#RITHAC: Gold Drafting and the Maple Leafs

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

  • Newleafs

    The gold plan would not “prevent” tanking.

    If a team does poorly and then is managed better (coached, coaching changes,player acquisitions, lineup adjustments/call ups) it would break the gold model and the prevention of tanking. Teams could intentionally tank the beginning of the season and start trying to win when they are out of the playoffs.

    A lot of times certain models make certain assumptions that are open to unexpected exploitation. Every rule can be exploited and have unintended consequences.

    The idea that the gold plan is “bullet proof” against tanking is a series of poorly thought out assumptions that any clever general manager could easily circumvent.

    Consider it debunked as a good concept to prevent tanking.

    • Stan Smith

      I think most teams, if they decide to “tank”, the decision isn’t made at the beginning of the season. Most GM’s like to think they have done something to improve their team from the previous season and you can be assured the coach and players are going to try to win, That is their job after all. That decision is made as the season progresses, and is helped by “selling” as opposed to “buying” at the trade deadline. The Gold Draft might not prevent this from happening, but the chart does show that late season tanks would hurt the team under the rule.

      You are correct in that a team could decide to tank right off the bat and once eliminated, play to win. That doesn’t mean it would work. There are too many variables.

      The one good thing is that under that system a team would have to win some games at some point in time, but you are right in that no system would be completely “bullet proof”. I think you would have to actually do it to properly evaluate it.

  • Stan Smith

    I don’t think you should base your decision on the concept on how the Leafs would have fared in the past. Just as you can’t say 100% the Leafs would have ended up with Tyler Seguin if they hadn’t dealt for Kessel, because not making that deal changes the whole dynamics of the situation, all the teams involved, just playing under those rules would have changed the dynamics, and more than likely some of the results.

  • Trevor5555

    I dont see the benefit in changing the system. We want weak teams to have the best chance at drafting good players. This is the biggest reason why the NHL is more competitive. Small market teams can draft and develop elite players and the salary cap ensures rich teams cant poach their players.

    If teams seem to be tanking for high picks and it starts to tip the balance of power an easy fix is capping the number of high picks a team can get over a set period. Or we can tweak the lottery percentages to give more teams a shot at the top few picks.

    Furthermore looking at Edmonton its clear that lots of high picks dont gaurentee success anyway so there doesnt appear to be any unfair advantage to basement teams. The system is working fine and narrowing the gap between the best teams and the worst teams.

  • Marcel DePass

    I would rather have a tourney of the lowest 6 teams in points, and award the winner the to pick, 2nd place the 2nd pick, and so on. There would be zero incentive to tank, and a reward for bad teams that are still trying.

  • Hardy

    just keep it the way it is. why are we making hockey so complicated?? any time i try and explain the cap to my friends its a mess. i stopped even trying to explain team NA and Europe. no way are we going to change the draft which is the same across all (north american) sports. its easy, people understand and people will watch because its straightforward

    i understand wanting to stop tanking but the reason why the bad teams pick first is because they suck and making up rules that make it harder for bad teams to get good isnt the way to go.

  • Tigon

    Both the current and Gold model have flaws. See Buffalo for the former, what a joke that was! The Gold model would also just help keep the rich teams rich because really what’s the difference between say the 8th place team in a conference and the 11th most years besides luck. How would that help truly bad teams improve if they cannot even use the draft as an advantage.

    So ifar some new idea was to be implemented that helps take both into account why not use goal differential post trade deadline instead of wins/losses. Good teams should still win right so why give them good draft choices because they are good but we’re unlucky or someone just narrowly beat them out of 8th. Goal differential should be a better measure of trying to compete and not tank.

  • LukeDaDrifter

    The NHL’s lottery for the top three picks has changed the odds dramatically for tanking teams. If required they will go to top 4/5 all up for lottery until it stops. Anyone noticed just how angry Oiler’s management was that they didn’t pick top three after finishing just one point ahead of the Leafs? Tanking now only guarantees a fourth overall pick. Next year only a 5th overall because Vegas automatically gets a third overall, lottery pick position odds.

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