This is how you fix the NHL Draft Lottery

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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  • JB#1

    You guys are all wrong. You fix the playoffs by awarding draft picks based on corsi.

    Worse corsi teams get a higher pick and better teams get lower picks. This is a bullet proof method because corsi cannot be gamed unlike points and better reflects team skill by removing the luck component

  • JB#1

    Not sure what the best solution is, but most all your suggestions are far better than what exists now.

    Realize the odds are low, but bubble teams, or say teams not in the bottom 10, really should have zero chance (individually or collectively) of moving into top 3 picks.

    NHL has limited the benefit to tanking, but they now need to limit rewarding dumb luck and ineptitude.

  • JB#1

    With the unbalanced schedule we have no “real” means for judging who the worst teams are in any particular. You could argue that Edmonton is in a tougher division (LA Anaheim San Jose).

    Or same could be argued for Wpg CBJ etc, but because of the unbalanced schedule a system that is better than what we currently have needs to be looked at.

    Whatever system that is put into place should also consider the teams history ie have they been in playoffs recently. Teams could suffer a 1 season meltdown or injuries to 2-3 top players.

    Otherwise you could end up with a team like Chicago getting a high draft choice after being a top team for a decade.

    Other teams like Arizona very seldom try to retain or sign top talent therefore remain a bubble or bottom feeding team.

    Maybe teams like Edmonton Arizona should be getting penalized for the consistent poor showings.

    Teams that have not made playoffs in 5 years should lose a 2nd rounder. Teams that have made playoffs for 5 straight years should be rewarded somehow. Maybe they get the right to sign college free agents 1st.

  • N.Rad

    I always though that you introduce a small percentage penalty for every year that you draft in the top 3. For example, if the draft this year goes: Toronto, Edmonton, and Calgary (according to the current points) then next year Toronto’s chances of winning the lottery is reduced by 3% (so the max likelihood Toronto could have the following year to win the lottery is 20%-3%=17%), 2% for Edmonton and 1% for Calgary. These additional 6% is distributed to the rest of the field.

    The percentages can also be cumulative for a number of years, so if Toronto miraculously wins the following year as well then their chances are reduced to 14% (20%-3%-3%) in the third year.

  • JB#1

    My wife is an editor for the sun chain of news papers. They get there best circulation when they follow journalism school teachings. Write to a grade 3-5 level audience. I am about to write way above that kind of audiences head.

    It took CHI 12 years of Drafting and asset building to get to the start of the 08-09 roster. Then they added a lot of the players who drove even play. Campbell +11; Hossa +7; Sopel +7; Niemi.

    The oilers the target of this angst. Have won the lottery 3 times in the 12 times they have been eligble. Most reference oilers drafting and Mgmt as the problem. They present the work done from 2007 back as examples of the oilers problems. The work done by Pocklington and EIG. EIG the ownership who had to cut player development and AHL team cause they did not receive the financial protection PHX and FLD …… received. (Thanks Gary!)

    So People want to punish an Owner and the Fans that had little to do with the issue at hand!

    From 08-09 season to now, near the end of the 8th season not 12th (see CHI) the oilers have acquired assets. They have been eligble for the lottery 8 times.

    They lost in 08 as #21 seed; Lost in 09 as #10 seed; won in 10 with the #1 seed; Lost in 11 with #1 seed but format restricted the winner to a move of 4 slots.; Won in 2012 as #2 seed; Lost in 13 as #7 seed; Lost in 14 as #3 seed; Won in 2015 as #3 seed.

    As for the solution: do not reward the weaker sister (EC) teams playoff spots in the current system. Give 8 positions to the 2 best teams in each division. Then bring point totals to a factor of 1. When EC play west they play each other 1 time on Rd and Home. In the conference games if a team plays BOS 3 times and gets 4 points. Divide by 3 to take it to 1 1.333 pts in the factor of 1gm. Take the next 8 teams with highest point totals. Then seed them 1- 16 based on 1gm factor point totals.

    Here is the Key! Edmonton gets smoked by California teams and upper teams in central. yet is a winning % team versus the east.

    The lottery positions should be awarded by the Worst point totals of 1gm factor totals.

    I suspect there will be more than the standard 8 teams from EC in lottery.

  • SEER

    I agree with this suggestion, Justin:

    ….”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)….”…

    Shuffling the previous years winners back to no higher than 3rd-4th top pick.. is digestible for me..


