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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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?



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.

  • Zarny

    I agree with the gist of the article. There is something fundamentally wrong when losing is the best option.

    I disagree that all 30 teams getting an equal crack at the top prospect is the way to go.

    The handful of wealthy teams can’t outspend the rest anymore, but that doesn’t mean every franchise is on equal footing. Big cosmopolitan cities and warm climates will always draw more interest than places like Edmonton and Buffalo.

    Winning is the only thing that can offset the discrepancy but if you have no way of attracting elite talent you will never win.

    I would prefer a system where all of the non-playoff teams had an equal chance to win the lottery. No one is going to tank to miss the playoffs.

  • he shoots he scars

    Punishing teams for coming in last does nothing to solve the problem, the problem is not with how the league deals with bad teams but how these teams are run themselves. It’s not like a team wants to be a perreniel loser so they can get a high draft pick it just happens. Letting the best teams pick high just leaves them as the best teams. People get up in arms because they get sick of their team losing repeatedly. How about the nhl changes rules on free agency letting players become ufas earlier in their careers or maybe make it easier for smaller market teams to sign better free agents. How this happens is above my pay grade but punishing the bottom feeder teams for losing is surely not the way to fix this.

  • jonnyquixote

    Hey Brownlee. I too would like to see the draft restructured more, I don’t actually have a problem with giving a leg up to a few of the worst teams. I’d also argue there’s a genuine difference between “going younger” and the blatant and shameful tanking that the Sabres are doing and the Oilers did in 2009. Teams typically go through cycles of being good, then losing their edge due to aging and cap management, then a few years of struggling (approaching decades if you’re the Oilers) which teams should be abe to pull out of if they draft and manage their assets well.

    I think assigning the first 5 picks to a universal lottery system, and tweaking the odds so that every team has a similar chance of landing a top 5 would be an adequate measure. If tanking would only guarantee you a 6th overall draft pick, I would argue that would be sufficient to prevent a blatant tank job. It’s a lot harder to find franchise players at 6th overall.

  • CMG30

    Normally I’m with you on a lot of things Brownlee, but not in this case.

    I agree that it’s shameful of the Oilers to STILL be a miserable failure, but I think that’s more of a product of the Edmonton market than anything else. How many other markets would put up with this? Not many. If the fans disagree with the tank then they should stop supporting the team.

    Beyond that I think that there are legit reasons to keep the system the way it is. Namely, to ensure the talent continues to be spread around to some degree. Sure we can complain about the Oilers grabbing #1’s, but how would fans league wide feel if the Stanley cup winning team also walked away with McDavid? Not good for business. Next, losing teams still have a hard time signing free agents. They want to go to a winner and will take a discount to get there.

    Finally, Playing the tank game will eventually backfire on the Oilers or any other team that tries it too much. At a certain point, the RNH’s and the Halls will get sick of the losing and sign somewhere else. At that point they will walk onto a true contender in the prime of their career and the Oilers will be left holding the bag for a decade of stupidity.

  • Jordan88

    Wow! What a brilliant idea now that the Oilers got their hands on 3 Top Picks and a Possibility of a 4th this year!

    Would you like the idea as much if the change was made for THIS years NHL Draft – All teams get a crack at McDavid?

    A fine idea for the Oilers to have the NHL make the change NEXT year…I doubt that this has ANY support from any of the perennial bottom feeders.

    AS stated elsewhere, if you don’t support your top drafts by great finds in later rounds, a team will be in the slow lane to success as we have found out!

    • Yes. I would like the idea as much — not that it’s perfect — if it was put in place for the 2015. I doubt it’ll ever happen, like I said off the top.

      If you followed along even a little bit, you’d know I’m the last person to suggest this because I’m somehow rooting for the Oilers — they got their picks already, so change the system to prevent anybody else from doing the same.

      I detest that this management group has been able to sell hope — it obviously hasn’t panned out — under a system that makes it possible to stockpile first overall picks based on weighted odds that reward failure. It’s bought them time they don’t deserve despite their failures in so many other areas.

      • Burnward

        Maybe we should look at it as a reward for fans.

