Hockey is the greatest sport in the world, but that doesn’t meant the way the league is run can’t be improved. Like all matters of life, there is knowledge to be gained by learning from your rivals/competitors. In this series of articles I will be discussing things the NHL can learn from the other major sports leagues in America. The premise behind these articles will be that sports are supposed to be fun, and other leagues do things that add to the enjoyment of following the league. The NHL should consider ways to improve their product by making it more fun. First, let’s look at something the NBA does far better than the NHL: The Lottery.
The NHL draft lottery…let’s just be honest: it sucks. There is at best only a modicum of drama, and once we see which one team is out of place we know the order of the of the draft. When the New Jersey Devils won the draft lottery in 2011 they moved up 4 spots in the draft, and that was that. Drama over. Congrats Devils fans…you moved up from #8 to #4.
Let’s compare this to the drama and fun of the NBA lottery. In the NHL you can move up four whole spots. Sure, if you’re the 5th worst team this is nice, but what if you’re the Calgary Flames? You tried to make the playoffs…obviously you didn’t tank, but you barely missed. Then, you luck into the draft lottery with a 0.5% (that’s 1 in 200) chance of winning, and your reward is the 10th overall pick instead of the 14th overall pick. Yay? In the NBA three teams win in the lottery, and no matter where you finished in the lottery standings, if you win the lottery you’re picking first, second or third. The drama lasts long after we see which teams have won because there are three teams, and to those “winners” go the top three picks. Everyone in the lottery knows they have a chance of drafting a franchise player, which spreads the wealth more evenly around the league and further discourages tanking. While the difference between choosing 10th and 14th is marginal, the difference between 1 and 4 is a lot greater than dropping from 1st to 2nd.
The Devils were lucky to have Adam Larsson fall to #4, but if the lottery is meant as a deterrent to tanking, shouldn’t winning the lottery give you the #1 pick? Shouldn’t there be multiple lottery winners, which would further discourage tanking? In the NBA the worst team is guaranteed at worst the 4th overall pick, which is a whole lot worse than the 2nd overall pick. In the NHL, the worst team is guaranteed at worst to pick second, so there’s far less deterrent to tanking.
As we learned with the Sixers, it’s way more fun to realize you’ve won and then sit there holding your breath to see if you’re picking first, second, or third, and who else has won, figuring out your odds, than to win and learn you’ve moved from 8th to 4th, or something equally as innocuous. I hate basketball and even I can admit that the NBA’s method is just more fun, and sports are supposed to be about fun.
NHL, this is your chance to make it up to your fans. You’ve fucked us again with another lockout, at least take a moment in CBA negotiations to fix something that can obviously be improved and shouldn’t meet any resistance from the union. Let’s make the lottery more fun and improve its function as a way to deter tanking at the same time.