    Not too sure if many people have heard about this kid, but he’s definitely another I will add to my Leafs Draft Pick wishes… Same height & work ethic as Doug Gilmour.. and has some flashes of Gretzky, in his rushes.. I’ve never heard a Coach give quite this many kudos to a rookie player…, in his first CHL season.. Great interview, at the start of this…. I think he could be a steal for some team, in the 2nd round..

    Vitalii Abramov/ Team: Gatineau, Olympiques/ Position: RW/
    Shoots: L / Height: 5’09” / Weight: 170/ Birthdate: 1998-05-08/
    (17 Years Ago)/ Birthplace: Russia

    RECENT STATS: (*Up to March 16th 2016)

    2015-16 Gatineau, Olympiques – QMJHL – (#11)
    63 Games… 38 Goals… 55 Assists… 93 Points… +36 “PPG+

    Swirls Of Abramov: Vitali Abramov Extended 2015-16 Highlights – 2016 NHL Draft Prospect


  • SEER

    aren’t you going to tell the readers that this is my idea, from an article almost a year ago? does any reader really believe that you’re smart enough to think this up, all by your little itty bitty self?
    anyways, I feel that it’s too late now; it’s like closing the barn door after the horses have escaped.
    Matthews may not even be BPA, but wins by virtue of being a center. and Edmonton doesn’t need another franchise center, If they get 1st, they’ll probably trade the pick, for Leafs two 1st round picks. Edmonton gets a franchise winger, and top-3 D-man, and would never lose another hockey game, if not for being a low budget operation.

  • Olde Tyme Hockey

    Why reward futility? That’s really all that the goal of parity accomplishes. Many teams have proven you don’t need a first overall pick to succeed.

    Teams should be rewarded for good play throughout the year – either by making the playoffs (with all that extra revenue for home games) or getting a good pick.

    My suggestion is to make the draft order contingent on when a team is eliminated from the playoffs. The first team eliminated automatically picks 14th (where 16 of 30 make the playoffs), the second team eliminated picks 13th and so on. The first draft pick could potentially be up for grabs on the last day of the regular season. Tiebreakers would be merit-based (better overall record, better goal differential, better record against other team(s) in tiebreaker). Likely would also need to factor scheduling differences to even the playing field (e.g. team 1 eliminated after 73 games played, but team 2 eliminated next day with only 72 games played – team 2 technically eliminated “first”).

    I think you’d be hard-pressed to see a team “tank” the last game with a shot at the playoffs (and a Stanley Cup) just to get a first overall pick. Players (and probably most hockey ops) certainly don’t think like that. Either way, it’s a lot harder to win the requisite number of games just to set up an elimination game at the end of the season. Instead of trumped up “all-day lottery draft coverage!” it would be a “playoffs or pick!” race to cap the end of the regular season.

  • silentbob

    Thats a horrible idea.

    The whole point of giving the last place team the early picks to give the teams that need top tier talent the best chance to get the best young players. Saying a team that needs good, young talent can’t get it………because makes no sense.

    And what happens to the teams that get the 1st pick and pick and Hopkins or Yakupov or Johnson or Stefan or Phillips or Daigle? So a team that lands a 1st overall bust or the 1st overall pick in a year where there is no franchise player is just SOL? Their fan base has to go through a few more bad seasons to get a chance at a franchise player?

    If the system were to change, it should go to an NBA/NFL style draft where teams are picking 22-23-24 year old players who are going to step directly onto their NHL teams. This is better for everyone involved – the fans get instant gratifiation, last year instead of drafting a kid who played for London this year, maybe next year and maybe the Marlies the year after that, we’d have gotten a player from the 2011 draft class. Its better for the players, they get the time to really develop as players and people before being drafted, time to get an education, no risk of being rushed when they are 18 or 19 etc… And its better for the teams who are now picking from 21-22-23 year old MEN not kids and trying to guess what they’ll be. Plus teams that those impfactful players with early picks see that impact right away

  • Olde Tyme Hockey

    In short, use stats to structure the odds and add a rule to eliminate back-to-back winners.

    The NHL uses points as the primary metric to determine regular season success. Why not incorporate it into the draft?

    Make all teams that finish one standard deviation below average in points eligible to win the lottery. For the teams that make the cut, have the odds be determined by the points below that Average – 1 Standard Deviation limit.

