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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CHANGES

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.

MO GAMES MO MONEY

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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!.

MAKE EM COUNT

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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  • You know how bad teams can stay bad forever? By making Draft Order dependent on WINNING something.

    Christ. Pittsburgh, Washington, and Chicago would still be mired in the basement of the league. Columbus would never have a shot of coming out of their slump. Going back to Pittsburgh, they might have actually lost their team in the early 2000’s if not for the draft bringing them Marquee players to market to the fans.

    The Rich get Richer, the poor get poorer under your new approach. Or at very least, the poor get poorer.

    The Draft is not broken. It works to create competitive balance. It isnt a reward for failure. It’s a measure to prevent perpetual failure. For the most part it’s done a solid job when combined with competent leadership.

  • A simpler system was presented at this year’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

    The full details are here, but basically what would happen is that once teams were eliminated from the playoffs they’d start collecting points toward draft position. The worst teams would be eliminated first, and thus have more time to collect points. Every team would have an incentive to win every game.

    • DieHard

      I heard about this before and just re-read it. There is a lot of merit to it. St. Louis with the first last year (yikes) probably wouldn’t have happened if this was in effect though.

  • The big problem with a playoff round is that the NHL cares a lot more about competitive balance than it does about rewarding winning.

    With a post-season draft tournament, teams that stink will probably lose (just like they do during the regular season). Then they won’t get a top draft pick. Without a top draft pick, they will continue to lose. They’ll keep missing out on top draft picks. Pretty soon, instead of a team like Pittsburgh returning to form, they’re relocating to Kansas City.

    The NHL doesn’t like relocation. They like market stability. From their perspective, it’s far better to ensure bad teams get good players than it is to ensure every team does its darndest over the season’s last 10 games.

  • @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…”

  • misfit

    In the 30 balls for the 30th place team model, the last place team only has a 6% chance of getting the number 1 pick and a 94% chance of not getting it. Odds are the 30th place team will not get a very good pick and hence continue to be a 30th place team for years. Until there is evidence that teams are “tanking” on purpose, I don’t see a need to change the current format.

  • @Godot10

    How do you figure that? Is this some kind of excercise in The Free Market that you think will work out positively?

    Will the Invisible Hand of the hockey Market magically even everything out the same way de-regulating electricity has made my Power Bill smaller (tongue firmly in cheek)?

    The Draft helps clubs overcome barriers like City Location, Payroll, and On-Ice performance when building a team. Everybody is equal at the draft. You take a player, his rights are yours whether you’re Columbus or New York it doesnt matter. If player X wants to play in the NHL soon then 9.5/10 times he’s reporting to the club that drafted him.

    Getting rid of the draft would be potentially catastrophic to the parity in the league.

    • toprightcorner

      When you have a
      1) an overall hard cap
      2) a 50-contract limit
      3) guarenteed contracts
      4) rookie salary cap.

      Players will go where the opportunity is.

      Places like Toronto and New York would likely have little cap room because they would have star players on big long contracts, and couldn’t compete for emerging young talent, or would have to trade off a star player to compete for an emerging star.

      Weaker teams would have cap room and opportunity for players to play immediately.

      If you have the 4 things, which I listed, the draft really isn’t necessary.

      There are only 23 jobs on the Rangers.