Why should the NHL continue to reward the Edmonton Oilers for on-ice failure and organizational ineptitude by giving them a better chance to select the cream of the crop at the Entry Draft while more successful teams line up behind and wait their turn? It shouldn’t.

I was contemplating the whole greasy, distasteful subject of teams tanking to achieve a better selection in the Entry Draft as the Oilers prepared to face the Buffalo Sabres Thursday – Jason Gregor and I were talking about trading away useful players like Matt Hendricks and Jeff Petry to keep the Oilers in contention in the Connor McDavid-Jack Eichel sweepstakes.

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I dislike the idea of teams being rewarded for losing by having better odds of picking first overall (no matter how it’s weighted) because the idea of playing games should be to win. The reality under the system employed by the NHL, however, is that if the season is a write-off and playoffs are a pipe dream, it makes sense for teams like the Sabres, Oilers, Carolina Hurricanes and Arizona Coyotes to keep losing.

By edging the Sabres 3-2, the Oilers hurt their chances of getting a crack at McDavid or Eichel in the upside-down standings by improving to 35 points. The outcome leaves Edmonton four points ahead of the 30th-place Sabres. Simply put, as a bottom-feeder, winning is bad. Losing is good. There’s something fundamentally wrong with that.

From where I sit, it’s time to change the system and take away any reward for being awful, as the Oilers have been for years on end, turning lack of results into first overall picks Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov. John MacKinnon at the Edmonton Journal wrote about doing exactly that – changing the system — this morning. The story is here. I don’t agree with MacKinnon on much, but I’m with him on this one.

It won’t happen, of course, but it should.

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The NHL has already changed how it weights its lottery system for 2015 and will do so again for 2016. It amounts to nothing more than tinkering with a system that rewards failure. What I’d like to see, as MacKinnon suggested, is the elimination of that in the first round by giving all teams the same odds of drafting first overall regardless of whether they finish 30th or first during the regular season. Thirty balls into the machine, 30 balls out. Equal luck of the draw. In remaining rounds, use the reverse order format.

Worst picking first is a hangover from the pre-salary cap era when a handful of wealthy teams could and often would spend two or three times on player salaries than teams without the same resources. In 2002-03, teams like the New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues, to name just four, spent $60-$70 million, or more, on payroll. 

At the same time, have-nots like the Oilers, Minnesota, Nashville, Columbus and Pittsburgh, to name five, hovered a few million dollars on either side of the $30-million mark. While big-spenders had no guarantee of success, teams who had owners with deep pockets could throw money at mistakes and spend without limits trying to get it right. The have-nots could not and lost players to wealthier teams through free agency. The disparity was huge.

That disparity hasn’t been completely eliminated, but it’s been narrowed considerably by the salary cap and floor that’s in place now. The Red Wings or the Rangers can’t throw twice at much money at payroll as the Oilers and Sabres can. There is not the same need to throw the have-nots a bone at the Entry Draft to “even things up.”

Edmonton owner Daryl Katz can spend to the cap if he chooses. POHO Kevin Lowe, general manager Craig MacTavish and the rest Edmonton’s hockey ops management isn’t handcuffed by lack of money as management under the EIG was before a new CBA came along.

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All Cal Nichols and the EIG wanted was the chance to compete on an even playing field. That came in 2005-06. Why, with the ability to spend as much as any team, should the Oilers of today (or any team) be rewarded for lack of results, for doing a lousy job, with a better chance at picking first overall? Why should the Oilers or the Sabres have better odds of landing McDavid or Eichel than the Chicago Blackhawks or Boston Bruins?



The Oilers have been selling hope instead of results without delivering on their promises since they drafted Hall in 2010. The NHL, though the system in place, has been the enabler. “We’re lousy, but it’s a process. We’re putting the building blocks in place.” Hall, first overall. RNH, first overall. Yakupov, first overall. “Look at these great kids we’ve got. We’ll build around them. Be patient.” That’s been the pitch here, no?

Dangling the possibility of landing the next Eric Lindros or Sidney Crosby, the next “generational player,” as a consolation prize takes some of the edge off the fan base when a season has been a disaster. The upside-down standings create buzz. In Edmonton, it has bought management more time than it deserves with fans and the guy who signs the cheques. Here we are again, barely into 2015, hoping the Oilers are bad enough to hang on to a shot at McDavid or Eichel. It’s time to kick away that crutch.

It’s time for the NHL to stop rewarding failure. Give every team the same odds of getting the first overall pick. Fans shouldn’t be reduced to cheering for losses, they should be cheering for wins knowing that no matter where their team finishes in the standings, they’ve got the exact same odds as any other team of walking to the podium first.

