NHL changes draft lottery rules, which should work nicely for the Oilers

Steve Tambellini (2)

There was no shortage of jokes on Wednesday that the NHL’s fancy new draft lottery rules were a direct result of the Oilers’ unmatched ability to land No. 1 picks.

That’s debatable. What isn’t debatable is that the timing of the change could not possibly be better for Edmonton.

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The New Lottery Rules

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The NHL unveiled a two-year plan that will see the chances of a really bad team coming away with the first overall pick fall significantly. The full explanation is here, but we can sum it up shortly in two bullet points:

  • In 2014, there was a 58 percent chance that a team ranked 28th or lower in the NHL would pick first overall. In 2015 that falls to 45 percent, meaning that more than half the time we should expect to see a team outside the bottom three pick first overall.
  • In 2016, another change kicks in: lotteries for the first, second and third overall picks, meaning that the worst team in the NHL is not guaranteed a pick higher than fourth overall.

On the whole, the new rule changes are good; they make tanking less appealing because the incentive to fall from 12th to 14th in the West is much smaller and teams tend to respond to incentives.

I’d still rather see the league employ Adam Gold’s system – which would reward teams for winning by awarding the first overall pick to the team with the most points after it was eliminated from the playoffs (bad teams would have more games to pick up points, but would still have incentive to keep winning) – because it’s much more exciting for a fan of a terrible team.

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On the other hand, Gold’s system would put a major damper on the trade deadline, and the fix the league has settled on should help significantly.

What it means for Edmonton

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My belief – given the team’s summer moves and its collection of young talent – is that the Oilers are close to turning the corner and putting some space between themselves and the bottom of the league. I’m not talking about the playoffs (the situation at centre is far too uncertain) but I am talking about passing two or three (or maybe even four!) teams in the Western standings.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that such a belief is justified. If so, these new rules came in at a perfect time for Edmonton; they’ll be moving out of the worst positions in the league standings just as those positions become less valuable.

Also beneficial to the Oilers: the changes aren’t likely to help the Calgary Flames, a team that looks like a plausible basement dweller for the next few seasons. 

More importantly, both for the Oilers and for teams around the NHL, it makes being a team on the playoff bubble much easier.

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For years, Edmonton was just bad enough to be in the fight for a playoff spot to the bitter end but never make headway up the standings while simultaneously being just good enough to never get a shot at the elite talent at the top of the draft. Starting in 2016, a team like that will have a legitimate (if not overwhelming) shot at a top-three pick; they won’t have to make the agonizing choice between trying to improve or tearing down and starting anew.

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