NHL Draft Lottery: Proposing a Drastic Change Where Everyone Wins – Eventually

NHL Draft Lottery: Proposing a Drastic Change Where Everyone Wins – Eventually

Connor Bedard

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

OK, first thing’s first: this is a column with a bold idea for a contentious hockey topic. You’re going to be challenged to view the issue through a different prism, so buckle up. We’re proposing something significantly different, and significant change always brings pushback. We don’t mind that at all. This will offer a creative theoretical alternative to a longtime NHL process, and if all it does is show you that there’s another process that could benefit you and your particular fan base, that’s good enough for us.

So, here it is – our radical change for the NHL entry draft. The essence of the idea is the extension of Oprah Winfrey’s famous “You get a car! You get a car! You get a car!” famous giveaway. Only, in this case, every NHL team gets a No. 1 overall draft pick. 

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It will take a while for many teams to get the first pick of the draft, but, over the next three decades, in our plan for the top pick of the draft, each NHL franchise will eventually get its chance at the best player available.

Here’s how it would work: Let’s say we start this new draft process in 2026 when all teams still possess their first-round pick. This process would necessitate the banning of trading first-rounders from 2026 on. 

While that might seem like a shock to the system to some fans and hockey people, that would actually save NHL GMs from themselves. Up until now, they’ve continued to burn first-round picks on players who aren’t difference-makers (see Tanner Jeannot in Tampa Bay this spring). An embargo on trading first-rounders would be a paradigm shift but a necessary one once you consider what we’re about to suggest next – a process that guarantees every franchise gets to pick first overall, sooner or later, over three decades.

That’s right – over the course of the next 32 years, in our proposal, every NHL team would get the opportunity to pick first in one draft down the line. And this is how we get there: 

– The first draft of this new process would give every team a 1-in-32 chance to win the top spot in a new draft lottery. There would be even odds for every team to win it.

– The team that wins the 2026 NHL draft lottery subsequently would no longer be able to select first overall for the next 31 years. And accordingly, in 2027, each remaining team would have a one-in-31 chance to pick first, and that team would then not be able to pick first overall for the following 30 years. 

– The process would continue until every team in the league over the next 30 years eventually gets the right to pick first overall.

If that sounds drastic, that’s because it is. And while detractors of this concept might say that it’s unfair to prevent all teams from having a shot at a No. 1 pick for all but one year in 32 years, we would counter-argue that the NHL’s current draft process is set up such that any one team could miss out on the top pick for the rest of time. There is no assurance at present that a team will win the draft, and there is every possibility teams will win multiple drafts in short periods of time (see Oilers, Edmonton) or in a five-year period as the current rules state.

By having every team win the No. 1 pick once, you’re guaranteeing some degree of satisfaction for every fan base, sooner or later. This feels fairer than the current system. This would also shut down tanking for the top pick, and eliminating that method of achieving draft success is something many people would be interested in. If a team needs to rebuild, they can still get a player with potential, just not the top player unless they win the lottery. Unless there’s another draft with a Connor McDavid and a Jack Eichel, the urge to tank isn’t as high.

When every team has an equal shot at the first pick, it doesn’t matter if you’re the league-leading Boston Bruins or the league-worst Anaheim Ducks – either one of you, or any other team for that matter, could win the next draft. And if you don’t win the draft, you can rest assured your chances of winning the top pick will improve the following season and every subsequent year until you finally win it. There is light for every team at the end of this proposed tunnel.

Now, we have to point out that some draft classes might not have franchise-savior players available to them in the year any one team was chosen to take the first-overall pick. That’s where random chance plays a role in this method of deciding the top choice. You can’t pick the draft class you get the first pick from. And sometimes, teams are going to make the wrong choice when they do get the No. 1 pick; they might wind up drafting a Nail Yakupov or Patrik Stefan and wind up regretting it for a very long time. But that’s the challenge. If you screw up the No. 1 pick, that’s on you and not the draft process.

What would happen to the draft after the first-overall pick was decided in this new manner? That’s a good question. Perhaps the league reverts to the overall regular season record of teams and awards the second spot to the worst team in the league that year. Or maybe you hold another draft lottery with the remaining 31 teams and decide via ping-pong balls who will get each of the, say, first 10 picks in the first round before you revert to league standings for the remaining 22 picks.

You can say this proposed system makes it difficult to draft a truly elite player when your competitive cycle really needs one, and the wait for that player could be more than three decades. That’s true, but let’s look at the Detroit Red Wings, for example. They haven’t had the No. 1 pick since 1986 – 37 years ago. Similarly, the Winnipeg Jets/Arizona Coyotes franchise hasn’t had the top pick since 1981 – 42 years ago. And the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars organization hasn’t had the first-overall pick since 1988 – 35 years ago.

In addition, the Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, Los Angeles Kings (who did win one of the first draft lotteries in 1967), Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Philadelphia Flyers (whose only draft lottery win was in 1975), San Jose Sharks, Seattle Kraken, Vancouver Canucks, and Vegas Golden Knights have not won the lottery in the Modern Era. 

This new proposal would change all that. It might take two dozen years or more, but that’s a better wait than the current draft process, where you have no guarantee you’ll ever get the first-overall pick.

Handing out the top pick to every NHL franchise over a 32-year process is a much fairer way of distributing the sport’s top talents than the present-day draft method. It might have some drawbacks of its own, but at the end of the day, you’re talking about giving every team’s GM one big swing at the plate. After that, it’s all about a team’s drafting and development units, whose jobs of sifting through each draft class and plucking out talent that will thrive at the NHL level would be as important as ever.

That process wouldn’t change in this new drafting concept. Scouting will still matter. There will be draft classes where the No. 1 pick could be one of three or four top young players, and teams will have to take an educated guess on the first-overall pick. There are still going to be the same philosophical differences that lead teams to take a chance on one top player rather than another.

What would change in this proposed drafting process is the knowledge that, at one point or another, your team is going to get an infusion of elite young talent at the very top of the draft, and with that infusion, a boost in hope that your team will benefit from a decade or longer of that elite young talent. That’s important to fans who have to invest years and years of support in any given franchise. Getting the first-overall pick would make a difference in ticket sales and on-ice expectations, which is of course what you want as a team and as a business.

No draft process is perfect. If you were the team that went 31 years without drafting first overall in our suggested process, you’d probably be dissatisfied that it took that long for you to land the top pick. But at the very least, you would get a shot at landing a foundational, generational talent with the first-overall pick at some point. That’s what this suggested process is all about.

We’re interested in spreading the game’s best young talent as equally as possible throughout every team in the league, and handing out one top pick every 32 years to each NHL franchise achieves that goal. In our eyes, it’s a drastic improvement on the current system. Here’s hoping the NHL recognizes there’s a better way to distribute generational talent than the way they currently do. 

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