#RITHAC: Gold Drafting and the Maple Leafs

Updated: September 18, 2016 at 8:38 am by Ryan Hobart

Recently, an hockey analytics conference was held at Rochester Institute of Technology (known as RITHAC). There were multiple very interesting presentations by smart and interesting people among the analytics community, nice enough to share their smart-ness with the rest of us SMRT people.

I want to focus today on the presentation made by Micah Black McCurdy on Gold Drafting, an oft-debated model for how to determine draft order. Specifically, I want to look at how it would have affected the Leafs’ past drafts.

You can view the presentation slides here, but to summarize: the idea is that draft order is determined by the number of points a team earns after they’ve been eliminated from the playoffs. This, in theory, removes the incentive to build an intentionally bad team, as that team will get eclipsed in “gold points” by teams that are bad by circumstance and are still trying. Some may remember it was a theory proposed by Shane Doan earlier in the 2015-16 season, but the idea had been floated around hockey communities certainly before that.

My personal views on this theory are somewhat positive. In general, the idea should prevent tanking right? We’ll see below how that doesn’t necessarily work out.

Here are the changes in the Leafs’ draft picks in the last 9 years:

Draft Year Plain Drafted Player (draft position) Gold Drafted Player (draft position)
2008 Luke Schenn (5) Zach Bogosian (3)
2009 Nazem Kadri (7) Nazem Kadri (7)
2010 Tyler Seguin (BOS) (2) Ryan Johansen (BOS) (4)
2011 Dougie Hamilton (BOS) (9), Tyler Biggs (22), Stuart Percy (25) Sven Baertschi (BOS) (13), Tyler Biggs (22), Stuart Percy (25)
2012 Morgan Rielly (5) Hampus Lindholm (6) *but possibly Filip Forsberg/Matt Dumba/Derrick Pouliot
2013 Frederik Gauthier (21) Frederik Gauthier (21)
2014 William Nylander (8) Jakub Vrana (13)
2015 Mitch Marner (4) Pavel Zacha (6) *but probably Ivan Provorov
2016 Auston Matthews (1) Auston Matthews (1)

You can clearly see the stark differences. In the earlier years (2008/2009) the Leafs were beneficiaries of the Gold system because they were just a bad team who was still trying. But in the 2011/2014 years especially you can see how the late-season collapses (which look exactly like tanking from a points-getting perspective) the Leafs (or the owner of the Leafs’ pick) are pretty severely punished, dropping 4 and spots. And, 2014/2016, the 2 years among these where you can really say for sure that they intentionally tanked, they still end up with the 1st overall pick in one and only drop 2 spots in the other. In my opinion, on both of those fronts, this is a failure of the system.

Overall, I think the Leafs lose out on this draft strategy. Some small wins in Schenn/Bogosian and Rielly/Lindholm, Boston gets significantly worse players that they probably still trade away anyways, but then to lose out on Marner and Nylander are huge hits to their prospect depth.

Additional failures in the system that you’ll find in the slides are: Buffalo is able to tank their way to McDavid and Reinhart (Florida ends up with Ekblad still), and New Jersey (a legitimately not good team in 2014-15) drops all the way to 11th from 6th.


The bias in me, seeing no Nylander and Marner on the Leafs, certainly makes me think Gold drafting is a bad idea. But overall, I think the principles would stand when you looked across the league. What about you? How do you feel about Gold drafting? Did seeing the results from the Leafs’ perspective change how you felt about it? I think it did for me. Still, it’s a very interesting idea that would probably be better than drawing lottery tickets.