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Fresh Changes To NHL Draft Format Will Discourage Tanking

Sean Hartnett

Sean Hartnett has covered the New York Rangers and the NHL for WFAN.com since 2011. He has covered two Stanley Cup Finals. Sean now contributes to XNSports’ NHL and general sports coverage. He devotes far too much of his free time watching Simpsons and Seinfeld reruns. Sean can be reached via Twitter @HartnettHockey.
Gary Bettman
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman addresses the crowd before the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center. Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday, the NHL announced major changes to its draft format. The NHL will progressively change its lottery system for the 2015 and 2016 drafts in an effort to prevent tanking.

Starting in 2015, the ten highest-finishing non-playoff teams will see increased chances of landing the first overall pick. Meanwhile, the four-lowest finishing teams will have worse odds of gaining the number one pick.

Ahead of the 2015 NHL Draft, the team that finishes with the lowest points total will have a 20 percent chance, down from 25. The second-lowest team’s odds will fall to 13.5 down from 18.8, the third-lowest franchise will see their odds cut to 11.5 down from 14.2 and the fourth-lowest team will have a 9.5 percent chance, down from 10.7.

According to a press release sent by the league, these changes to the draft format have been made to “reflect the current state of competitive balance in the league.”

The release read:

“The odds of winning the first overall selection in the NHL Draft for the 14 non-Playoff teams will be adjusted to more appropriately reflect the current state of competitive balance in the League. This will result in a more evenly-balanced allocation of odds, with the 10 highest-finishing non-Playoff qualifying teams receiving higher (better) Draft Lottery odds than they received previously and the four lowest-finishing teams receiving lower (worse) odds. The revised set of odds will remain in effect year-to-year in the future.”

These changes to the format have come just in time to discourage teams from adopting strategies to secure either of two highly-coveted super prospects in 2015.

Ahead of the 2015 draft, there’s plenty of incentive for struggling teams to tank the season. Erie Otters center Connor McDavid will be eligible for the 2015 draft, and is considered a rare gem capable of being a franchise cornerstone for decades. Boston University’s Jack Eichel is another highly-desirable center eligible for the 2015 draft. Eichel could push McDavid hard for the right to be the first overall selection.

The desire for teams to land McDavid or Eichel could have seen teams willingly tank the 2014-15 season similar to the 1983-84 Pittsburgh Penguins, who did everything possible to secure the number one spot in the 1984 draft to select all-time great Mario Lemieux.

Beginning in 2016, the draft format will further modified. Three separate drawings will be held to determine the top three picks in the 2016 draft. The worst-finishing team will no longer be guaranteed at worst the second overall selection. The team finishing with the lowest points total could fall as low as fourth overall.

In 2016, the remaining 11 non-playoff teams will be assigned selections four through 14 based on regular season point totals from lowest to highest.

Back in 1984, the Penguins pulled every trick possible to guarantee themselves the number one overall pick. They began dismantling their roster. Eventually, Pittsburgh general manager Eddie Johnston traded key defenseman Randy Carlyle to the Winnipeg Jets for a first-round pick and future considerations one day before the 1984 trade deadline.

Carlyle had served as Pittsburgh’s captain from 1981 to 1984, and had won the Norris Trophy in 1981 as the league’s top defenseman.

1983-84 Penguins head coach Lou Angotti admitted in the TSN documentary “Playing to Lose,” that he had made a number of unusual coaching decisions.

“We were coaching not to win,” Angotti said in the documentary. “I will never deny that. I put my fourth-line players out against the other team’s first-line players. Whenever we got a penalty, I put players on the ice that normally – you wouldn’t put them out there to kill a penalty.”

In the documentary, Angotti recalled a furious Johnston walking into his office in a game where the Penguins led the New York Rangers 3-1 at the end of the first period.

Angotti said: “Eddie came into the coach’s office and said to me – ‘What the hell’s going on? We’re going to blow this whole deal.’”

Johnston denied such an incident took place.

“I wouldn’t tell anybody that,” Johnston said in the documentary. “That would be cheating the fans. You don’t do that. It will come back and haunt you – if you do stuff like that.”

The Penguins went on to win only three of their 21 remaining games. Pittsburgh would fall below the New Jersey Devils in standings, finishing three points below New Jersey for the worst overall record in the 1983-84 season.

Lemieux proved to be the savior of Penguins. Back then, the lowly Penguins were drawing an average of 6,000 fans a game. Had the Pittsburgh not secured the number overall pick and taken “Super Mario” in the 1984 draft, the franchise would have been forced to relocate.

With the new draft format starting in 2015, the league may have prevented tanking from happening again.