STOP REWARDING FAILURE

Failure

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.

EQUAL OPPORTUNITY

EqualOpportunity

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.

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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?

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SELL RESULTS

Results

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.

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.

  • everton fc

    Yaaaaaaaaaaaay!!! My favorite article since I started coming to this site!!

    In life and in business, you don’t reward losers.. it creates an environment of entitlement, and punishes those that work hard.

  • Athabascajim

    A good way to “reward” non- playoff teams and still keep things on the level would be to reverse the percentages so the team that finishes 17 th has the best chance at # 1 overall and the team that finishes 30th has the worst odds. This would keep everyone competing until the last game. No one is going to tank to finish 17th for the first pick and miss the payoff that play off games provide. Keep this order for all 7 rounds too.

    • yeah, but that doesn’t help the teams that are simply bad, but not deliberately tanking. It doesn’t help the teams that have players quit halfway through the season because their wife is unhappy, or because their parents stole their money. This idea suggests that the worst teams in the league are bad because they deliberately chose to tank.

      • he shoots he scars

        The “idea,” as you put it, does nothing of the sort. Even odds in the first round don’t reward failure, period. Doesn’t matter if it’s deliberate or not.

        • if teams developed their own players from youth hockey, this draft issue is totally irrelevant. The best way to ensure teams are not rewarded for failure is to eliminate the draft altogether, and force teams to implement a youth academy, where they develop their own players from an early age. It certainly works well in european football.

      • Derzie

        In an ideal world only the needy would get the top picks, and then they would become competitive. Unfortunately, the oilers alone ruin the idea that drafting first helps a team.

        • so what? the oilers have been bad…really bad since 2010. Drafting 1st overall hasn’t helped them. There’s no argument to be made here. All that has happened is that the oilers drafted players who are incapable of making the team any better. they didn’t make the Oilers better. they wouldn’t have made anyone else better either. they haven’t been rewarded for being bad. They’re just a bad team that got first dibs on getting players who as it turns out aren’t really all that good.

          • There is no way in hell any other team in the league would be as bad as the oilers with 3 number 1 picks.

            If the oilers can’t figure out how to stop getting worse after even 2 first overalls, then they should not be allowed to screw any other teams out of picking number one.

          • Why wouldn’t any other team be that bad? Atlanta had many high draft picks and were never any good. The islanders….didn’t draft #1 overall very often but they drafted in the top 5 regularly and it took them 15 years to get back to respectability. Maybe it just happens that the 3 years in a row that Edmonton drafted 1st overall, those players weren’t really very good anyway.

    • Zarny

      I doubt any team is actually tanking. Management may make decisions that make the team worse, but to think that there is a concerted effort to loose games is nonsense. Individual players, coaches have too much to loose.

      The frustration from my end and Oiler fans, in general – I think – is the fact we have not chosen the proper players as top picks. Combined with, not surrounding those players with competent role players (vets) has been puzzling. Ideally based on our record over the past 10 years we should be a playoff team. All those top picks have ended up not meeting expectations. Even the beloved RNH has not lived up to the hype, yet he is the best we have…

      Watching the Islanders ORG succeed offers both hope and frustration as to where we should be/are at…

      Anyway things will change for the better.

  • T.J.F.M.

    Unless the Oilers draft first overall they should trade their 2 first round picks for actual NHL players. Give Hall Eberle RNH some support

    I am tired of waiting for the 18 year olds to mature. By the time any of these 2 first round picks become NHL players Hall, Eberle, RNH will be more or less gone

    I will get trashed for this so trash away

    • Burnward

      I’m not so sure why so many people still want to build around this “core” group of players of RNH, Eberle, and Hall. To my eye, Eberle and Hall seem more like the problem on most nights than the solution. If word on the street counts for anything, they are not the poster boys some seem to want to think, and they are not the team solidarians in the locker room. Hearsay??

      • Oil Fan in Ottawa

        This is basically what Hemsky when he left a year ago, the “core” has to start leading the team.

        An old saying in any sport is “your best players have to be you best players”. How many nights does the HNHE line outplay the guys across form them?

  • Athabascajim

    It’d be interesting to see a model of pure free agency. A good team doesn’t necessarily have an advantage because they have less opportunity. Bad teams need to get better to attract talent. Not sure it’s perfect, but would it be any worse?

    The reason the draft came to be was to prevent Montreal and Toronto from getting all the good players from Canada. Now that it’s a global sport, is this an issue?

  • Derzie

    Great idea having the first round be an equal opportunity lottery. I’d add one twist in that you can’t pick first or last (30th) in the first round 2 years in a row. Win the lotto in 2015? Best you can do is 2nd in 2016.

  • Friesenhan

    What do you guys think of this idea: the team with the most points who misses the playoffs gets first pick. No lottery. 2nd most points out of the playoffs, 2nd pick, right down the line to the worst team in the NHL getting the 14th pick. The playoff teams keep the same format as they currently have after those 14 picks. This way, teams out of the playoffs will still play like it matters to win. Rewards should be given for effort, not pooping the bed.

  • KDazzler

    Hi Newbie Here:

    Always thought that the NHL misses out on a loser tournament that could re-seat the teams missing the playoffs to determine number 1 to 16. Have a 2 game total point (home and home). We get some playoff hockey and tanking isn’t an option!

  • bored

    I’ve always felt that the draft order should be determined by the final standings, but in reverse. Ie, the team that finishes 17th overall gets the first pick overall, 18th second, etc.

