between this year and the last NHL lockout in 2005-2006 is that the draft was tailored by the league to specifically allow every team a shot at acquiring wunderkind Sidney Crosby. The teams did not play an entire season, so a worst team couldn't be decided by schedule results.

The plan that the league came to an agreement on last time was one in which all teams would be assigned 1 to 3 balls based on their playoff appearances and first overall draft picks from the past three years. Four teams (Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins) got the three lottery balls, ten teams (Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Atlanta Thrashers, Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Phoenix Coyotes) got two balls, and sixteen teams (Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals) got one ball.

All teams' balls were combined and selected one after another until all 30 teams had their slots, none based on schedule or weight, but simply by luck of the lottery.

Pittsburgh won the main prize with one of their three balls, but "two-ball teams" occupied the 2-4 slots, and "one-ball" Montreal got the fifth overall slot where they selected Carey Price. The other "three ball" teams in need of high drafts did not select until sixth (Columbus), twelfth (New York Rangers) and thirteenth (Buffalo) respectively.

The selection process continued its way up to 30 as usual, but then instead of repeating the order as in past years, the draft "snaked" back down. In other words, the team with the first pick overall would not pick again until the 60th pick. The team with the 30th pick would also get the 31st pick, similar to many fantasy league drafts.

The problem is that, outside of Pittsburgh, the true bad teams from the years before 2005 didn't get fair draft slots in both the first and second rounds. The 3-ball, 2-ball, 1-ball system, (12 + 20 + 16 = 58 balls), might look good and seem fair, but the very fact that teams who haven't been in the playoffs in awhile only get 3% more chance than a team that had maybe won the Cup seems disproportionate. Besides being knocked out of their early draft slots, Columbus, the New York Rangers, and Buffalo were "snaked" into second round slottings of 55, 45, and 48. If this draft had taken place in any other draft year prior of even after, they would have selected Columbus-(33), New York Rangers-(36) and Buffalo-(43) respectively.

This is the breakdown of that 2005 3-ball, 2-ball, and 1-ball odds:

  • 3/58 (A bit more than 5% chance…)
  • 2/58  (About 3.4% chance…)
  • 1/58 (A bit less than 2% chance…)


To put this in perspective, prior to the lottery drawing for the 2012 draft, six teams (Columbus, Edmonton, Montreal, NY Islanders, Toronto, Anaheim) had more than that "3-ball chance" in securing the top pick. Yet not winning the first overall lottery did not throw them out of the early order slots, as it happened to the three Crosby-losers.

Recent drafts haven't even considered allowing playoff teams to pick before any non-playoff team, and restricted "jumps" to four slot advances only. Of course, if there is to be no season, you don't have that past season to provide the playoff/non playoff cut-off.

In 2005, Pittsburgh, Chicago, an expansion Columbus, Buffalo, and NY Rangers did terrible and deserved more than three ping-pong balls. The five worst teams had no playoff showings for all three of the years, and they should not have to be subjected to "luck" where Montreal could jump ahead of Columbus Rangers and Buffalo to select Carey Price. There is no way a top echelon team or even a top-15 team over that 3 year period should get to draft ahead of those bad teams. It is one thing if the team makes bad selections, but it is another when a draft is set up where the weak sisters get shafted.

I think we can agree that a more equitable system is necessary to ensure the weaker organizations actually get lower slots in that top 15. I have proceeded to spend some of the time I would have been using to watch the present 2012-13 "season" to develop a way to make the possible no-season draft more equitable than the last.

The criteria I would use to make a fair draft lottery would take the results of non-playoff standings and playoff appearances and attempt to designate where thirty teams rank in the last three seasons. That would be used to determine the first pick overall, only if the winner is one of the teams that has not made a Stanley Cup playoff appearance in the last three seasons.

The worst team would get 30 ping pong balls, the next 29, etc. up to the team that is designated the best. If the lottery winner is not one of the nine teams who haven't been to the dance, that established "successful" club will be allowed the four slot move downward that the present draft lottery allows. This means Colorado, a team that did play in one playoff appearance in that three-year span could actually move down to chose seventh overall, but the non-playoff teams they jumped would only rise one slot, and are still in an excellent position to add a prospect in this strong draft.

