• Edmonton Rule II

    by  • March 17, 2014 • Hockey • 13 Comments

    All hockey clubs and players that stride through their age like a colossus eventually face rule changes, enacted by petty men, intended to do what they are unable to do under existing rules: stop the titan. It happened to Montreal in the 1950s, with a rule ending power plays when the penalized team conceded a goal. In the 1980s, the Edmonton Rule came into place, ending the practice of coincidental minors resulting in each team playing a man short. The trapezoid was introduced to limit the impact of the NHLs elite puck handling goalies. Small men, who couldn’t conceive of hitting Sean Avery’s jerk level, banned acting like a jerk by turning and facing the goalie on a 5v3 to try and distract him.

    Now, faced with Edmonton going back into the draft lottery that they have owned three times in the last four years, the league has again come for the Oilers. Elliotte Friedman explains:

    What we’re looking at here is a system where the odds would be weighted by how positions 17 through 30 in the NHL standings finish over a five-year period relative to the final playoff qualifier. The exact formula is not yet determined. But one of the potential scenarios is something like this:

    If you go back over the last five seasons (2008-09 to 2012-13), you can easily check how close those teams ranked 17-30 came to making the playoffs. The 30th-place finishers (Edmonton Oilers twice, Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, New York Islanders) were a combined 131 points out. Overall, the 70 non-playoff teams totalled 693 points behind during that span.

    I assume the NHL would want to use the current season to make each year’s lottery as relevant as possible. So if this were the league’s method of choice, it can only be used as a comparison to the 2013 odds. Anyway, 131 is 18.9 per cent of 693. That would give the 30th-place team an 18.9 per cent shot at the top selection, down from the current 25 per cent.

    It would be a “rolling” five-year period. As you moved into the next season, the oldest would be dropped. However, there is one pothole.

    In 2011, the Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames, who missed the playoffs, finished ahead of the New York Rangers, who made it. In 2010, the St. Louis Blues, Flames and Anaheim Ducks were above the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens. And in 2009, the Florida Panthers beat out St. Louis, Columbus and Anaheim. Therefore, the teams who finished 17th overall were actually four points better than the last playoff team. That would have to be addressed.

    I don’t think the problem identified in the last paragraph in Friedman’s column is really a problem. I wanted to test this out, so I went through the 2007-12 seasons, the last five full seasons for which we have data. I addressed the issue that Friedman raises by simply calculating the number of points by which each team missed the playoffs, taking the non-playoff teams and then numbering them 17 to 30 depending on where they finished in the NHL. So, for 2011, Dallas missed the playoffs by two points and who cares how they did relative to the Rangers.

    Anyway, I took this five years and calculated the odds of winning the draft lottery. Here it is:

    My line for the proposed system is kind of jagged a little further down – I assume that the NHL would do something to smooth it out. The effect of this is pretty clear though: it would take probability of winning the lottery from the teams at the very bottom and assign it to teams higher up the food chain. Under the current system, the chance of a team in the top four winning the lottery is 68.7%. Under the proposed system, it would be 52.6%. Those 16 percentage points are being spread out over teams further down the lottery.

    As much “fun” as it is to joke about this being the Edmonton Rule, there’s probably something to the idea of lengthening the odds on the worst teams winning the lottery and shortening them for the teams that just miss the playoffs. With the parity in the NHL today as well as the introduction of more chance into the standings with extra points for winning games in OT/SO, the certainty that teams that are at the very bottom of the standings are truly the worst is probably lower than it’s ever been.

    I was talking about this with NHL.com’s Corey Masisak in the context of the Canucks being better than their record the other day and he pointed out that teams like Philadelphia in 2006-07, New Jersey in 2010-11 and Montreal in 2011-12 cratered in one year and snapped up a top prospect before returning to grace the following season. Good teams can have terrible years in which nothing goes right – does the NHL really want to reward teams with a top prospect for that?

    There’s another salutary effect to this – decreasing the incentive to stink will probably up the pressure on general managers to not stink. One of the miserable thing about being an Oilers fan from 2009-13 was the way in which “rebuild” provided an obviously out of his depth Steve Tambellini with a security blanket that made him impervious to criticism. This probably isn’t the intended consequence of this but it’s probably a good thing for fans of teams that are truly badly run.

    The specific method that the NHL is talking about is a bit goofy – I don’t understand why there’s any logic to calculating odds based on average points out of the playoffs – but the idea seems pretty sound to me. If the NHL is going to be a bit of a roulette league in terms of upping the randomness in the game, the draft should reflect that.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com

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    13 Responses to Edmonton Rule II

    1. Rusty
      March 17, 2014 at

      I guess it’s a start, but I’m still of the opinion that the draft order should be random among those teams that don’t make the playoffs without benefit of position. The whole concept of tanking for a high pick should be very disturbing to the NHL powers that be and I’m surprised that they’ve let it happen for as long as they have.

