How I learned to stop worrying and fix the draft

Now that the draft lottery is done with, and the playoffs have begun, talk has shifted from how the draft is broken to how the Canucks and Penguins are broken. Fair enough. But the draft system is still the same. If you believe that teams should not be rewarded for poor performance – even if there was not really any tanking this year – then you think the system needs a shake up.

The solution is out there, but it’s going to take a mad scientist to come up with the right combination of give and take to make this thing some to life. Come and watch!

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It seems to be the place of fans of non-playoff teams to look for ways to change the way the NHL is run, be it the number of points awarded each game, or engineering the way the draft order is determined. Funny that fans of playoff teams aren’t too worried about these sorts of things at this time of year… Sad, they are missing out on some interesting discussion!

I think that there is an interesting and fair way to determine draft order. It is a bit of a fantasy though, as it involves quite a bit of juggling with the schedule. But I think it would be fun. Follow closely.

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The first thing I would do is reduce the number of games each team plays in the regular season down to about 70 games. How you want to distribute them is up to you. One possibility is 4×14=56 in conference, and then 15 out of conference for 71, but it really depends on the impending realignment.

Sort that out.


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The main obstacle to this is of course that more games mean more money for the NHL teams. The NHL makes $1096.6 million per year in gate receipts (based on 2009-10 numbers), which works out to about $36.5 million per team, or $891,544.71 per game. So cutting 6 games would cost each team, on average $5.35 million. Of course, this is different for each team (e.g. Toronto makes over $90million at the gate, while Phoenix makes about $18million!), but looking at the average can give us an idea.

So how can we save the NHL teams just over $5 million each, to help them buy in? (I realise that there are more sources of revenue per game, but I don’t have access to all the numbers, so I’m just ballparking it. Bear with me). Well here is an idea that will not only save the owners money, but improve the quality of the game.

There were 7961 man games lost to injury in the NHL this season, for an average of 265 per team.Average NHL salary is $2.4 million which is $110,564.46 per game. Players, generally, are still paid when they are on the DL. Average injury cost to an NHL team then is $29,299,581.90. 

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That’s almost half the salary cap! I don’t have the numbers on this, but I wonder if playing fewer games in the same period of time, or maybe shorten the season by a week or two (which is normally 4-6 games) (i.e. decrease schedule density) would result in fewer injuries. If the number of man-games lost to injury can be reduced by 50 (18%) by reducing the schedule by 12 games (14%), then it would make financial sense to play fewer games.

I also think the quality of hockey would rise, if teams have more practice time and more recovery time. Again, I don’t have the numbers, but this seems like basic exercise physiology. Less load=less risk of injury=higher quality performance. Someone should do a study of rates of injury vs schedule density.

So! If we can get the owners to agree to play fewer games in the season, then perhaps perhaps? Have you seen the playoffs this year? Damn skippy!.


We have an appetite for more post-season games. That’s how we can fix the draft system. In the two weeks that we’ve saved, there is time for a home-and-home, single elimination tournament among non-playoff teams, the results of which determine draft order. Win the tournament, win the first pick overall. Fans can cheer for a draft pick and wins at the same time!

Financially, everyone wins, since all 30 teams will get "playoff" revenue. Making the tournament a home-and-home (total goals or something, like in soccer) 24 extra games will be played. That’s an extra $20million, or almost $1.5million per team. Add that to the injury savings, and your’re good. Plus, playoff games are at a premium, so there may even be more money there.

This is, I realise, quite an elaborate plot to help make the draft order more fair. But, while the lottery is simple, it’s also rewarding failure, and, even if teams don’t actually tank, it’s less fun for the fans to be hoping for losses than wins. This way, every team has an incentive, both competitive and financial, to win every last game.

One last point, since we are dealing with a pure hypothetical here. I would love to see the NHL go to a soccer-style relegation system. The end of season elimination tournament would be the relegation tourney as well. The top 6 teams in the AHL could then come up and replace the first 6 teams out of the elimination tournament.

That would be cool.

Or we could throw those AHL teams into the tourney, expand it, and see how they did. I can see how that might embarrass some long-standing NHL franchises and of course the issue of "farm teams" would complicate the transition. Still, it’s fun to dream.

Maybe that way, Mike Zigomanis would get his shot in the NHL.

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  • toprightcorner

    Awful idea and even the premise is flawed.

    1) how are teams supposed to get more rest and reduce injuries if they need to finish those games 2 weeks earlier? For this to work the season would have to end in early April as it currently does

    2) Now instead of a fight to get into the playoffs, you will have teams on the bubble tanking to miss the playoffs as they have a much better chance to get the first pick in the draft. Would you rather play the Rangers and likely be done in 5 or 6 games or have a chance to get a top pick?