        It’s not their fault that their team is saddled with incompetent management. If it wasn’t for that hope, what would be left?

  • Congo Powerarm

    Good article, I agree that failure should not be rewarded, much like it is not rewarded elsewhere in society but then this article only has relevance because of the Oilers.

    What I mean is, the current draft system assumes that when a team finishes last or next to last and drafts first overall, that at the same time, ownership will take the necessary steps and remove the management (and coaches) that presided over that failure forcing them to own their failure. If this happens the team itself and their fans are rewarded by being able to draft a potentially eilte player whilst those responsible are held accountable.

    The problem is that the system doesn’t account for teams like the Oilers who’s ownership simply refuses to remove incompetent management.

    • ted

      I actually like this, if a team finishes last, the owner has to fire the POHO (or whoever the person in charge is after the owner), surely that person will bring in a GM & coach that he believes in.

      A team that refuses to fire the POHO, doesn’t get the first overall pick.
      It is the next best thing to relegation.

      never happen, i know.

  • nugeformayor

    I really enjoy reading 99% of the articles you write (big fan); but this is by far the most ignorant one that you’ve ever written. It totally ignores the reality of advantages that some cities hold over others in the league like tax rates, weather/climate, lifestyle, ability for privacy, etc.

    But most of all, you’re system gives little hope for bad teams in disadvantaged markets to ever improve and truely be competitive. How do these teams ever actually become good again without being extremely lucky?

    – If they try to improve by overpaying for good players in free agency, they are essentially shooting themselves in the foot because it will have longterm cap ramifications.

    – If they try to improve themselves through the draft, you are essentially asking the scouts of bad teams to be smarter than the professional scouts of 29 other teams… because under your system, where you pick is 100% random. Is that really fair to the fans in disadvantaged cities? …”Your only hope to improve is if our teams scouting staff is supreamely better than the rest of the league, AND if the ping pong balls randomly fall our way for a stretch.” (It is common knowledge that in roulette there are sometimes bad stretches for people and good stretches. Is luck how you want to decide who improves and who gets worse? …Because you know that if you’re system was implemented, there would be some stretches where a great team gets picks in the top 5 for 2 out of 3 years, or a really bad team gets picks in the 25-30 range 2 out of 3 years. Any person with a brain can see how that could cripple a franchise for almost decade, or make a team elite for almost decade based on nothing but luck. When you consider the snowball effect that could have on a franchise (good or bad), the disparity in the league could have devastating effects.

    – If you’re asking a bad team to improve by developing its players well, that takes a long time… And for that to really work, that bad team doesn’t just have to be “good” at developing players, they have to be better than everyone else at it.

    Seriously, you are not asking disadvantaged cities and/or bad teams to be “good” at drafting, developing, trading, and acquiring free agents… You are asking disadvantaged cities and bad teams to be “better than everyone else” at drafting, developing, trading, and acquiring free agents year after year after year after year to be a legit contender for any stretch of time.

    Sorry Buffalo, Edmonton, Carolina, Arizona. We know that you’re a bad team right now, and that you may be at a disadvantage retaining and acquiring good players… But be better than everyone else every year at EVERYTHIN, and hope the balls fall your way for a stretch… And I’m sure things will turn around for ya eventually.”

  • You have to have some system to help weak teams get better. No there is no guarantee they will.

    As many have mentioned bad teams are not attractive to UFA’s so to say Buffalo can attract the same free agent as Chicago is poppycock. Secondly, fans in markets like Buffalo need to sell hope. By dooming them to possibly decades of failure would means fans in many markets would collapse.

    A suggestion though, a mini-playoff of the last 4 playoff teams. Winner gets the first overall pick, The advantage would be two-fold, teams would have reason to stay copetitive and sell a few more tickets. It truly would be the “McDavid Bowl”

  • Zarny


    I tend to agree the league is better served by a degree of parity. The cap helps but it doesn’t create an even playing field.

    I would also prefer to tilt the odds a bit in the draft to compensate, but life isn’t fair. Saying tough sh*t isn’t ignorant.