    For example, the league average in points in the 2014-15 season was 92.2 with a standard deviation of ~15.9. Rounding, this would eliminate all teams with 76 or more points from the lottery. For last year, that leaves:

    Team Pts Pts below Avg-StDev limit
    Carolina 71 5
    Toronto 68 8
    Edmonton 62 14
    Arizona 56 20
    Buffalo 54 22

    Total points below limit = 5+8+14+20+22 = 69
    The fraction of those points possessed by a team is their odds.
    Example: Carolina = 5/69 = ~7.2%

    Therefore, the odds would be as follows:

    Carolina 7.2%
    Toronto 11.6%
    Edmonton 20.3%
    Arizona 29.0%
    Buffalo 31.9%

    Last year Arizona and Buffalo were about equally as bad, but there odds were 20% and 13.5%, respectively. That is hardly fair for Arizona and this method fixes that. It also works in the opposite way by rewarding a distinct advantage to one team that does exceptionally poor.

    Add in a rule where the prior year’s winner cannot be include in the lottery and it prevents another Edmonton situation.

    This method has the potential to eliminate teams from the lottery who could use a first overall pick. However, it would be difficult to argue that those teams need it more than the ones who qualify each year.

    • SEER

      Sorry about the formatting; it changed upon posting. Hopefully this works.

      Team Pts Pts below Avg-StDev limit
      Carolina 71 5
      Toronto 68 8
      Edmonton 62 14
      Arizona 56 20
      Buffalo 54 22

  • SEER

    I don’t understand why it’s assumed (with a tournament) “bubble teams that just missed out will always win.”

    What is that based on, exactly?
    Last time I checked the league has more parity than ever before. In a best of 3 series, for example, with Toronto against Ottawa (bubble) and the Leafs having home ice advantage… you’re telling me Ottawa will “always win” ?

    I think a tournament is the best idea, and the most fan-friendly also. You could even donate most of the ticket prices to charity. Tonnes of win-win-win possibilities doing it this way.

    • JB#1


      Ever hear of an offer sheet?

      Take good care of him for the next couple years.

      We’ll be around with an offer sheet when the time is right.

      Gladly pay the four 1st round picks to get McDavid!

          • cberg

            Absolutely. Edmonton does not have the resources to pay him like he will need to be paid, plus ice a decent enough team around him to at least make the playoffs. But hey, they can pay him and Edmonton fans will still be happy saying ” Sorry other NHL fans, we got McDavid and you don’t…neaner neaner neaner” all the while continuing to languish near the basement, hoping to win another lottery and draft yet another saviour generational talent. And if they’re really lucky, they will live on the hope of McTavish/Lowe and maybe Chiarelli saying ad nauseum “This year will be different”

          • cberg

            It’s so much fun to see how sour you guys still are…

            Get over it peeps , as for “dwelling down the basement ” , it’s not like Toronto is consistently competing for top 5 in the league, so come on….

            Before I go : neener, neener, McDavid is an Oiler. And btw, Stamkos won’t sign with you losers, book it!


          • cberg

            No sour grapes here, why would there be, I’m not a Leafs fan believe me. My comment is a fair comment if you’d like to step back and honestly assess how things have gone in Edmonton over the last decade. As to my McTavish/Lowe comment, I don’t know how I would be able to stomach more of that if I was an Oilers fan. And do you really think Edmonton will be able to pay McDavid what he’s worth, which will likely be in that $15m range or close to it, in a few years ? Plus, as I said, pay the supporting cast that’s good enough to bring back what Edmonton has been longing for for the last…how many years ago did Pocklington jettison Gretzky? But like I said, you’ll be able to say (for now) we got McDavid and the rest of you ….didn’t. Maybe that will be enough.

      • cberg

        Silly Leafs fans. No one wants to play for the worst franchise in sports over the last 50 years.

        No Championships. No Cups No Presidents Trophies.

        Last time a leaf won the Scoring title was 78 years ago.

        No Leaf goalie has won either the Vezina or the William Jennings Trophy in 51 years

        No Leaf defenseman has ever won the Norris. 

        Hart Memorial Trophy winner hasnt been a leaf in 61 years.

        50 years since a Calder winner.

        They have won one thing. The title of the worst team in sports 3 of the last 4 years.

        Being an Oilers fan has sucked for the last 6 years. You could even say 10. But being a leafs fan has sucked for as long as Tvs have been in color.

        Two entire generations of Toronto fans have suffered.

        • JB#1


          What is it that some fans of the Oliers remind me of?

          Oh yeah, when we were kids, my best friend’s snot-nosed, whiny little brother who followed us around.

          Things going so good for you over in Oilers Nation that you got nothing better to do than pop into Leafs Nation to have a little whine?

          The Maple Laughs this, 50 years that…

          Let’s check back in a couple of years and see which team is doing better with their rebuild.

          I’ll put my money on this Leafs management group as your fan-boy owner won’t be able to resist the urge to keep sticking his nose in.

