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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

      • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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!

  • Derzie

    I like the idea in principle, however being a little old fashion, I would go to the draft ball system that was used to draft Crosby after the lock out season. 3 balls max, 1 ball minimum.

  • 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?

  • 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

  • Sevenseven

    Your argument saying that teams are trying to lose is so subjective. If a team’s management and players really are bad enough to be the worst team in the league they should get the best player at the draft so they can become stronger.

  • Derzie

    Agree with Jim from Athabasca the odds system should remain but the team closest to the playoffs should have the best odds at number one overall. Dumb luck shouldn’t be the only factor in determining draft order and I don’t think the Stanley cup champs should have equal odds a drafting first. Creating parity through the draft is still part of it though not as important as before.

  • How about a lottery for the bottom half of the NHL in the first round, and the rest based on the current system.

    This ensure that team do not tank, but get a decent pick based on performance.

    Trading away expiring contracts does not seem like a very good idea for the Oilers……..we are not very good in selecting professional players any ways…….it was not too long ago we were trying to sign Clarkson…….I understand he was a UFA but selecting established players is still a gamble.

  • so what your saying Robin is if a team like Pittsburgh got mcdavid for example from this everyone included payroll, then they wouldnt be able to sign him because there payroll is to big, so they would have to trade him straight away
    that includes the first 10 or so NHL teams
    That does not work so well

  • 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.

  • camdog

    League parody is what the NHL is trying to do with this system, also if you want the draft to work that way then there shouldnt be any money eg from the leafs oilers canadian canucks flames going to other teams either (markets that lose money all the time) are still getting money from equalization payments

  • camdog

    A 30 team fight for the number 1 lotto would bankrupt about 6-7 teams in the league. The Oilers are the rare bad team that can generate gate revenue. Imagine poorly managed team with no hope of ever getting better. You’d have to regulate the bad teams to another league like they do in soccer.

    Now you could take all of the non playoff teams and throw them in the hat with equal opportunity. 14 teams with a chance at number one wouldn’t be bad odds for really bad managed teams.

    As to tanking getting a little tired of people pretending the Oilers and Buffalo tanking was planned, that’s giving both organisations way too much credit, it’s like pretending they knew what they were doing.

    • he shoots he scars

      The Oilers had no intention of being this bad. The problem is there is a handful of teams 40 or 50 games into the season (sooner for the truly lousy like the Oilers) who realize they have no chance of making the playoffs and the door opens for the race to be worst.

  • Zarny

    I agree with the gist of the article. There is something fundamentally wrong when losing is the best option.

    I disagree that all 30 teams getting an equal crack at the top prospect is the way to go.

    The handful of wealthy teams can’t outspend the rest anymore, but that doesn’t mean every franchise is on equal footing. Big cosmopolitan cities and warm climates will always draw more interest than places like Edmonton and Buffalo.

    Winning is the only thing that can offset the discrepancy but if you have no way of attracting elite talent you will never win.

    I would prefer a system where all of the non-playoff teams had an equal chance to win the lottery. No one is going to tank to miss the playoffs.

  • vetinari

    I would make a simple rule adjustment– if you pick 1, 2 or 3 in this year’s draft, you cannot pick equal or better than that number in the next draft regardless of your place in that year’s standings. For example, if you get the #2 pick this year, the best you can get with your pick next year is the #3 pick. In the Oilers case, in the three worst years, they would have picked #1, then #2 and then #3 in successive years.

    • T.J.F.M.

      we would be much better if we had picked #2 (Seguin, 2010), #1 (RNH – 2011), #3 (Galchenyuk, 2012).

      That rule would have made us a better team. We might have lucked out in the later rounds with better picks as well, and actually have some depth after 5+ years.

        • T.J.F.M.

          Thats three centre’s. Our NHL calibre centre depth would be respectable, maybe even above average. And certainly a better foundation than what we have now.

          But the main point of my comment was that we might have drafted better depth as well, in later rounds. But who knows. Picking Musil up at 31 or 33 would have been all the same.

  • he shoots he scars

    There are two reasons to maintain the current draft system as a means of helping weaker teams. One is that weaker teams, by virtue of being less competitive, have a more difficult chance to sign free agents. If free agents mostly sign with competitive teams, then the hierarchy will continue. The other is the current scourge of the NHL, the no trade or restricted trade contracts that the top end players are receiving.(perhaps an article on the number of nt or rt contracts would be useful). If most of the elite or semi elite players in the league can veto a trade to a noncontending team, then the weak stay weak and the contenders remain contenders. Thus , two means of getting a weak team better with current NHLers is mostly out of the realms of possibility, so the draft is a place where weaker teams have an opportunity to acquire better talent.

  • I’d actually like to see the whole non playoff section of the draft as randomly ordered one to 14…then the current order based on standings/playoff distance.

    I think number one should still go to a non playoff team. The Kings don’t need a McDavid. The whole idea of the current draft order is to make it easier for teams to compete with the big boys. But I think a random order in one to fourteen keeps teams more honest. Will you tank for a 7th (average pick)? Doubtful.

    I also see no reason to weight this lottery. Equal chance for every pick for all non playoff teams (but of course only pick per round still).

  • he shoots he scars

    Punishing teams for coming in last does nothing to solve the problem, the problem is not with how the league deals with bad teams but how these teams are run themselves. It’s not like a team wants to be a perreniel loser so they can get a high draft pick it just happens. Letting the best teams pick high just leaves them as the best teams. People get up in arms because they get sick of their team losing repeatedly. How about the nhl changes rules on free agency letting players become ufas earlier in their careers or maybe make it easier for smaller market teams to sign better free agents. How this happens is above my pay grade but punishing the bottom feeder teams for losing is surely not the way to fix this.

  • jonnyquixote

    Hey Brownlee. I too would like to see the draft restructured more, I don’t actually have a problem with giving a leg up to a few of the worst teams. I’d also argue there’s a genuine difference between “going younger” and the blatant and shameful tanking that the Sabres are doing and the Oilers did in 2009. Teams typically go through cycles of being good, then losing their edge due to aging and cap management, then a few years of struggling (approaching decades if you’re the Oilers) which teams should be abe to pull out of if they draft and manage their assets well.

    I think assigning the first 5 picks to a universal lottery system, and tweaking the odds so that every team has a similar chance of landing a top 5 would be an adequate measure. If tanking would only guarantee you a 6th overall draft pick, I would argue that would be sufficient to prevent a blatant tank job. It’s a lot harder to find franchise players at 6th overall.