    I can’t imagine anyone supports the status quo and ultimately the rules are to blame. The best option for bottom feeders is to lose so GMs tank when they get there. Change the rules and they will change how they behave.

  • Deke Rivers

    Stat boys how many free agents have actually accepted less money to go to somewhere other than Edmonton. There’s been a few but it’s not as bad as everyone complains about.

    Everyone can say players want to go to winners but there’s only so many winning teams with job openings. Big names can pick and choose but your other players want a job.

    STOP using our weather and City as an excuse. in reality we’re more affordable, better education system, less snow, more sun, closer to home for many players, lower taxes, a history, a hockey city, etc. Yes California is tempting but the number of openings these cities have is limited. Any player who chooses Florida over any other you don’t want as a player. It snows in Chicago and Minnesota, and Toronto. Actually a lot more than it does here.

    If everyone wants to go to Toronto why don’t they have them?? They don’t because there’s more than an address for the elite players. Old players looking for a last contract will chase an address or cup. The rest just want a job, or at least the majority of them do.

    Players will come if they have a role to play, they can make money to retire, they’ll have a purpose. They are hired talent who’ve followed the job since they were 16.

    What the Oilers lack is an identity and plan. Players know what the Red Wings are, how they play and if there is role for them. The same goes with LA, Chicago, and other winning teams. They know if they’ll contribute to the team, the role they’ll play, and if they will thrive.

    Players don’t have that assurance that in Edmonton they’ll thrive and increase their value. As a commodity that’s what’s important to them. Once we throw out what we have a build a system to demonstrate this we won’t woo any major talent. Every level of the Red Wings organization knows the system, the style, the players, and the vision of the organization. They know what Red Wings hockey means. In the Sather days people knew what Oiler hockey meant. We’ve lost that. Don’t blame the weather. That’s a cop out.

  • Zarny

    @Deke Rivers

    Ribeiro, Roy, Jokinene and Grabovski are reported to have taken less to not play in Edmonton. There are certainly others if players like Stastny and Orpik even took MacT’s calls. David Clarkson the year before. The Oilers let Glencross go so they could sign Hossa who took less to play in Chi.

    There is no point trying to pretend “the city” doesn’t play a factor. Edmonton, Winnipeg and Buffalo have consistently been ranked the least desirable destinations since the ’90s.

    You think players making millions are concerned about affordability and the education system? Play a bit of summer league to see how tough going to the rink in flip-flops before a game of golf is.

    Edmonton can offer winning and low taxes. And rabid fans who throw jerseys on the ice. So can the other Canadian teams. The fans not the taxes.

    Otherwise, it’s the northern most city in the NHL and it’s climate reflects this. It’s one of the lesser cosmopolitan cities in the league. It’s in the west so the travel sucks and exposure & notoriety are lower. Those are all factors to varying degrees for every player and none of them work in Edmonton’s favor. It is what it is.

  • Ruprecht

    I think the tanking idea is unavoidable and a bit overblown.

    Without the lottery being held and bad teams be given the best chance…. The Blackhawks would still be a disaster. Their awful season and awful owner finally produced a solid team and an original six member is back to the top. The “generational” talent is a bit overblown because they don’t always produce cups… Winners yes, cups no.

    Two examples: Ovie…. Great talent, but no cups.

    Gretzky … My fav player like many, but once he left Edmonton… No cups.

    Sid won two but he had a lot of help in those wins. I believe teams like Boston and LA are more the norm theses days because they are built on a solid “team” concept from line 1-4 and drafting consistent NHL talent. A good team will beat a team with one star most of the time.

    If you want to tackle a problem…. Try playing hockey in areas that don’t play hockey!!

  • silentbob

    The oilers should have a better chance at landing McDavid then the Hawks because rhey need the improvement more. It’s in no ones best interest for them to remain horrible while teams with talent collect more.

    The system is set up the way it is so that teams have a path back to the top. It’s not a reward for failing its providing opportunity.

