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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • @peteroiler11

    “Why should the Oilers or the Sabres have better odds of landing McDavid or Eichel than the Chicago Blackhawks or Boston Bruins?”

    Just look at the location. Nobody wants to come to Edmonton if they have NYC or LA to choose from. And that in itself is and always will be a disadvantage.

    Your lottery suggestion would only divide the league more. Bad teams in small markets would struggle for decades. Chances for a team to land 1st overall once in a century would be extremely low. Teams would go bankrupt and look for new location all the time.

    What NHL strives for is stability and current system does just that. Tweaking the lottery, yes. Going to your extreme suggestion, No.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • Marshall Law

    The draft format is fine the way it is.

    To give all teams an equal crack at 1st overall ignores the fact that the salary cap did not make all cities equally desirable to play in.

    Buffalo has a long history of losing its best players to free agency: Hasek, Briere, Drury, etc… The reason being that it isn’t necessarily the most desirable place to live and play.

    The same can be said for the Oilers. Did Pronger leave because of incompetent management or a lack of a competitive team? Nope. It wasn’t even a money issue. He left after the Oilers got to game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals because his wife thought our city was a dump.

    Can anyone remember the last big name free agent that either of these teams was able to sign even when they were competitive? Why do you think they had to pay Nikitin, a third paring d man by any standard, 9 million dollars just to get him to play in Edmonton?

    There are elements at play that competent management cannot compensate for. Suggesting that everyone is now on the same playing field is ignorant.

    Even when these teams lose intentionally, it’s because they have no other way of acquiring elite talent. To remove this “crutch” from them and give a team like Chicago a crack at first overall picks would just cement bad teams in the basement for another decade.

    You have to give the less fortunate teams a chance to eventually compete.

    • everton fc

      Free agents go to winning organizations. The fact that UFAs don’t come to Edmonton has nothing to do with the city. Calgary and Edmonton are not dissimilar, yet the Flames can attract middle of the road UFAs without over paying (e.g. Hudler, Hiller)

      Over the last 10 years, Oilers have been a mediocre team at best, that is why they can’t attract UFAs. Even in 2006, when they made the SCF, the Oilers backed into the playoffs. Both Calgary and Vancouver spent a number of years being the “best” in the division, the Oilers haven’t been the “best” at anything in the last 10 years.

      The Oilers organization lacks vision of what winning hockey means, which is why they are the laughing stock of the NHL. It has nothing to do with the city itself

      • jonnyquixote

        >Free agents go to winning organizations. The fact that UFAs don’t come to Edmonton has nothing to do with the city.

        This actually isn’t true. Not to discount the effect of winning on a team’s ability to draw free agents, but there is a “Yankee” effect – and a strong one – that draws players to larger centers.

        This is due to a number of reasons – lifestyle, travel, prestige, increased endorsement opportunities, and other perks and socio/economic conditions. But the ability to draw free agents has more influence than just money and on-field/ice success, and large-market teams have a distinct and quantifiable advantage over small-market teams. This is true whether or not you’re the Oilers or the Flames or the Brewers or the Packers. It doesn’t mean they can’t sign Free Agents, and we’ve seen that. But it does mean that they’re at a competitive disadvantage.

        People who advocate wiping out the draft and making it just as easy for the 2015 Pittsburgh Penguins to draft Connor McDavid as the Columbus BlueJackets are ignoring or ignorant to this effect (and the whole notion of competitive balance being the lifeblood of a healthy league in the first place).

          • Serious Gord

            Pittsburg definitely is one of the preferred cities in the nhl.

            I have been there numerous times. The suburbs are beautiful, lots of recreation areas and the downtown is largely rejuvenated. A much more desirable city than EDM or wpg and even Toronto. And being in the east with far less travel and very short distances to cities like New York and the Atlantic seaboard.

          • Pittsburgh is a dump. Don’t make ridiculous statements just to disagree with people. It’s a preferred destination for one reason only, the hope of winning. Nobody has ever signed in Pittsburgh because it was their favourite city.

  • Jordan88

    Well I agree with the mentality of not rewarding failure. We really need to take a step back and look at what we offer in comparison to other cities. Edmonton is and I love my city it is my home town and I intend to live here for the majority of my life.

    But there in lies the fault.

    Edmonton has really nothing to offer a 28 year old NHL journeymen in comparison to say Toronto or L.A. or even the teams in Florida. L.A is warm and west coast lots of stars and affluent women to chase. Florida cheap real estate amazing beaches models and anonymity.

    Now look at Edmonton we have what, an art gallery a few swimming pools and a theater. Not much for culture or entertainment. It can snow from Oct to June some years and the roads are so crappy you need a 4×4 of some kind but don’t worry Kentwood will give you an F-150. But don’t go in public or you will be told everything you are doing wrong from every armchair coach/gm/owner in the city.

    at 28 years old you have three teams offering you a contract for 5 years

    Edmonton at 5 million a year,
    Toronto at 4.25 mil
    Florida at 4.5 mil

    Now let me ask you this for an extra 2.5 – 3.75 million over 5 years would you deal with the stresses of what Edmonton has or would you go try your luck in an original six market or have some beach time with Bobby Lou.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • nugeformayor

    Great rant, but that is all it is.

    Next time maybe try to provide an intelligent suggestion as to how to fix the problem. We have enough of us fans blathering on about all that is bad in the universe.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?