      Besides, all a position-weighted system does is increase the likelihood that great players get buried in irrelevancy on teams with bad management.

      • March 17, 2014 at

        Definitely agree. The current system incentivizes losing after a certain point in the season for bad teams, certainly for management and also for many fans. That makes the last part of a losing season just awful for fans. If they’re going to have a weighted system, it should be weighted to benefit the teams who barely miss the playoffs so that the long-term incentive is always to win hockey games.

    2. Kevin
      March 17, 2014 at

      I get annoyed at people who think Edmonton tanked , look at Tampa Bay last year.

      Getting Mario Lemieux was a real tank.

    3. godot10
      March 17, 2014 at

      The Ruotsaleinen Rule is Edmonton Oiler rule number 2, which was introduced to prevent the Oilers from brining Ruotsaleinen from Europe every February for the playoff run by requiring a player coming from Europe to clear waivers. The Oilers did this three years in a row I think and won their last two Stanley Cups.

    4. @Oilanderp
      March 17, 2014 at

      There appear to be direct parallels between this discussion and that of free-market capitalism vs social democracy. It is a complex debate to be sure. Are all poor people desrervedly poor and thus should not be helped? Are all bad teams deservedly so and should not therefore get top picks in the draft?

      No doubt most would agree there should be some help (be it picks or welfare). The discussion then becomes as to exactly what degree.

      At risk is the reinforcement of a never-ending downward spiral of horrible team performance, or analogously, what amounts to perpetual poverty and the creation of a social underclass of outcasts.

    5. Karl Bengtsson
      March 18, 2014 at

      I think the drafts first 14 teams should be a pure lottery evenly weighted for all teams. This allows all teams to fight for a playoff spot and if you arent good enough you are still rewarded. This will also stop the tanking cuz it proves no benefit.

    6. chartleys
      March 18, 2014 at

      I still think a round robin loser tournament would be the way to go.
      Two pools

      24 – 30 (1st – 7th overall picks)
      17-23 (8th – 14th overall picks)

      Winner of each pool gets the highest pick available in that group. Gives non playoff teams (fans/owners) a few meaningful games at the end of the season. Would be wrapped up by end of first round of playoffs and would better discourage tanking and might better reward teams to not fire sale.

      I get that player’s don’t get paid for playoffs and there would be opposition. Still think you could figure something out though.

    7. chartleys
      March 18, 2014 at

      So this year you would have:

      (1st-7th pick tournament) (8th- 14th pick tournament)
      Buffalo Ottawa
      Edmonton Winnipeg
      Florida NJ
      NYI Van
      Calgary Det
      Carolina Wash
      Nashville Dallas

      That fairly closely separates the teams still “in the hunt” and the dregs. At the very least it would provide zero incentive for the total bottom feeder teams to absolutely try and tank.

      • chartleys
        March 18, 2014 at

        that looked properly spaced when I wrote it…

    8. Doug
      March 19, 2014 at

      I think any type of lottery simply rewards mediocrity. It would be in the best interests of fans, the league’s brand, and the team’s themselves to establish a system that rewards teams by how well they play AFTER they have been eliminated from the playoffs. As soon as it is a mathematical impossibility for your team to make the playoffs, every point you earn after that point in time goes towards getting the first draft pick. At the end of the season the team with the most “draft points” gets the first pick, and every other team slots in on the basis of their descending “draft point” totals. It eliminates tanking (as you have to win to have a shot), keeps the teams competitive, keeps the games relevant, and keeps the fan basis’ engaged in a positive manner (cheering for wins – not losses). I read about it somewhere on the web (maybe Backhand Shelf?), and have never seen the math done retroactively for previous seasons, but it ideologically makes sense, and punishes being a crap GM.

    9. Art V
      March 21, 2014 at

      Eliminate the Entry Draft entirely and let grown men work where they choose to. Like real life.
      As long as there is a salary cap and a limit to the number of contracts a team can hold at any give time, no team – no matter how flush – could buy all the players.
      Entry drafts are a relic of another century.

    10. Golden Bear
      March 27, 2014 at

      I’m not really sure “tanking” is a thing in the NHL; most of the teams that are bad this year weren’t really ever expecting to be bad (well, Calgary was delusional).

    11. Golden Bear
      March 27, 2014 at

      And as alluded to in your post it’s not really clear how many of the long “rebuilding” sessions were intentional. The teams that seem to be perennial draft contenders all have apathetic or actively harmful ownership – something that can’t be fixed by any draft formula. There hasn’t been an example of NBA-style, balls to the wall (no pun intended) tanking since Mario Lemieux.

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