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.



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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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.

  • CMG30

    Normally I’m with you on a lot of things Brownlee, but not in this case.

    I agree that it’s shameful of the Oilers to STILL be a miserable failure, but I think that’s more of a product of the Edmonton market than anything else. How many other markets would put up with this? Not many. If the fans disagree with the tank then they should stop supporting the team.

    Beyond that I think that there are legit reasons to keep the system the way it is. Namely, to ensure the talent continues to be spread around to some degree. Sure we can complain about the Oilers grabbing #1’s, but how would fans league wide feel if the Stanley cup winning team also walked away with McDavid? Not good for business. Next, losing teams still have a hard time signing free agents. They want to go to a winner and will take a discount to get there.

    Finally, Playing the tank game will eventually backfire on the Oilers or any other team that tries it too much. At a certain point, the RNH’s and the Halls will get sick of the losing and sign somewhere else. At that point they will walk onto a true contender in the prime of their career and the Oilers will be left holding the bag for a decade of stupidity.

  • 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.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I’m starting to concur with this line of thinking, Robin. Oilers management have abused the ‘shiney new toy’ and ‘selling hope’ angle to such a degree that it now makes the whole strategy look cheap. Its the easy way to build a team. Hey, let’s be terrible for a decade, sell hope to our dopey fans, and we can keep our jobs the whole time!!!

    Who needs the first overall pick, anyway. Look at Sean Monahan; he’s looking to be just as good as RNH. Ryan Johanson was picked 4th in the Hall draft; would the Oil be worse off if they ended up with him? Trouba is looking like the best of the bunch in 2012; he went 9th overall.

  • nugeformayor

    I really enjoy reading 99% of the articles you write (big fan); but this is by far the most ignorant one that you’ve ever written. It totally ignores the reality of advantages that some cities hold over others in the league like tax rates, weather/climate, lifestyle, ability for privacy, etc.

    But most of all, you’re system gives little hope for bad teams in disadvantaged markets to ever improve and truely be competitive. How do these teams ever actually become good again without being extremely lucky?

    – If they try to improve by overpaying for good players in free agency, they are essentially shooting themselves in the foot because it will have longterm cap ramifications.

    – If they try to improve themselves through the draft, you are essentially asking the scouts of bad teams to be smarter than the professional scouts of 29 other teams… because under your system, where you pick is 100% random. Is that really fair to the fans in disadvantaged cities? …”Your only hope to improve is if our teams scouting staff is supreamely better than the rest of the league, AND if the ping pong balls randomly fall our way for a stretch.” (It is common knowledge that in roulette there are sometimes bad stretches for people and good stretches. Is luck how you want to decide who improves and who gets worse? …Because you know that if you’re system was implemented, there would be some stretches where a great team gets picks in the top 5 for 2 out of 3 years, or a really bad team gets picks in the 25-30 range 2 out of 3 years. Any person with a brain can see how that could cripple a franchise for almost decade, or make a team elite for almost decade based on nothing but luck. When you consider the snowball effect that could have on a franchise (good or bad), the disparity in the league could have devastating effects.

    – If you’re asking a bad team to improve by developing its players well, that takes a long time… And for that to really work, that bad team doesn’t just have to be “good” at developing players, they have to be better than everyone else at it.

    Seriously, you are not asking disadvantaged cities and/or bad teams to be “good” at drafting, developing, trading, and acquiring free agents… You are asking disadvantaged cities and bad teams to be “better than everyone else” at drafting, developing, trading, and acquiring free agents year after year after year after year to be a legit contender for any stretch of time.

    Sorry Buffalo, Edmonton, Carolina, Arizona. We know that you’re a bad team right now, and that you may be at a disadvantage retaining and acquiring good players… But be better than everyone else every year at EVERYTHIN, and hope the balls fall your way for a stretch… And I’m sure things will turn around for ya eventually.”

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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

    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.

  • 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!

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I’m not so sure it matters how they handle the draft. The NHLs own version of Socialism. Someone’s going to be crying foul. I don’t care how or why they get McDavid, I just want to see a competitive team in town again. Beg, borrow or even steal Connor if you have to. Screw what’s fair, all I care about is Edmonton.

    Not everyone is going to agree on how it should be done. There’s just too many teams and not enough talent to go around. Still believe more than 25% of the players in this league are AHL’ers. Watered down hockey at NHL prices. Not just the draft should be scrutinized. Oilersnation appears to be watering things down somewhat as well. 7 Brownlee articles a month instead of 10 is a step backwards.

  • toprightcorner

    In a perfect world a 30 team lottery would work, but the NHL is far from perfect. Worst teams have been picking first since the dawn of the league but if you look at any 10 year span, for the most part the same 10 teams are the worst 10, the top 10 teams stay in the top ten and so on.

