STOP REWARDING FAILURE

Failure

Why should the NHL continue to reward the Edmonton Oilers for on-ice failure and organizational ineptitude by giving them a better chance to select the cream of the crop at the Entry Draft while more successful teams line up behind and wait their turn? It shouldn’t.

I was contemplating the whole greasy, distasteful subject of teams tanking to achieve a better selection in the Entry Draft as the Oilers prepared to face the Buffalo Sabres Thursday – Jason Gregor and I were talking about trading away useful players like Matt Hendricks and Jeff Petry to keep the Oilers in contention in the Connor McDavid-Jack Eichel sweepstakes.

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I dislike the idea of teams being rewarded for losing by having better odds of picking first overall (no matter how it’s weighted) because the idea of playing games should be to win. The reality under the system employed by the NHL, however, is that if the season is a write-off and playoffs are a pipe dream, it makes sense for teams like the Sabres, Oilers, Carolina Hurricanes and Arizona Coyotes to keep losing.

By edging the Sabres 3-2, the Oilers hurt their chances of getting a crack at McDavid or Eichel in the upside-down standings by improving to 35 points. The outcome leaves Edmonton four points ahead of the 30th-place Sabres. Simply put, as a bottom-feeder, winning is bad. Losing is good. There’s something fundamentally wrong with that.

From where I sit, it’s time to change the system and take away any reward for being awful, as the Oilers have been for years on end, turning lack of results into first overall picks Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov. John MacKinnon at the Edmonton Journal wrote about doing exactly that – changing the system — this morning. The story is here. I don’t agree with MacKinnon on much, but I’m with him on this one.

It won’t happen, of course, but it should.

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EQUAL OPPORTUNITY

EqualOpportunity

The NHL has already changed how it weights its lottery system for 2015 and will do so again for 2016. It amounts to nothing more than tinkering with a system that rewards failure. What I’d like to see, as MacKinnon suggested, is the elimination of that in the first round by giving all teams the same odds of drafting first overall regardless of whether they finish 30th or first during the regular season. Thirty balls into the machine, 30 balls out. Equal luck of the draw. In remaining rounds, use the reverse order format.

Worst picking first is a hangover from the pre-salary cap era when a handful of wealthy teams could and often would spend two or three times on player salaries than teams without the same resources. In 2002-03, teams like the New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues, to name just four, spent $60-$70 million, or more, on payroll. 

At the same time, have-nots like the Oilers, Minnesota, Nashville, Columbus and Pittsburgh, to name five, hovered a few million dollars on either side of the $30-million mark. While big-spenders had no guarantee of success, teams who had owners with deep pockets could throw money at mistakes and spend without limits trying to get it right. The have-nots could not and lost players to wealthier teams through free agency. The disparity was huge.

That disparity hasn’t been completely eliminated, but it’s been narrowed considerably by the salary cap and floor that’s in place now. The Red Wings or the Rangers can’t throw twice at much money at payroll as the Oilers and Sabres can. There is not the same need to throw the have-nots a bone at the Entry Draft to “even things up.”

Edmonton owner Daryl Katz can spend to the cap if he chooses. POHO Kevin Lowe, general manager Craig MacTavish and the rest Edmonton’s hockey ops management isn’t handcuffed by lack of money as management under the EIG was before a new CBA came along.

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All Cal Nichols and the EIG wanted was the chance to compete on an even playing field. That came in 2005-06. Why, with the ability to spend as much as any team, should the Oilers of today (or any team) be rewarded for lack of results, for doing a lousy job, with a better chance at picking first overall? Why should the Oilers or the Sabres have better odds of landing McDavid or Eichel than the Chicago Blackhawks or Boston Bruins?

SELL RESULTS

Results

The Oilers have been selling hope instead of results without delivering on their promises since they drafted Hall in 2010. The NHL, though the system in place, has been the enabler. “We’re lousy, but it’s a process. We’re putting the building blocks in place.” Hall, first overall. RNH, first overall. Yakupov, first overall. “Look at these great kids we’ve got. We’ll build around them. Be patient.” That’s been the pitch here, no?

Dangling the possibility of landing the next Eric Lindros or Sidney Crosby, the next “generational player,” as a consolation prize takes some of the edge off the fan base when a season has been a disaster. The upside-down standings create buzz. In Edmonton, it has bought management more time than it deserves with fans and the guy who signs the cheques. Here we are again, barely into 2015, hoping the Oilers are bad enough to hang on to a shot at McDavid or Eichel. It’s time to kick away that crutch.

