Home Sports NHL draft quirk may keep top picks off league’s worst teams

NHL draft quirk may keep top picks off league’s worst teams

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Sorry, no tears are being shed here over the plight of the Red Wings, whose historically bad season got them no more than the fourth-overall pick of the draft as a consequence of the way the pingpong balls bounced in Friday’s lottery drawing.

Do you think the Detroit organization, always arrogant in the good times, agonized when the 2016-17 Avalanche, nearly as bad as this year’s Wings, also slid to fourth out of the lottery while the Devils, who had recorded 22 more points than Colorado, scored the first pick?

And by the way, wouldn’t you say Colorado did just fine by tabbing Cale Makar three spots after the Devils selected Nico Hischier? Who do you think goes first in a re-draft; Makar, Miro Heiskanen (third to Dallas) or Elias Pettersson (fifth to Vancouver)?

I wrote weeks ago that the lottery should have been restricted to the NHL’s Seven Dwarfs who were omitted from the Hub-Bubble 24-team extravaganza that is tentatively scheduled to begin at the end of July. The draw thus would have been limited to Detroit, Ottawa, San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, New Jersey and Buffalo, with the Sharks’ pick owned by the Senators. That seemed fair to me.

But the NHL went its own way, designed a system to create some intrigue, and I spent all of 0.2 seconds fretting about it.

I have long railed against the draft system that reflexively rewards incompetence and encourages managements of bad teams to do whatever they can to bottom out for a few years in order to collect a string of high draft choices. It worked for Pittsburgh. It worked for Chicago. It hasn’t quite worked out so well for Edmonton or Buffalo, though, has it, or most of the flotsam at the bottom of the NHL ocean?

A system that funnels marquee 18-year-olds to outposts most often marked by dysfunction does no one any favors (other than the management groups that inherited, created, perpetuated dysfunction). Did it help the NHL that Steven Stamkos, first-overall in 2008, went to the playoffs once in his first five years, or that John Tavares, first a year later, also went to the tournament once in his first five years?

Who does it help that Taylor Hall, first in 2010, did not participate in the playoffs until his ninth season? Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, first a year after that, didn’t make it until his Year 7. Connor McDavid, first in 2015, has all but been hidden from international view playing tor a team that made the playoffs once in his first four seasons, and Jack Eichel, second that season, hasn’t made it yet in five years.

So good for not only Alexis Lafreniere, the Rimouski winger who is the consensus first selection this year, that he won’t be consigned to a dismal circumstance, but good for all of us who might actually get to enjoy a young player of his talent working with a decent team.

The hard cap punishes success, and the flat hard cap that will be a feature of the new CBA that is expected to go into effect next season, will be even more brutal in cutting down big-time teams to size. Expansion draft rules punish success. The draft punishes success and rewards incompetence.

But for once, in the midst of a global pandemic, the NHL stumbled into something different. A reasonably decent team, and maybe even one better than that, will win the first-overall pick and have the pleasure of incorporating Lafreniere into the lineup.

And to think that I’m old enough to remember that when the NHL wanted to hold the 2020 draft before resumption of play, the lottery designed for that event would have guaranteed that the Red Wings drafted no lower than second.


And confirmation from Bill Daly that if COVID-19 prevents the qualifying round from being played to completion, the next eight teams in inverse order of points percentage when the season halted on March 12 would draw for the first-overall pick.

That would mean the Canadiens, Blackhawks, Coyotes, Wild, Jets, Rangers, Flames and Panthers would each have a 12.5 percent chance at selecting first-overall.


Doug Wilson and Kevin Lowe were the best two defenseman not in the Hockey Hall of Fame until their selection by the committee on Wednesday, and both Jarome Iginla and Marian Hossa are deserving of their election in their first year of eligibility. No issues there, or with the election of renowned Team Canada goaltender Kim St. Pierre, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and five-time IIHF World Champion.

But the ongoing snub of Alexander Mogilny is baffling. Not so baffling but disturbing is the omission of Mike Keenan, who by any objective measure belongs, and without question if Pat Quinn is an honored member. But voting is a subjective exercise and when it is done behind closed doors by an 18-member committee sworn to secrecy, there is a cloud hanging over the process. The first rule of being on the selection committee is not to talk about the selection committee.

I’m not necessarily a least-common-denominator guy, as in, well, if Player A is in, then Player B must be. You don’t want to select someone simply because he might be the equal of the player you might consider the least deserving in the Hall.

But here’s one. Why is Dickie Duff, 283 goals, 289 assists, 572 points in 1,030 games in the Hockey HOF while Dean Prentice, 391 goals, 469 assists, 860 points in 1,378 matches, is not?

Yes, Duff was on six Cup winners (two in Toronto, four in Montreal) while Prentice was on none. But Prentice spent the first 13-plus seasons of his career with the Original Six Rangers and Bruins. How do you think Duff would have done with the sad sack Blueshirts?

Well, I’ll tell you. He recorded 20 points (7-13) in 43 games during his mid-’60s tenure between the time he came to New York as part of the package for Andy Bathgate and left in a trade with Montreal that brought back Ernie Hicke.

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