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Management in Edmonton, any city, should stand or fall on its ability to draft well in every round and to develop that talent properly within a farm system. It should stand or fall based on making the right trades and signing the right free agents. It should stand or fall on putting all the pieces together and building a winning team. That means employing the best possible people in hockey ops at all levels – scouts, coaches, support staff, analytics people. Anything less is perverse.

It’s what we have here.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.

  • Serious Gord

    Robin: As a staunch believer in free markets I empathize with your desire for equal treatment in the draft.

    However the nHL is not the free market. It is a monopoly that has franchisees. And like all franchised organizations it is only as reputable in terms of quality as the worst run franchise. IOW it is in the interest of successful macdonalds franchises to have the struggling ones become better otherwise it hurts tha brand and ultimately their own sales and company value. In MacDonald’s case that means succeeding franchises sacrifice earnings to help the struggling ones.

    In the nhl the successful franchises share tv revenues (even though the big markets generate much of it) tilt the draft lottery and in extreme cases write checks directly to the struggling franchise(s).

    So the unbalanced odds in the draft IS defensible.

    What isn’t defensible is the current format for that tilt – it it too much of a sure thing that finishing very poorly guarantees a high pick.

    The format I would prefer is every tema getting at least one ball in the draw barrel with the 30th place team getting 30 balls and the first place team getting one etc.

    Let’s not forget that the nhl is a professional entertainment enterprise. Having all teams with a chance to win the #1 would make for very compelling watching a and all fans could dream of winning the number one and speculate about the consequences. And it would very much disapate the tanking motive – which – as witnessed by this draft where one and perhaps two generational players are up for grabs and a dead last finish guarantees getting at least one of those two now has a team with a 14 game losing streak.

    In a similar vein another thing that needs changing is the ability to buy out players. This clearly gives an advantage to rich teams.

  • Serious Gord

    With 10 games to go in the season the bottom 6 or so teams
    ; depending on distance out of playoffs, should have a separate standings in place, which ever of those teams get the most points out of those games is rewarded the best odds for the lottery, 2nd gets 2nd best odds and so on. This would eliminate teams from packing it in and would give them something to play for, losing would no longer be rewarded.

  • You have to have some system to help weak teams get better. No there is no guarantee they will.

    As many have mentioned bad teams are not attractive to UFA’s so to say Buffalo can attract the same free agent as Chicago is poppycock. Secondly, fans in markets like Buffalo need to sell hope. By dooming them to possibly decades of failure would means fans in many markets would collapse.

    A suggestion though, a mini-playoff of the last 4 playoff teams. Winner gets the first overall pick, The advantage would be two-fold, teams would have reason to stay copetitive and sell a few more tickets. It truly would be the “McDavid Bowl”

  • Zarny


    I tend to agree the league is better served by a degree of parity. The cap helps but it doesn’t create an even playing field.

    I would also prefer to tilt the odds a bit in the draft to compensate, but life isn’t fair. Saying tough sh*t isn’t ignorant.

    I can’t imagine anyone supports the status quo and ultimately the rules are to blame. The best option for bottom feeders is to lose so GMs tank when they get there. Change the rules and they will change how they behave.

  • Deke Rivers

    Stat boys how many free agents have actually accepted less money to go to somewhere other than Edmonton. There’s been a few but it’s not as bad as everyone complains about.

    Everyone can say players want to go to winners but there’s only so many winning teams with job openings. Big names can pick and choose but your other players want a job.

    STOP using our weather and City as an excuse. in reality we’re more affordable, better education system, less snow, more sun, closer to home for many players, lower taxes, a history, a hockey city, etc. Yes California is tempting but the number of openings these cities have is limited. Any player who chooses Florida over any other you don’t want as a player. It snows in Chicago and Minnesota, and Toronto. Actually a lot more than it does here.

    If everyone wants to go to Toronto why don’t they have them?? They don’t because there’s more than an address for the elite players. Old players looking for a last contract will chase an address or cup. The rest just want a job, or at least the majority of them do.

    Players will come if they have a role to play, they can make money to retire, they’ll have a purpose. They are hired talent who’ve followed the job since they were 16.

    What the Oilers lack is an identity and plan. Players know what the Red Wings are, how they play and if there is role for them. The same goes with LA, Chicago, and other winning teams. They know if they’ll contribute to the team, the role they’ll play, and if they will thrive.

    Players don’t have that assurance that in Edmonton they’ll thrive and increase their value. As a commodity that’s what’s important to them. Once we throw out what we have a build a system to demonstrate this we won’t woo any major talent. Every level of the Red Wings organization knows the system, the style, the players, and the vision of the organization. They know what Red Wings hockey means. In the Sather days people knew what Oiler hockey meant. We’ve lost that. Don’t blame the weather. That’s a cop out.

  • Bucknuck

    I agree to a point, but I think any team with a chance at the playoffs has their priorities right (i.e. winning is what they want).

