Four no. 1 overall picks in the past six years have gone to the Edmonton Oilers. Never before had an NHL team had the first overall pick more than three times in six years. Never before has there been more proof that the NHL’s current draft system is broken and needs to change.
The NHL has tried to fix the problem in the past, but things haven’t exactly gone to plan. At first, the league tried to get rid of “tanking” by taking a page out of the NBA’s rule book and introducing the lottery system. In return, however, this brought about unfavorable results to the teams that had more of a rightful claim to the first overall pick then others. This year presents a perfect example of such a situation. The Edmonton Oilers were rewarded due to the incompetence of their management, as opposed to teams such as Arizona or Columbus, who finished at the bottom of the standings due to injuries and below-average performances from below-average players.
How can the NHL format the draft while ensuring parity, and at the same time discourage tanking? It is a daunting and difficult task.
However, there may be a way to avoid some of the problems associated with the draft. This could be done by getting rid of the entry draft entirely .
Instead of holding a draft, the NHL could shift over to a system similar to soccer’s, whereas the players have the ability to choose their destinations. In order to make this work, a number of steps would have to be taken.
Step 1: Since there would no longer be a draft, the idea of a specific order would have to be abolished. Each team would be allowed to sign seven entry-level players each year. Players would not be required to sign with any teams – they are free to sign with whomever is interested in them. These seven “picks” could still be traded between teams for current players and assets, but each pick would be worth the same.
Step 2: In order to ensure that a single team does not sign all of the top prospects, entry-level contracts would be divided into different tiers.
For example, if the Dallas Stars wanted to sign Connor McDavid, and their agreed-upon salary was $10 million, the Stars would be required to sign McDavid for 12 years (or however many years were agreed upon league-wide for a player of his level).
If the Stars wanted to sign a player who would normally go in the seventh round of the draft (a less-skilled player) for five $500,000, they would only be required to sign that player to a three-year deal (or however many years the league agreed upon prior to the season).
Step 3: How would the league office be able to stop the top teams from signing all of the top prospects?
In order to prevent this situation from happening, teams that do not qualify for the playoffs would be granted an exclusive period to sign their seven new entry-level players.
This period would be a predetermined time, perhaps sometime during the Playoffs. This way, teams that finished at the bottom of the standings would still have the ability to attempt to sign top talent.
While this system may not be perfect, I do believe that it is the best solution to the current problems with the NHL Entry Draft system. Not only would it prevent tanking, while at the same time ensuring parity, but it would also give players the ability to have some choice in their future, as opposed to being forced to play for a losing team with poor management.
[Photo via Canadian Press]