The last three Stanley Cup teams, Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles, would be ranked with the least amount of lottery balls since they have won Lord Stanley's cup. I attempted comparing the records of L.A., Chicago, and Boston until my head hurt, and then decided to make them all equals and assign each Cup winner with 2 lottery balls. After looking at the records of all the rest of the teams over that three season period, I then assigned 4 balls for the team with the next highest totals over the three year period:

Vancouver 330 points         4 balls
Washington 320 points       5 balls
Pittsburgh 315 points         6 balls
San Jose                             7 balls
Detroit                                 8 balls
Nashville                             9 balls
Phoenix                             10 balls
Philadelphia                      11 balls  (a little more than 2 % chance)
NY Rangers                      12 balls
St. Louis                            13 balls
Buffalo                               14 balls
New Jersey                      15 balls
Anaheim                           16 balls
Tampa Bay                       17 balls
Montreal                            18 balls
Ottawa                              19 balls
Florida                               20 balls
Colorado                            21 balls
Calgary                              22 balls       (a little more thanks a 4.5% chance)
Dallas                                 23 balls
Carolina                              24 balls
Minnesota                           25 balls
Winnipeg                             26 balls
Toronto                                27 balls
NYIslanders                         28 balls
Columbus                            29 balls
Edmonton                            30 balls  (a little less than a 6.5% chance )

If there is a tie in point total and each team has equal number of playoff appearances, in this case one each, the extra lottery ball goes to the team whose playoff appearance is less recent. Teams that have not had the honor of playoff competition in the last three years get a slightly higher chance, but the difference will be if these teams win the lottery, they can actually jump down and draft first overall

You will note that Dallas and Calgary both have higher point totals than many of the teams slated behind them as they are part of the nine teams who have not been in the playoffs the last three consecutive seasons. This puts them in a position to select from the elite group, without fear of a contending team jumping in front of them in the way the 2005 draft allowed teams to do. When more than half the lottery balls are ones with non-playoff names on them, the odds favor the draft's early picks going to teams that are in more desperate need of the early talent this draft will bring.


                      '10     '11     '12

Edmonton     62 + 62 +  74        198
Columbus     79 + 81 +  65        225
NY Islanders  79 + 73 + 79         231
Toronto          74 + 85 +  80     239
Winnipeg       83 + 80 +   84       247
Minnesota      84 + 86 +  81         251
Carolina         80 + 91 +   82      253
Dallas            88 + 95  +  89     272
Calgary         90 + 94 + 90         284
Florida           77 +  80  + 94     251  p-o a
Colorado       95 + 68 + 88          251  p-o-a
Ottawa          94 + 74 + 92         260   p-o-a
Montreal       88 + 96 +  78         262  p-o a
Tampa Bay   80 + 103  + 84           267  p-o-a
Anaheim       89 + 99  +  89         268  p-o a
New Jersey    103 + 81 + 92          276  p-o a
Buffalo         100 + 96 + 89         285  p-o a
St. Louis        90 + 87 + 109        286  p-o-a
NY Rangers  87 + 93 + 109             292  p-o a
Philadelphia  88 + 106 + 103          297 p-o a
Phoenix        107 + 99  + 97         303 p-o a
Nashville     100 +  99 + 104        303 p-o a
Detroit           102 + 104  + 102    308 p-o a
San Jose      113 + 105  + 96         314  p-o a
Pittsburgh     101+  106  + 108       315 p-o a
Washington    121 + 107 + 104         332 p-o a
Vancouver    103 + 117 + 111          333 p-o a
Chicago        112 + 97 + 101         310  p-o-a
Boston      91 + 103  + 102           296 p-o a
Los Angeles 101+98+95            294 p-o a


(p-o-a stands for Play Off Appearance in at least one of the last three seasons)

If there is no season, you don't have to gut the present way of setting the draft order, and you can allow the successful and even Cup winning franchises a shot at lower slots. However, this way you can ensure that the chances of the needy teams getting help are still strong.

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