  • Derzie

    Agree with Jim from Athabasca the odds system should remain but the team closest to the playoffs should have the best odds at number one overall. Dumb luck shouldn’t be the only factor in determining draft order and I don’t think the Stanley cup champs should have equal odds a drafting first. Creating parity through the draft is still part of it though not as important as before.

  • How about a lottery for the bottom half of the NHL in the first round, and the rest based on the current system.

    This ensure that team do not tank, but get a decent pick based on performance.

    Trading away expiring contracts does not seem like a very good idea for the Oilers……..we are not very good in selecting professional players any ways…….it was not too long ago we were trying to sign Clarkson…….I understand he was a UFA but selecting established players is still a gamble.

  • bored

    The topic of this article is a very “Oiler” topic, I doubt if this is even a afterthought any where else. The bass ackward logic of further penalizing weak teams by denying them better entry draft odds defies logic. I get the impression that “piling on” anything negative about the Oil strikes a cord at the moment.

    • bradleypi

      Completely agree. How in this system does a bad team ever get better?? Totally agree that this is the only site that is talking about this subject and actually thinking it’s a good idea…. I believe the real reward in hockey is the Stanley Cup. If a 1st overall pick is such a “reward”, why doesn’t every team strive for it? The system is fine the way it is. The Oilers are a prime example that getting this “reward” doesn’t guarantee anything at all.

  • Jordan88

    There are 7 Canadian-based NHL teams. There are. 23 American-based teams and the next two expansion franchises are likely to be somewhere south of the 49th. They will likely go to non-hockey sunbelt cities which Canadian teams will likely end up supporting. The way things are going you take a poor performing organization and drivie it deeper into the mire.

    We supply the majority of NHL talent and Canafian teams are taxed so Arizona and Florida ‘et al’ can damn near give their tickets away while Canadian fans pay through the nose. That is fair on your planet? Rather than punish the fans the league and sponsors should be kicking some corporate asses.

  • Butters

    Please let me know when a reporter in this town suggests to Craig MacTavish that the draft rules be changed to prevent teams from intentionally tanking just like the Oilers did. That will be interesting.

    I am not the biggest fan of MacTavish’s GM work, but he has integrity. The Oiles won a meaningless game against the Flames which put the Oilers out of the lottery the year Patrick Kane was drafted.

  • MorningOwl

    the rule should allow only 1 first overall pick to be taken during any rolling five year period, same with a 2nd overall pick, 3rd overall pick, 4th and 5th as well.

  • Ruprecht

    I haven’t read through all of the comments so I don’t know if it’s been mentioned before so here goes.

    Have a cutoff point in the schedule, say with 20-40 games remaining, and for the teams that DO NOT make the playoffs tie their winning percentage during that block to their percentage of chance at winning the lottery.

    Teams that win more get more get a greater percentage, teams that lose get less. Makes for more meaningful hockey all season.

  • he shoots he scars

    There are two reasons to maintain the current draft system as a means of helping weaker teams. One is that weaker teams, by virtue of being less competitive, have a more difficult chance to sign free agents. If free agents mostly sign with competitive teams, then the hierarchy will continue. The other is the current scourge of the NHL, the no trade or restricted trade contracts that the top end players are receiving.(perhaps an article on the number of nt or rt contracts would be useful). If most of the elite or semi elite players in the league can veto a trade to a noncontending team, then the weak stay weak and the contenders remain contenders. Thus , two means of getting a weak team better with current NHLers is mostly out of the realms of possibility, so the draft is a place where weaker teams have an opportunity to acquire better talent.

  • I’d actually like to see the whole non playoff section of the draft as randomly ordered one to 14…then the current order based on standings/playoff distance.

    I think number one should still go to a non playoff team. The Kings don’t need a McDavid. The whole idea of the current draft order is to make it easier for teams to compete with the big boys. But I think a random order in one to fourteen keeps teams more honest. Will you tank for a 7th (average pick)? Doubtful.

    I also see no reason to weight this lottery. Equal chance for every pick for all non playoff teams (but of course only pick per round still).