    Why not? This is the order of teams that lost in the worst ways, and it should prevent a meaningless game from ever again happening in the NHL.

    You’re welcome Mr. Bettman.

  • jonnyquixote

    Any team suspected of tanking should be punished after a defined definition is in place. A punishment could be something like a life time ban for the owner and management group. Cheating is Cheating.!

  • maybe teams should just own their own junior teams, and develop their prospects that way instead. You know, they way the European football leagues do it. The right way to run a league. Relegation for bad teams, the best team in the league wins the league, and teams have to develop their own players, and buy and sell them like commodities.

    Or…stop whining and stop making the accusation that the Oilers have been rewarded for being bad. If they had been rewarded, they wouldn’t be a bad team anymore. It’s a totally false argument. Giving the worst team in the league better odds for drafting first overall doesn’t make them a better team. It would be more of a reward if the NHL said the worst team in the league was automatically awarded the best veteran, yet still NHL capable free agent top line center or first pair defenseman available during the summer. That’s a reward for failure…not drafting first overall. Anyway, where was this argument 10 years ago when pittsburgh was drafting 1st or 2nd overall for a few years? Why is it an issue now that it’s Edmonton?

  • I’m telling you all, the best way to make a bad team better is to force all the best available UFA’s to sign for that team for low dollars and short term. Drafting players doesn’t make you better until 3 or 4 years down the road, but signing top quality NHL capable UFA’s can make a team better overnight. Of course, any team with impending free agents would simply sign them up before the season is over.

  • silentbob

    Best thing to for the nhl is parity. I think it’s fair to say Arizona, Edmonton and Buffalo are nowhere near as good as an other team. This isn’t a real open market like uofa. Unless we want a massive divide in talent, the draft has to reward bad teams. I don’t like how the structure is laid out now. If la misses by 1 pt, do they deserve mcdavid?

    Bottom three teams are usually worse by a mile, and not trying to fix that is stupid. This isn’t the open cap era, the nhl decided It wanted a liberal type market where parity exists. I think you are forgetting that the oil thought they could make the playoffs. This team is BAD, not tanking. If ever a franchise needed a hand to recover, it’s this one.

    • Derzie

      The trouble is teams are bad for several reasons. If a team is truly weak but well run, they deserve a player to help them along. Buffalo & Edmonton are not that. Edmonton is poorly run with some decent players and Buffalo is being coached to lose with some decent players. Neither deserves McDavid. Arizona may be an example. No real stars (than than Domi in the wings). With random first round, the top 2 or 3 will be lucky to win. The rest will be rewarded if they have a good scouting staff and development system with whatever pick they get.

      • sportsjunkie007

        I don’t care why teams are bad. The nhl stands to make the most money if parity exists. If Buffalo is tanking, punish them. If oilers management is retarded, force katz’s hand. The nhl is essentially 1 company, not a free market. The don’t benefit from weakening teams. They need to keep all teams competitive so that they have the biggest possible audience. While I hate the oilers coming last year after year, not giving the 1OV is hurting the nhl. Edmonton isn’t going to rebuild faster because DSL doesn’t get 1ov. I would suggest they interfere with bad teams more, to address the reasons why they are bad.

          • he shoots he scars

            But it’s in their best interest. Edmonton and Buffalo are decreasing the nhl’s value in terms of merchandise sales, tv deals, exposure, ect.

          • do you think the Rogers tv deal would have been better if edmonton was a better team? it just means some other team would have been in 30th place instead. there’s always going to be a couple of lousy teams in the league…might as well be lousy teams that are still well supported. i don’t think Edmonton being terrible for 4 years has impacted the NHL’s bottom line.

  • Prongers Promises

    Love it. Absolutely love it. There is no selling hope for next year. Its do or die every damn year!

    The fans would be at the throats of management and proper action would need to be taken

  • sportsjunkie007

    Anybody who is serious about fixing the draft should read Adam Gold’s “How to Cure Tanking” http://www.sloansportsconference.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Gold-Adam-HowToCureTanking1.pdf

    The short version? As soon as a team is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, points collected from winning count towards winning the highest draft pick. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s worlds better than what we have today.

    Every game should matter. Every win should count for something. Losing should NEVER be a good thing. Adam Gold’s system would help that. A lot.

      • sportsjunkie007

        Good luck finding 23 players who are willing to lose by choice AND good enough to win games the day after they are eliminated.

        Makes me wonder: if they are good enough to win after eliminated, why not simply win enough to get into the playoffs?

    • wiseguy

      That system has been bandied around for a few years. The big issue I see is that it still provides incentive to tank. The points don’t start adding up until you’re mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Neither the oilers or Sabres are eliminated yet. It would result in the same situation except that the race is to be first to playoff elimination then you have the most games to collect points. Yes, you may have dismantled your team so much that you can’t win after being eliminated but I see ways around that. For example, playing nikitin and Schultz 25 min a game and trading away petry now would get us eliminated quickly. You then bring up marincin to replace petry and then playing fayne, klefbom and ference 20+ minutes, benching nikitin and playing Schultz just on the power play would result in more wins post-elimination.

      Long and short is that for tanking, where there’s a will there will be a way unless we make it totally random and on chance.

      • your argument suggests that signing guys like Nikitin, Schultz, Marincin, Ference, Klefbom and Fayne indicates a deliberate intention to tank! if the NHL wants to prevent teams from deliberately tanking, then it should prevent teams from signing, or drafting non-NHL capable players.