    I think it should be a straight lottery for the teams out of the playoffs. 14 balls in and 14 balls out to see who picks when.

    I hate feeling conflicted when I am cheering for my team to win. It’s stupid.

  • MorningOwl

    the rule should allow only 1 first overall pick to be taken during any rolling five year period, same with a 2nd overall pick, 3rd overall pick, 4th and 5th as well.

  • Zarny

    @Deke Rivers

    Ribeiro, Roy, Jokinene and Grabovski are reported to have taken less to not play in Edmonton. There are certainly others if players like Stastny and Orpik even took MacT’s calls. David Clarkson the year before. The Oilers let Glencross go so they could sign Hossa who took less to play in Chi.

    There is no point trying to pretend “the city” doesn’t play a factor. Edmonton, Winnipeg and Buffalo have consistently been ranked the least desirable destinations since the ’90s.

    You think players making millions are concerned about affordability and the education system? Play a bit of summer league to see how tough going to the rink in flip-flops before a game of golf is.

    Edmonton can offer winning and low taxes. And rabid fans who throw jerseys on the ice. So can the other Canadian teams. The fans not the taxes.

    Otherwise, it’s the northern most city in the NHL and it’s climate reflects this. It’s one of the lesser cosmopolitan cities in the league. It’s in the west so the travel sucks and exposure & notoriety are lower. Those are all factors to varying degrees for every player and none of them work in Edmonton’s favor. It is what it is.

  • Marshall Law

    Robin Teams are measured by Playoff success.

    22 teams do not win a playoff series.

    By your theory!

    Reward the best!

    Lets give the top picks to the top 8.

    Really Buddy!

    • Thanks for the tip about playoffs.

      By my theory . . . Uh, no. I don’t talk anywhere in the item about rewarding the best. Equal odds are equal odds. You missed the point or never bothered to try to get it before commenting.

      And I’m not your buddy.

  • Rockmorton65

    I think The current system could still work, I think you just need to re-jig the numbers a bit. The system currently rewards the 30th place team with the best odds. I think it’s currently about 20%. For some teams the temp Tatian is too high to not want that percentage. Especially in a McEichel type year. I think if you change the percentage, you may lower the temptation.

    I think we should give:
    The bottom 10 teams a 4.5% chance at the first overall pick
    The middle 10 teams a 3.5% chance
    The top 10 teams a 2% chance

    Granted, this may be a little too even. But you could always tweak the numbers a little bit here and there. Bottom teams get the best shot, but no difference between 21 and 30.

  • Ruprecht

    I haven’t read through all of the comments so I don’t know if it’s been mentioned before so here goes.

    Have a cutoff point in the schedule, say with 20-40 games remaining, and for the teams that DO NOT make the playoffs tie their winning percentage during that block to their percentage of chance at winning the lottery.

    Teams that win more get more get a greater percentage, teams that lose get less. Makes for more meaningful hockey all season.

  • Ruprecht

    I think the tanking idea is unavoidable and a bit overblown.

    Without the lottery being held and bad teams be given the best chance…. The Blackhawks would still be a disaster. Their awful season and awful owner finally produced a solid team and an original six member is back to the top. The “generational” talent is a bit overblown because they don’t always produce cups… Winners yes, cups no.

    Two examples: Ovie…. Great talent, but no cups.

    Gretzky … My fav player like many, but once he left Edmonton… No cups.

    Sid won two but he had a lot of help in those wins. I believe teams like Boston and LA are more the norm theses days because they are built on a solid “team” concept from line 1-4 and drafting consistent NHL talent. A good team will beat a team with one star most of the time.

    If you want to tackle a problem…. Try playing hockey in areas that don’t play hockey!!

  • silentbob

    The oilers should have a better chance at landing McDavid then the Hawks because rhey need the improvement more. It’s in no ones best interest for them to remain horrible while teams with talent collect more.

    The system is set up the way it is so that teams have a path back to the top. It’s not a reward for failing its providing opportunity.

  • ted

    Thinking the best way for the top 3 picks should be.

    For the first pick. Bottom 10 teams, worst 5 teams of each conference get an equal 10% chance at no.1

    For the second pick. Bottom 10 teams minus the team that got the first get a 11.1% chance at no.2.

    For the third pick. Worst team of the bottom 10 based on losses not points.

    And then point based finishes for the rest of the draft. That makes things interesting and pointless to tank.

    In fact maybe have all the teams out of the playoffs to have an equal chance of no.1 would be fair. This losers getting rewarded system is dated for sure.

  • Deke Rivers

    I think the 4 wildcard teams, plus all out-of-playoff teams should get equal draw for the first pick (The bottom 16 teams). That way teams on the verge of making (or not making) the playoffs still have incentive to keep winning.

    All it would take is few years in a row with a top 5 team getting the first pick before an uproar from the fans. You gotta give them some hope.