This is how you fix the NHL Draft Lottery

Updated: March 16, 2016 at 8:03 am by Justin Fisher

The NHL Draft lottery is broken, and it’s the Edmonton Oilers’ fault. General managers all around the league seem to agree with this notion and have already begun discussing ways in which the lottery could be updated or amended so that winners can’t keep winning over and over (and over) again. 

See, that’s exactly what happened with the Oilers. No one is going to argue that the franchise didn’t deserve Taylor Hall in 2010. Edmonton won the lottery as the 30th place team, and it was the first time the franchise had ever picked first overall in an NHL draft. Things got a little awkward though when the Oilers finished dead last in 2011 as well and drafted Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and it got even worse when they actually won the draft lottery in 2012 and jumped the Columbus Blue Jackets for the opportunity to draft Nail Yakupov. 

Last year, the Oilers won another draft lottery. As you’ve probably heard, they drafted Connor McDavid, and the last-place Buffalo Sabres were pissed. That’s four first overall picks in the past six years that have landed in Edmonton, and six straight appearances in the top seven picks. They still don’t look like they’re ready to contend for a playoff spot, let alone a Stanley Cup.

Everyone (except Oilers fans) agrees that the draft needs to get back to helping struggling teams, not rewarding blatant incompetency.

So, how do you fix it?

First, let’s talk about what we can’t do – we can’t get rid of the lottery altogether. As simple as it would be, the lottery does deter tanking for the most part. Even though I believe most fanbases have a stomach for a year or two of bottoming out, it’s important to discourage NHL teams from throwing everything overboard as soon as the ship hits a rough patch. 

We also can’t create some sort of tournament where non-playoff teams beat up on each other and the winner gets the top pick. Bubble teams that just missed out will always win, and the teams that really need the help will go without. It’s not unreasonable to think that with a little bad luck, some bottom feeder teams could start facing major fan backlash and financial difficulties. That said, we also can’t go reverse draft order with the non-playoff teams. How is a last place team expected to improve with the 14th overall pick? It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

The answer is simply not allowing teams who win the lottery one year to pick above a certain threshold the next.

For example, let’s say the Toronto Maple Leafs win the upcoming draft lottery and draft Auston Matthews. Next year, even if they finish dead last, they will not be allowed to draft in the top three – instead, they pick 27th (or higher). You could even take it a step further… maybe Toronto isn’t allowed to pick in the top five or the top ten. Maybe they’re not allowed to draft in the top three for the next three seasons. 

There are a number of options and elements to play with here, but it’s probably best to keep it simple. I’d say that only the bottom three teams are entered into the draft lottery, and the winner cannot pick in the top five the following season. If a team two years removed from drafting first overall is back in the basement, they’re probably a bad enough team to need the help of another top pick. 

If you follow these rules, the worst case scenario would be to watch a team draft first overall, sixth overall and first overall again. I have my doubts that even Edmonton could manage that. It’d help teams get out of the bottom of the standings and motivate organizations to push for better results on the ice, but it wouldn’t be so stacked that the teams that really need the help won’t be able to get it.