This week, the National Hockey League released an outline for its return to play initiative, the plan to finish the 2019-20 season via a 24-team playoff tournament for the Stanley Cup.
Seven teams – the Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks – were sent packing, told to wait until the start of the 2020-21 season to again suit up and play meaningful games.
The NHL shut down on March 12th due to the COVID-19 outbreak. There’s a chance that the 2020-21 regular season won’t get underway until January of 2021. If that’s the case, that means these seven clubs could go close to nine months between games played.
“The hardest part is not knowing when we’re gonna be playing next,” admitted Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin. “So you have to plan accordingly, make sure you’re ready to go for whenever it is we’re able to play.”
Instead, these less-than-magnificent seven teams will participate in the NHL Draft Lottery on June 26th to determine which of them will gain the first overall selection in the 2020 NHL entry draft. But the eight teams that will be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs are also eligible for the lottery. They’ll be designated by a letter instead of their names, since they’re still playing. And if any of those letters comes out of the envelopes in the selection process for the top three picks in the draft, a second draft lottery will need to be conducted between the first and second playoff rounds.
Confused? Join the club. The sad part is that it could’ve been decided so much more dramatically, and definitely via a more entertaining format.
For the first time, the NHL is including 24 teams in the playoffs, because the league felt it was only fair to give every club that even maintained an outside chance of qualifying for postseason play when the season shut down an opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup.
It’s unprecedented, and in some circles, unpopular. Two of the 31 NHL teams – the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes – actually voted against the format. Interestingly, all seven non-playoff teams voted in favor of the new system.
“I think ultimately you have to look at it as what’s best for the league?” suggested Luke Glendening, the NHLPA rep for the Red Wings. “Obviously we’re all competitive, we would love to play, we would love to compete.”
Glendening makes a valid point. Instead of fighting change, why not embrace it during these unusual global circumstances? In fact, the NHL should’ve taken this reboot of their system one step further.
Rather than holding a draw for positions, why not conduct an NHL Draft Lottery tournament?
A Playoff For The Pick
These are unique circumstances that the world finds itself in, so why not try something completely different?
The point of the NHL Draft Lottery is to ensure that teams don’t deliberately lose to gain the first overall pick. With the NHL Draft Lottery Tournament, they’d be required to win to gain the first overall pick.
Since the NHL has already committed to what are basically glorified exhibition games between the top four teams in each of the Eastern and Western Conferences to determine the No. 1 seed, wouldn’t it be fantastic were they to do something similar to determine who gets to be No. 31?
There’s already action on which team will get the first pick in the NHL entry draft at online sportsbooks. Imagine the uptick in wagering that would be caused by an NHL Draft Lottery Tournament.
Here’s How It Could Work
The seven non-playoff teams would clash in a round-robin format, playing each other once to determine playoff seedings. From there, the tourney would work in a stepladder format similar to the Pro Bowlers Tour.
No. 7 would face No. 6, with the winner meeting No. 5. This would go on all the way until there was just one team and the top seed remaining.
All of these games would be contested in a one-and-done format, like the NCAA Tournament or the NFL playoffs. The only deviation from this format would be in the final.
That would be a double-knockout competition. The lower-seeded team would need to beat the No. 1 seed twice to scoop up the top pick. There must be some bonus acquired by the team that finishes atop the round-robin portion, after all.
Think Of The Possibilities
The NHL Draft Lottery Tournament might prove a marketing windfall for the league. Past first overall picks like Mario Lemieux, Eric Lindros and Wendel Clark could be brought out for ceremonial faceoffs.
Have the top players available in the 2020 NHL entry draft on hand at rinkside to watch the games. Imagine Alexis Lafreniere, the consensus choice to go No. 1, watching, say the Red Wings and Devils play off in the final. He could offer insights into how he’d see his game fitting in with each team. Cameras could catch his reaction when either team scores.
Talk about drama. There’s even a perfect hashtag – #WinForOne.
Instead of teams tanking to get the first pick, NHL fans will be thanking them for the memories.