    3) teams will much more likely jump from 17th in the league to top 8 in the league with a number 1 pick and 30th place teams get a complete toss up 17th pick. That just creates greater disparity between teams.

    To me this is a terrible grasp of a fan of the Leafs that has a GM that wont rebuild but will not make the playoffs and get picks from 8 to 17 forever. I guess Leaf fans will try anything to see their team have a chance to actually win something……….anything……….just one little thing………they can’t even win any respect!!

    • 1) reducing the schedule by two weeks would still be less dense.

      2) teams don’t tank.

      3) the draft is not the main determinant of which teams do better. If it were, there would be a much more obvious cycle.

      4) not sure what Brian Burke’s decisions have to do with me. Where did I write anything about what I thought of that?

  • John Chambers

    I dunno, Godot.

    European soccer sucks in terms of competitive balance. The elite teams just pay for and sign the world’s best players, and the lesser teams can only sit back and dream.

    Sure there are only 23 roster spots on the Rangers, and some of them are still occupied by Brandon Prust and Mike Rupp instead of Steven Stamkos and Taylor Hall.

    You want to take the competitive balance out of the NHL – you’re going to lose a ton of fans.

  • John Chambers

    I agree with Archeologuy. Imagine being a bottom feeder team for years, and constantly losing this mini-tournament for draft position so you’re always drafting in the mid-teens. That’s brutal.

    I do support a full weighted lottery for those teams that don’t make the playoffs (each draft position is determined by the lottery, with all teams having some chance of #1 overall), though. It still gives the worst teams the best chance at picking high (and it would only apply to the first round), but it makes things more interesting for all of the fans whose teams miss the playoffs, rather than just the top 5ish. It also gives a minor boost to the NHL’s poor middle class – always stuck in the middle with a difficult road to getting out.

  • @Godot

    Players WILL go where the opportunity is. The opportunity to live in large metropolitan cities, the opportunity to play in places with no State Tax, the opportunity to play close to the family, the opportunity to play on contenders, the opportunity to play with friends, etc.

    Lots of opportunities to overcome when you have the sh*ttiest team in the league and no talent to speak of coming up in the system like the Oilers did pre Hall. Try pitching that to a hypothetically Unrestricted Free Agent Taylor Hall.

    Tambellini- “We’re terrible, live in a frozen waste land, have almost no prospects, just hired a geriatric as our coach, but you will make the team and get the rookie max.”

    Hall- “Actually Nashville can fit me under the Cap and I’ll pay way less taxes, its warmer, Shea Weber just sent me the Keys to his 3rd home, and I can make the playoffs.”

    Tambellini- “We have the Octane…”

  • Wax Man Riley

    The guy who wrote this has too much time on his hands or is a depressed Leaf or Flames fan.
    One other idea the writer forgot, was that the bottom eight teams have to wear pink frilly uniforms the next season… to attract more fans and to give them insentive to get back into the play offs.
    Sort of mentioned here, but off topic… how do you feel as a Leaf fan, paying $200 bucks per game , and out of the play offs, and Coyoets pay $20 bucks a game and are in the play offs most years…

  • ~Hey let’s privatize the universal health care system and eliminate social safety nets such as welfare! Those bums with no money don’t deserve cancer treatment anyway, since they were probably just tanking their lives this year just to get a new pair of lungs!~

  • Haha, you guys must have missed the part where I said it was a fantasy. I am fully aware of all of the flaws. I think there are a couple of things worth considering though: the shortened season would reduce injuries and save money. Of course it will never happen, just like the NHL seems to have no interest in dealing with concussions. If the NHL cared about the players, it would look into a shortened season.

    As for the playoff draft…yeah, you guys have no imagination. There are plenty of permutations and possibilities that could work. To be honest, I don’t have a big problem with the current system. The idea that bad teams would remain bad under a different one is as flawed as anything I wrote. Columbus and the New York Islanders are not being helped by their high picks. How did the Red Wings get competitive? They were bad with Stevie Y for a long time, and who are their top-3 picks? And as for the Leafs, their years as one of tne top four teams in the league in the early 90s and early 2000s were certainly not driven by draft choices, nor by high-priced talent.

    The way to get good in the NHL is…well, I won’t ruin it for you guys, but it’s complicated. The draft is only a small part.

    Just messing around here. You guys are far too serious about this stuff. Must be Canucks fans. Things are not so hot over there I’m hearing.