It’s time for the NHL to stop rewarding failure. Give every team the same odds of getting the first overall pick. Fans shouldn’t be reduced to cheering for losses, they should be cheering for wins knowing that no matter where their team finishes in the standings, they’ve got the exact same odds as any other team of walking to the podium first.

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Management in Edmonton, any city, should stand or fall on its ability to draft well in every round and to develop that talent properly within a farm system. It should stand or fall based on making the right trades and signing the right free agents. It should stand or fall on putting all the pieces together and building a winning team. That means employing the best possible people in hockey ops at all levels – scouts, coaches, support staff, analytics people. Anything less is perverse.

It’s what we have here.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.


  • Bucknuck

    Yaaaaaaaaaaaay!!! My favorite article since I started coming to this site!!

    In life and in business, you don’t reward losers.. it creates an environment of entitlement, and punishes those that work hard.

  • Marshall Law

    The draft format is fine the way it is.

    To give all teams an equal crack at 1st overall ignores the fact that the salary cap did not make all cities equally desirable to play in.

    Buffalo has a long history of losing its best players to free agency: Hasek, Briere, Drury, etc… The reason being that it isn’t necessarily the most desirable place to live and play.

    The same can be said for the Oilers. Did Pronger leave because of incompetent management or a lack of a competitive team? Nope. It wasn’t even a money issue. He left after the Oilers got to game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals because his wife thought our city was a dump.

    Can anyone remember the last big name free agent that either of these teams was able to sign even when they were competitive? Why do you think they had to pay Nikitin, a third paring d man by any standard, 9 million dollars just to get him to play in Edmonton?

    There are elements at play that competent management cannot compensate for. Suggesting that everyone is now on the same playing field is ignorant.

    Even when these teams lose intentionally, it’s because they have no other way of acquiring elite talent. To remove this “crutch” from them and give a team like Chicago a crack at first overall picks would just cement bad teams in the basement for another decade.

    You have to give the less fortunate teams a chance to eventually compete.

    • Bucknuck

      Free agents go to winning organizations. The fact that UFAs don’t come to Edmonton has nothing to do with the city. Calgary and Edmonton are not dissimilar, yet the Flames can attract middle of the road UFAs without over paying (e.g. Hudler, Hiller)

      Over the last 10 years, Oilers have been a mediocre team at best, that is why they can’t attract UFAs. Even in 2006, when they made the SCF, the Oilers backed into the playoffs. Both Calgary and Vancouver spent a number of years being the “best” in the division, the Oilers haven’t been the “best” at anything in the last 10 years.

      The Oilers organization lacks vision of what winning hockey means, which is why they are the laughing stock of the NHL. It has nothing to do with the city itself

      • jonnyquixote

        >Free agents go to winning organizations. The fact that UFAs don’t come to Edmonton has nothing to do with the city.

        This actually isn’t true. Not to discount the effect of winning on a team’s ability to draw free agents, but there is a “Yankee” effect – and a strong one – that draws players to larger centers.

        This is due to a number of reasons – lifestyle, travel, prestige, increased endorsement opportunities, and other perks and socio/economic conditions. But the ability to draw free agents has more influence than just money and on-field/ice success, and large-market teams have a distinct and quantifiable advantage over small-market teams. This is true whether or not you’re the Oilers or the Flames or the Brewers or the Packers. It doesn’t mean they can’t sign Free Agents, and we’ve seen that. But it does mean that they’re at a competitive disadvantage.

        People who advocate wiping out the draft and making it just as easy for the 2015 Pittsburgh Penguins to draft Connor McDavid as the Columbus BlueJackets are ignoring or ignorant to this effect (and the whole notion of competitive balance being the lifeblood of a healthy league in the first place).

          • Serious Gord

            Pittsburg definitely is one of the preferred cities in the nhl.

            I have been there numerous times. The suburbs are beautiful, lots of recreation areas and the downtown is largely rejuvenated. A much more desirable city than EDM or wpg and even Toronto. And being in the east with far less travel and very short distances to cities like New York and the Atlantic seaboard.

          • Pittsburgh is a dump. Don’t make ridiculous statements just to disagree with people. It’s a preferred destination for one reason only, the hope of winning. Nobody has ever signed in Pittsburgh because it was their favourite city.

  • sportsjunkie007

    Anybody who is serious about fixing the draft should read Adam Gold’s “How to Cure Tanking” http://www.sloansportsconference.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Gold-Adam-HowToCureTanking1.pdf

    The short version? As soon as a team is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, points collected from winning count towards winning the highest draft pick. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s worlds better than what we have today.

