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 firstname.lastname@example.org