Thoughts on the NHL Draft Lottery

Over at SportsLogos.Net there’s a debate about whether or not the 2005 NHL Entry Draft was rigged to make sure that the Pittsburgh Penguins got Sidney Crosby.

The debate is in the Winter Classic thread (registration required) so rather than clutter that up with off-topic chatter, I figured I’d bring it here.

User capsfan1000 points out the following, from which I’ll work…

# 2002: Ryan Whitney (5th overall)
# 2003: Marc-Andre Fleury (1st overall) (originally pitsburgh had the 3rd pick)
# 2004: Evgeni Malkin (2nd overall)

Those are some low draft poistions. The Penguins should have been in the same position as the Caps (and the Panthers for that matter) and both should have been in the same boat with one draft ball each. But the NHL fixed it so that the Penguins would have three thereby giving Pitssburgh a better chance of drafting Crosby. In that way the NHL did fix the draft.

That’s where my complaint lies, as well, but it’s not that Pittsburgh got Crosby rather the flaw in the draft system.

The league is set up so that continued dominance is supposed to be difficult. Bad teams are rewarded with the opportunity to draft better players while good teams pick later on. The idea being that the better players will make the bad teams better. Meanwhile, the good teams get worse by losing the ability to pick higher. The Rodent calls it the lava lamp. It doesn’t always work that way but that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Now lets look at the Penguins. Three pre-Crosby top-five picks in a row. It’s not any other team’s fault that the Penguins failed to use those picks to get anyone who could immediately help their team. Why should Pittsburgh have gotten yet another shot at a top pick because they chose people who wouldn’t have an immediate impact?

I pick on the Penguins because it’s the example that actually happened. In theory it could be much worse.

Lets say Winnipeg (just to use a team that doesn’t currently exist, so as to not piss off a current fanbase) realizes that they need a massive rebuilding effort and are willing to sacrifice several seasons to do it. They know their fans will pack the arena every night no matter how bad they are, so they bomb a season and get a lottery pick. They pick someone who could have an immediate impact but decide not to sign him. Next season, they do the same thing. The year after that, another bombed season (after all, the draft hasn’t helped them yet since they haven’t signed those players).

After three lottery picks in a row, they finally sign all three of those guys, and they’ve got an entire line of future stars coming in. That first player selected should have helped the Jets, maybe even taking them out of the lottery for the next couple years, but the front office deliberately held out for more lottery picks.

Is that extreme? Absolutely, but I think the idea shows the flaw in the system. I think that after a certain number of lottery picks in a row, a team needs to be told “No, you’ve had your turn, you’re doing something wrong, go to the end of the line and try again.” Whether it’s from front office shenanigans or poor drafting, there has to be a point where enough is enough.

Coming back to Pittsburgh, it means that Whitney and Fleury and Malkin should have been enough. It’s the team’s own fault that they drafted people who either weren’t ready for the NHL or couldn’t be signed. No more do-overs.

Author: Clark Rasmussen

Clark founded the site that would become DetroitHockey.Net in September of 1996 with no idea what it would lead to. He continues to write for the site and executes the site's design and development.