    Every game should matter. Every win should count for something. Losing should NEVER be a good thing. Adam Gold’s system would help that. A lot.

      • sportsjunkie007

        Good luck finding 23 players who are willing to lose by choice AND good enough to win games the day after they are eliminated.

        Makes me wonder: if they are good enough to win after eliminated, why not simply win enough to get into the playoffs?

    • wiseguy

      That system has been bandied around for a few years. The big issue I see is that it still provides incentive to tank. The points don’t start adding up until you’re mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Neither the oilers or Sabres are eliminated yet. It would result in the same situation except that the race is to be first to playoff elimination then you have the most games to collect points. Yes, you may have dismantled your team so much that you can’t win after being eliminated but I see ways around that. For example, playing nikitin and Schultz 25 min a game and trading away petry now would get us eliminated quickly. You then bring up marincin to replace petry and then playing fayne, klefbom and ference 20+ minutes, benching nikitin and playing Schultz just on the power play would result in more wins post-elimination.

      Long and short is that for tanking, where there’s a will there will be a way unless we make it totally random and on chance.

      • your argument suggests that signing guys like Nikitin, Schultz, Marincin, Ference, Klefbom and Fayne indicates a deliberate intention to tank! if the NHL wants to prevent teams from deliberately tanking, then it should prevent teams from signing, or drafting non-NHL capable players.

  • silentbob

    Best thing to for the nhl is parity. I think it’s fair to say Arizona, Edmonton and Buffalo are nowhere near as good as an other team. This isn’t a real open market like uofa. Unless we want a massive divide in talent, the draft has to reward bad teams. I don’t like how the structure is laid out now. If la misses by 1 pt, do they deserve mcdavid?

    Bottom three teams are usually worse by a mile, and not trying to fix that is stupid. This isn’t the open cap era, the nhl decided It wanted a liberal type market where parity exists. I think you are forgetting that the oil thought they could make the playoffs. This team is BAD, not tanking. If ever a franchise needed a hand to recover, it’s this one.

    • Derzie

      The trouble is teams are bad for several reasons. If a team is truly weak but well run, they deserve a player to help them along. Buffalo & Edmonton are not that. Edmonton is poorly run with some decent players and Buffalo is being coached to lose with some decent players. Neither deserves McDavid. Arizona may be an example. No real stars (than than Domi in the wings). With random first round, the top 2 or 3 will be lucky to win. The rest will be rewarded if they have a good scouting staff and development system with whatever pick they get.

      • sportsjunkie007

        I don’t care why teams are bad. The nhl stands to make the most money if parity exists. If Buffalo is tanking, punish them. If oilers management is retarded, force katz’s hand. The nhl is essentially 1 company, not a free market. The don’t benefit from weakening teams. They need to keep all teams competitive so that they have the biggest possible audience. While I hate the oilers coming last year after year, not giving the 1OV is hurting the nhl. Edmonton isn’t going to rebuild faster because DSL doesn’t get 1ov. I would suggest they interfere with bad teams more, to address the reasons why they are bad.

          • he shoots he scars

            But it’s in their best interest. Edmonton and Buffalo are decreasing the nhl’s value in terms of merchandise sales, tv deals, exposure, ect.

          • do you think the Rogers tv deal would have been better if edmonton was a better team? it just means some other team would have been in 30th place instead. there’s always going to be a couple of lousy teams in the league…might as well be lousy teams that are still well supported. i don’t think Edmonton being terrible for 4 years has impacted the NHL’s bottom line.

  • T.J.F.M.

    Unless the Oilers draft first overall they should trade their 2 first round picks for actual NHL players. Give Hall Eberle RNH some support

    I am tired of waiting for the 18 year olds to mature. By the time any of these 2 first round picks become NHL players Hall, Eberle, RNH will be more or less gone

    I will get trashed for this so trash away

    • Burnward

      I’m not so sure why so many people still want to build around this “core” group of players of RNH, Eberle, and Hall. To my eye, Eberle and Hall seem more like the problem on most nights than the solution. If word on the street counts for anything, they are not the poster boys some seem to want to think, and they are not the team solidarians in the locker room. Hearsay??

      • Oil Fan in Ottawa

        This is basically what Hemsky when he left a year ago, the “core” has to start leading the team.

        An old saying in any sport is “your best players have to be you best players”. How many nights does the HNHE line outplay the guys across form them?