  • Oil Fan in Ottawa

    For a long time I hoped I could get this idea out. Havn’t read all posts so I home it is not a duplicate. The nhl can give the worst team the first pick and still only reward wins.
    How it can work is by tracking points from wins after a team has been mathimatically eliminated from the playoffs.
    So if your team is terrible and eliminated first you will have the most chances to collect draft points but you will still need to win games. Every team plays hard to not get eliminated and late season runs for a spoiler team might give you a mcdavid for your troubles.

    There it is nation. Tell the world. A reason to win every game and bad teams will getbetter picks.

  • Serious Gord

    Robin: As a staunch believer in free markets I empathize with your desire for equal treatment in the draft.

    However the nHL is not the free market. It is a monopoly that has franchisees. And like all franchised organizations it is only as reputable in terms of quality as the worst run franchise. IOW it is in the interest of successful macdonalds franchises to have the struggling ones become better otherwise it hurts tha brand and ultimately their own sales and company value. In MacDonald’s case that means succeeding franchises sacrifice earnings to help the struggling ones.

    In the nhl the successful franchises share tv revenues (even though the big markets generate much of it) tilt the draft lottery and in extreme cases write checks directly to the struggling franchise(s).

    So the unbalanced odds in the draft IS defensible.

    What isn’t defensible is the current format for that tilt – it it too much of a sure thing that finishing very poorly guarantees a high pick.

    The format I would prefer is every tema getting at least one ball in the draw barrel with the 30th place team getting 30 balls and the first place team getting one etc.

    Let’s not forget that the nhl is a professional entertainment enterprise. Having all teams with a chance to win the #1 would make for very compelling watching a and all fans could dream of winning the number one and speculate about the consequences. And it would very much disapate the tanking motive – which – as witnessed by this draft where one and perhaps two generational players are up for grabs and a dead last finish guarantees getting at least one of those two now has a team with a 14 game losing streak.

    In a similar vein another thing that needs changing is the ability to buy out players. This clearly gives an advantage to rich teams.

  • Serious Gord

    With 10 games to go in the season the bottom 6 or so teams
    ; depending on distance out of playoffs, should have a separate standings in place, which ever of those teams get the most points out of those games is rewarded the best odds for the lottery, 2nd gets 2nd best odds and so on. This would eliminate teams from packing it in and would give them something to play for, losing would no longer be rewarded.

  • Bucknuck

    I agree to a point, but I think any team with a chance at the playoffs has their priorities right (i.e. winning is what they want).

    I think it should be a straight lottery for the teams out of the playoffs. 14 balls in and 14 balls out to see who picks when.

    I hate feeling conflicted when I am cheering for my team to win. It’s stupid.

  • Rockmorton65

    I think The current system could still work, I think you just need to re-jig the numbers a bit. The system currently rewards the 30th place team with the best odds. I think it’s currently about 20%. For some teams the temp Tatian is too high to not want that percentage. Especially in a McEichel type year. I think if you change the percentage, you may lower the temptation.

    I think we should give:
    The bottom 10 teams a 4.5% chance at the first overall pick
    The middle 10 teams a 3.5% chance
    The top 10 teams a 2% chance

    Granted, this may be a little too even. But you could always tweak the numbers a little bit here and there. Bottom teams get the best shot, but no difference between 21 and 30.

  • ted

    Thinking the best way for the top 3 picks should be.

    For the first pick. Bottom 10 teams, worst 5 teams of each conference get an equal 10% chance at no.1

    For the second pick. Bottom 10 teams minus the team that got the first get a 11.1% chance at no.2.

    For the third pick. Worst team of the bottom 10 based on losses not points.

    And then point based finishes for the rest of the draft. That makes things interesting and pointless to tank.

    In fact maybe have all the teams out of the playoffs to have an equal chance of no.1 would be fair. This losers getting rewarded system is dated for sure.

  • Deke Rivers

    I think the 4 wildcard teams, plus all out-of-playoff teams should get equal draw for the first pick (The bottom 16 teams). That way teams on the verge of making (or not making) the playoffs still have incentive to keep winning.

    All it would take is few years in a row with a top 5 team getting the first pick before an uproar from the fans. You gotta give them some hope.