The NHL ‘lottery’ — not a lottery

My daughter is a rabid and passive hockey fan and, no, that’s not an oxymoron. The passive part that keeps her from being full-on rabid is being Mom to two busy children, yet she’s enough of a fan to have ideas, which is what fans do.

I think she has a good one.

It’s about the NHL draft, this year the Connor Bedard Draft. The second coming of either Sidney Crosby or Wayne Gretzky, or somebody in between, is the jackpot. Only 11 teams have a chance, weighted by their point totals, in what is jokingly called a lottery.

I have a lottery history that goes beyond buying tickets, so I know when you buy a ticket on a Lotto 6/49 jackpot, you have the same chance as any other ticket holder — 1 in 13 million. If you’re a worse lottery player, you don’t have a better chance.

I digress.

Five non-playoff teams will have no chance to “win” Bedard, by finishing 17-18-19-20-21 in the overall standings. The 11 finishing 22nd through 32nd will have a weighted chance. My daughter’s theory is give all 16 teams out of the playoffs an equal chance. The first one drawn gets Bedard. That is a lottery. In other words, you miss the playoffs and you have a ticket with an equal chance.

That eliminates any inference that teams will jockey for position by losing games — “tanking” to drop into a lower (i.e. higher) draft position. There is zero incentive to be the worst. The only incentive is to make the playoffs, and there isn’t a team that would take a 1-in-16 chance of drafting first over making the playoffs.

What makes this a “Distant Replay” is the draft’s “slanted” history. Before 1963, there was no draft…10-year-old “Connor Bedards” could belong to the NHL team that “sponsored” his team, or one that convinced his parents to commit their son to a lifetime contract. Then for the first seven drafts, the NHL gave the Montreal Canadiens the right to take two French-Canadian players before the first pick was taken.

That changed in 1970, and the Canadiens missed having Gilbert Perreault and would have missed Guy Lafleur in 1971, except that Montreal GM Sam Pollock made sure the California Golden Seals “tanked”…because he had acquired the Seals’ first-round pick. In January, Pollock traded 20-goal veteran Ralph Backstrom to Los Angeles to make certain the Kings didn’t finish below Oakland and get the No. 1 pick. It worked. The Kings were five points ahead at the time of the trade, and finished 18 points ahead of Oakland. Incidentally, Lafleur in 1971 had the cache of Connor Bedard in 2023.

So jockeying for position in the draft isn’t new, nor is tinkering with the rules. The so-called “lottery” has been around 28 years and the rules keep changing; five times in the last 10 years. Determining the Connor Bedard draft order will be a made-for-TV event that the NHL will dress up as drama, but in reality it’s a confusing process unworthy of being called “a lottery.” It could be so simple — 16 tickets, all with the same chance of winning the jackpot.

Sometimes, fans like my daughter just get it.