  • //And what happens to the teams that get the 1st pick and pick and Hopkins or Yakupov or Johnson or Stefan or Phillips or Daigle? So a team that lands a 1st overall bust//

    RNH faced 2nd comp in his 18 year season. In the modern era 67-68 to 15-16, RNH’s .84 PPG is the 6th best in those 49 years. He has faced the other teams best The other 4 years. a power versus power center.

    Last year at 21yr, RNH was one of 2 centers top 3 in EVG and EVP by PVP centers. The other was TOEWS. How can that be? Unless? Oh my goodness! Toews is a bust!

  • Get rid of the draft all together, allow players to sign with whomever they want on their 18th birthdays.

    That’s not going to happen though, so why not simply make the top 14 picks randomly distributed to the teams that miss the playoffs, and the bottom 16 picks randomly distributed to playoff teams, then distribute the second round and deeper picks based on order of finish? It completely eliminates the incentive for tanking but still gives some extra support to teams that are having trouble.

  • Gary Empey

    The natural law of averages should take care of the one team winning the number one pick too often.

    The solution to intentionally playing to lose to get a better draft pick should be easy.

    Give all fourteen teams that miss the playoffs the same odds of winning the lottery.

    This would stop GM’s tanking their teams.

    There should be no benefit for playing to lose.

    Keep it simple. Some of these solutions Albert Einstein would have trouble with.

  • silentbob

    Skew the odds more but still make it that the last place team has the best chance, second last team has the second best chance and so on.

    Making impossible for a team to draft the best player in consecutive years would kill a small market franchise that before they have the depth and or financial wherewithal to move up.

  • Edsez

    One thing that isn’t made clear in this article is that, while having a poor record, the Oilers never deliberately tanked a season with the intent of acquiring the 1st overall pick.

    The real travesty would have been Buffalo or Arizona getting it last draft after doing so.

    The draft doesn’t need fixing, Toronto writers just need to get over their sour grapes at not getting the player they wanted.

    • cberg

      You’re joking, right? Any fan across the whole NHL can see as clear as day that tanking is exactly what the Oilers have been doing for years. It started out intentionally from management, and continues, even to this day. Their refusal to trade for a couple high-end D is condoned because of some myopic belief in the value of their “superstars” and the fact their fans continue to flock to hot garbage year after year after year.

  • silentbob

    It’s going to be hilarious when Toronto does not win the lottery this year, whether Edmonton wins it or not.

    Leafs nation will be on fire.

    “We don’t tank, we just ice an AHL team and play like crap”

  • cberg

    Why are we all assuming that a team can’t be successful without a top three pick? I can’t see the evidence for this.

    Of the top four teams in the NHL standings right now, none of them have more than two top three picks in the last 20 years. (Two is the expected number: 30 teams, 60 picks.) Dallas in particular hasn’t picked in the top three since the ’90s.

    By contrast, the bottom four teams in the league feature two teams with five top-three picks: Edmonton and Winnipeg/Atlanta. The Atlanta Thrashers had four consecutive top-two picks, and made basically nothing of them.

    If you try to correlate the number of top-three picks in the last twenty years with current NHL standing, you find a correlation coefficient of 4%. Basically, no correlation. If you weight the picks by how recent they are and how high they are, you again get essentially zero correlation (with my particular weighting, it was -3%.)

    If you look at the top four regular season teams for the past six years, only three have had more than two top-three picks in the last 20 years: Colorado, Chicago and Pittsburgh. By contrast, the teams with the most top-three picks in the last twenty years (Florida, Edmonton, Tampa Bay, and Winnipeg/Atlanta) have never finished in the top four overall in the past six years.

    The Stanley Cup is a high-variance event, so it’s not really fair to try to correlate it with draft picks. And, admittedly, Chicago, LA, and Boston (who account for all of the last six Cups) all have at least two top-three picks in the last 20 years. But their Finals opponents include Philadelphia (one pick), NY Rangers (none), and the New Jersey Devils (none).

    All this suggests to me that while a top three pick can be helpful, its value is small compared to the other merits of a hockey organisation. A good organization drafts Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Jordan Staal and dominates hockey for a while. A crappy one drafts Patrik Stefan, Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Kari Lehtonen and has to move to a different country.

    In the meantime, the current draft policy encourages the blatant wasting of season ticket holders’ money.

    I say we should reorder the draft so that the #17 team picks first overall, then #18, and so on down to #30. Teams should be forced to get their act together at least enough to ice a competitive team before they’re rewarded with a high draft pick. Promising young talent can then develop in what is more likely to be a competent organisation. And no one has to watch the 2014-15 Sabres ever again.