The NHL is a reactionary league. Just earlier today, it reacted to referee Tim Peel getting caught on a microphone discussing even-out calls and moth-balled him. And, on Tuesday, it announced a series of draft-lottery changes that were very much a reaction to the Detroit Red Wings getting “jobbed,” at least in their minds, at the 2020 draft. After they finished with the worst record of any NHL team in 20 years, they went 0 for 3 with their lottery balls and slipped to the No. 4 pick, watching the New York Rangers, who participated in the 2020 post-season, winning a lottery pick for the second consecutive season.
Were the Wings and GM Steve Yzerman pulling a sour-grapes routine based on a mathematical anomaly? Maybe, but the NHL decided to sympathize nonetheless and tweak the rules to favor the league’s worst teams more going forward. The opening language in the memo detailing the draft-lottery rule changes, distributed by the league Tuesday, admits as much:
“The changes, approved by League’s Board of Governors, will reduce the likelihood of the worst-finishing Club dropping in the Draft Order and not retaining the right to the First Overall Selection; reduce the magnitude of any possible drop in Draft Order for the worst-finishing Club; limit the number of Clubs (based on final Regular Season standing) that are eligible to win the right to the First Overall Selection in the Draft; and limit the number of times in a defined time period that the same Club can benefit from winning a Draft Lottery Draw.”
The memo practically reads “We don’t want to repeat the 2020 Detroit situation.” So what are the specific changes, exactly? Here’s a breakdown with a real-life example of what result the NHL is trying to avoid repeating with each rule.
1. (Implemented starting in 2021) “The number of Lottery Draws will be reduced from three to two. This will limit the number of selections the worst finishing Club can drop in the final Draft Order. Whereas, currently, the Worst-Finishing Club can drop from the First Overall position to the Fourth Overall position in Draft Order (as happened in each of 2017, 2019 and 2020), the lowest the Worst-Finishing Club could drop would be to the Third Overall position.”
Say goodbye to: The 2019-20 Red Wings falling to fourth and missing out on Alexis Lafreniere, Quinton Byfield and Tim Stutzle; the 2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks jumping up from the 12th slot to pick at third overall despite having the 10th-best odds. Under the new format, if the 31st-place team whiffs on picks 1 and 2, it will automatically get the No. 3 pick.
2. (Implemented starting in 2022) “There will be a limit on the total number of selections – 10, a Club participating in the Draft Lottery can “move up” in the event it wins one of the Draft Lottery Draws. The result will be that the number of teams eligible to select First Overall in any given year will be reduced from 16 total teams to 11 total teams.”
Say goodbye to: The 2016-17 Philadelphia Flyers finishing with the 13th-best draft lottery odds and leaping 11 spots up to the No. 2 overall pick.
3. (Implemented starting in 2022) “No single team will be able to advance in the Draft order by reason of winning a Lottery Draw more than two (2) times in any five (5) year period.” This limitation will not affect a Club’s ability to retain its presumptive Draft position in any Draft Lottery, nor would it preclude the possibility of the Club moving down in Draft Order to the extent other Clubs advance by reason of winning the Lottery Draws. For purposes of clarity, the limitation would attach to the team, not the specific pick.
“By way of example, if a Club were to win the first Lottery Draw as the 7th Worst-Finishing Club in Year 1 (thereby earning the First Overall Selection in the succeeding Draft), and the second Lottery Draw as the 13th Worst-Finishing Club in Year 3 (thereby earning the Third Overall Selection in the succeeding Draft), that Club would no longer be eligible to benefit by winning a Lottery Draw in either of Year 4 or Year 5, and would not be able to benefit again by winning the Draft Lottery (or either of the Draft Lottery Draws) until Year 6 at the earliest.”
Say goodbye to: The New York Rangers winning lottery draws in 2019 and 2020 despite not finishing with the league’s worst record in either season. It’s important to note that the “two in five years” rule only applies to moving up in the lottery. A last-overall team doesn’t “move up” to pick first, so you can win the lottery with a 31st-place finish unlimited times. Same goes for a 30th-place team winning the No. 2 pick in the lottery. So the Oilers winning the 2010 and 2011 first-overall picks wouldn’t count as their “two wins” because they didn’t move up. They finished dead last both those seasons. Their lottery wins in 2012 and 2015, however, would count as their two wins in five years because they didn’t finish last overall in those seasons and thus moved up to pick first.