While the sport of hockey is wildly entertaining the same cannot be said for the drafting process. The NHL draft will never be as exciting as the NFL draft for one simple reason. Player availability. What does that mean you ask? Well let me explain.
Most players taken in the first round of the NHL draft don’t play in the NHL immediately. There are exceptions but the vast majority of players drafted in the NHL entry draft still have multiple years before they are NHL ready. Including the first round picks. Look at the top rookies competing for the Calder trophy this year in Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes. The pair were drafted in 2017 and 2018 respectively and didn’t see a full year of action until the 2019-2020 season. Technically neither played a full season but that isn’t their fault. Makar and Hughes were both high picks in the first round as well. With Makar being selected 4th in 2017 and Hughes selected 7th in 2018. Despite their high selection neither saw NHL playing time the year they were drafted. Not all that exciting to draft someone at 4th or 7th overall and not seeing them play for a year or more is it?
Okay so some players drafted early don’t play right away. Big deal. Doesn’t mean the draft can’t be fun, right? The thing that makes the NFL draft so much fun though? Watching players immediately contribute to your favorite team next year. You watch the NFL draft because the player your favorite team selects first round could play and help win games immediately. Like Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Ezekiel Elliot and others. But, when your favorite team selects a player in the NHL draft you just hope the pick pans out in the next 2-3 years. Maybe in a year or two the guy will be in the running for the Calder or just contributing but some of the players drafted in the 2020 NHL draft won’t see NHL ice time for a couple of years. If ever.
Same thing can happen in the NFL. A first round pick is actually horrible and their career peters out and the team wasted a pick. The big difference is that fans see the pick play horribly right away. The fans scream and cry about how their team screwed up the draft and it’s gonna be another bad year. Somehow the fans of the NFL are always talking the draft. That’s what makes it entertaining.
Well this year the NHL created a draft system that finally has people talking. The draft hasn’t even happened yet and people are already calling it a disaster. Which is awesome. The reason it’s a disaster is the first overall pick is going to a team that is playing in the playoffs when the season resumes. Friday June 26th the NHL held the draft lottery to award the first three picks of the draft. It wasn’t well publicized and most people would have guessed the Red Wings would get the first pick. Cause they stunk. Boy would you have been wrong. Instead a placeholder team was awarded the first pick. Stupid as hell, hilarious, and decent marketing if you ask me.
The draft itself isn’t any different. Besides the date as it has to come after the season ends. What was different and caused this snafu was the draft lottery. In order to make this mess of a season somewhat fair the NHL has to put 24 teams into the playoffs. Eight teams will be eliminated in the first round with the remaining 16 playing for the Stanley Cup. One of the 8 teams eliminated in the first round will be awarded the first overall pick in 2020. How is a playoff team getting the first pick awesome. Seems unfair, no?
It is a little unfair, but like I’ve said many times on the podcast. No one wanted it this way. Everyone would have preferred if the season wasn’t postponed and the playoffs and draft were just held normally, but that isn’t an option so we’re just going to have to deal with the way the season plays out. It is stupid that a playoff team gets the first pick and it wouldn’t happen in a normal year, but this isn’t a normal year is it?
But what if one of the teams tank in the first round to get the first overall pick? Let’s say just one team does that. They still only have a 1 in 8 shot of getting the first pick. After that they aren’t even eligible to pick in the top 5. So I see that as unlikely. Plus what hockey player is going to blow their chance at a Stanley Cup for a single player? Not many. So don’t worry about the outcome of the draft lottery ruining the intensity of the playoffs.
So how could it be awesome. Well for one, it all but guarantees that the NHL will have to return and finish the season to finish out Phase 2 of the Draft Lottery. Thanks to this hilarious fuck up we’re going to watch summer hockey. Two, it honestly could bring more fans to the sport. Die hard fans will think the situation is stupid and unfair. (They’re not wrong) Some casual fans might think the same. But for some people it will drive curiosity. “How can a playoff team have the first pick? That’s hilarious I gotta see this.” Then they watch some playoff hockey, fall in love with the sport, and BAM. New fans.
Like I said one thing that makes the NFL draft interesting is people are always talking about it. Now people are talking about the NHL draft. Take all the free publicity and talk about how the NHL has to resume now. Hockey fans and non hockey fans alike are desperate for anything remotely close to sports. Tap into that and market the shit out of the NHL playoffs. One of the most watched playoffs is the first round of the Stanley Cup. This year there are essentially two rounds of 16 teams with a couple extra games sprinkled in for good measure. While people are talking how bad the NHL Lottery Draft was hype up how awesome the playoffs to determine that pick AND a champion will be.
Could this have all been handled better? Absolutely. But every sport in the world is doing the best they can with a return to play format. The best they can all hope for is to bring back the old fans and maybe some new ones along the way while being safe and healthy. At least the NHL is having better PR than the MLB right now.
For angry Red Wings fans that felt they deserved the first pick for being so bad, don’t worry. The Avalanche were “guaranteed” the first pick in 2017. They got Cale Makar at fourth instead.