    Why is this? Simple, teams are not equal in talent with each other at the beginning of the season and 1 player does not turn around a poor team, it takes many player changes to do that and as the Oilers have proven, only a few mistakes in a 10 year time frame and you have to start all over again. Good teams do not have to win every trade and succeed in every draft pick, a few mistakes are covered up as long as their trades average out as equal and they make the odd good draft pick they can remain strong.

    The only way this proposed system would work if the entire league redrafted their players like a fantasy draft so each team would start off as equal in talent as possible.

    If any of the top 5 teams in the league won the lottery and got McDavid, that team would separate themselves from the rest and that gap is too difficult to make up.

    Sure I hate the tank to get a better pick but it can’t always be equal opportunity either if you want to improve equality.

    That’s why a family that earns $100,000 a year doesn’t receive any child tax credits or GST rebate cheques, its just wrong and unfortunately Robin, in this circumstance so are you.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Jordan88

    There are 7 Canadian-based NHL teams. There are. 23 American-based teams and the next two expansion franchises are likely to be somewhere south of the 49th. They will likely go to non-hockey sunbelt cities which Canadian teams will likely end up supporting. The way things are going you take a poor performing organization and drivie it deeper into the mire.

    We supply the majority of NHL talent and Canafian teams are taxed so Arizona and Florida ‘et al’ can damn near give their tickets away while Canadian fans pay through the nose. That is fair on your planet? Rather than punish the fans the league and sponsors should be kicking some corporate asses.

  • 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

  • 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).

    • Jordan88

      1 game knockout series would certainly generate non playoff teams some extra revenue. Maybe just have all non playoff teams having equal chance at the top 5 picks.

  • Oil Fan in Ottawa

    Excuse me Mr. Brownlee but why didn’t you write this artice during the fall for Hall?

    Are you seriously angered by Calgary selling off Bouwmeester, Iginla etc.. and dropping for Bennett, or are you mad that the Oilers have been crummy for so long?

    The system works just fine. Nobody remembers Pitt selecting 5th, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd in consecutive years these days.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Don’t have to work for Deloitte & Touche to predict neither the Oilers nor the Sabres will get McDavid.
    Bettman’s Phoenix experiment needs a lifeline.
    Toronto’s 100th anniversary needs something better than the current s///show.
    Comcast Flyers could use a boost.
    The NHL can’t risk letting its latest hype-job being buried in the obscurity of the Oilers.
    And to reward the most shameful, blatant, egregious bail in the history of the NHL by rewarding the Sabres? No way. The NHL didn’t change the lottery rules just to throw it all away on a random assortment of lottery balls.

    • Serious Gord

      The draft guarantees at least the number two to buffalo and the number three to EDM regardless of who wins the draw (even if it’s by hook or by crook) and the #2 maybe even better than the number one.

  • Congo Powerarm

    Good article, I agree that failure should not be rewarded, much like it is not rewarded elsewhere in society but then this article only has relevance because of the Oilers.

    What I mean is, the current draft system assumes that when a team finishes last or next to last and drafts first overall, that at the same time, ownership will take the necessary steps and remove the management (and coaches) that presided over that failure forcing them to own their failure. If this happens the team itself and their fans are rewarded by being able to draft a potentially eilte player whilst those responsible are held accountable.

    The problem is that the system doesn’t account for teams like the Oilers who’s ownership simply refuses to remove incompetent management.

    • ted

      I actually like this, if a team finishes last, the owner has to fire the POHO (or whoever the person in charge is after the owner), surely that person will bring in a GM & coach that he believes in.

      A team that refuses to fire the POHO, doesn’t get the first overall pick.
      It is the next best thing to relegation.

      never happen, i know.

  • 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.

  • Jordan88

    Wow! What a brilliant idea now that the Oilers got their hands on 3 Top Picks and a Possibility of a 4th this year!

    Would you like the idea as much if the change was made for THIS years NHL Draft – All teams get a crack at McDavid?

    A fine idea for the Oilers to have the NHL make the change NEXT year…I doubt that this has ANY support from any of the perennial bottom feeders.

    AS stated elsewhere, if you don’t support your top drafts by great finds in later rounds, a team will be in the slow lane to success as we have found out!

    • Yes. I would like the idea as much — not that it’s perfect — if it was put in place for the 2015. I doubt it’ll ever happen, like I said off the top.

      If you followed along even a little bit, you’d know I’m the last person to suggest this because I’m somehow rooting for the Oilers — they got their picks already, so change the system to prevent anybody else from doing the same.

      I detest that this management group has been able to sell hope — it obviously hasn’t panned out — under a system that makes it possible to stockpile first overall picks based on weighted odds that reward failure. It’s bought them time they don’t deserve despite their failures in so many other areas.

      • Burnward

        Maybe we should look at it as a reward for fans.

        It’s not their fault that their team is saddled with incompetent management. If it wasn’t for that hope, what would be left?