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.

  • Derzie

    Great idea having the first round be an equal opportunity lottery. I’d add one twist in that you can’t pick first or last (30th) in the first round 2 years in a row. Win the lotto in 2015? Best you can do is 2nd in 2016.

  • Friesenhan

    What do you guys think of this idea: the team with the most points who misses the playoffs gets first pick. No lottery. 2nd most points out of the playoffs, 2nd pick, right down the line to the worst team in the NHL getting the 14th pick. The playoff teams keep the same format as they currently have after those 14 picks. This way, teams out of the playoffs will still play like it matters to win. Rewards should be given for effort, not pooping the bed.

  • KDazzler

    Hi Newbie Here:

    Always thought that the NHL misses out on a loser tournament that could re-seat the teams missing the playoffs to determine number 1 to 16. Have a 2 game total point (home and home). We get some playoff hockey and tanking isn’t an option!

  • bored

    I’ve always felt that the draft order should be determined by the final standings, but in reverse. Ie, the team that finishes 17th overall gets the first pick overall, 18th second, etc.

    Why not? This is the order of teams that lost in the worst ways, and it should prevent a meaningless game from ever again happening in the NHL.

    You’re welcome Mr. Bettman.

  • jonnyquixote

    Any team suspected of tanking should be punished after a defined definition is in place. A punishment could be something like a life time ban for the owner and management group. Cheating is Cheating.!

  • maybe teams should just own their own junior teams, and develop their prospects that way instead. You know, they way the European football leagues do it. The right way to run a league. Relegation for bad teams, the best team in the league wins the league, and teams have to develop their own players, and buy and sell them like commodities.

    Or…stop whining and stop making the accusation that the Oilers have been rewarded for being bad. If they had been rewarded, they wouldn’t be a bad team anymore. It’s a totally false argument. Giving the worst team in the league better odds for drafting first overall doesn’t make them a better team. It would be more of a reward if the NHL said the worst team in the league was automatically awarded the best veteran, yet still NHL capable free agent top line center or first pair defenseman available during the summer. That’s a reward for failure…not drafting first overall. Anyway, where was this argument 10 years ago when pittsburgh was drafting 1st or 2nd overall for a few years? Why is it an issue now that it’s Edmonton?

  • I’m telling you all, the best way to make a bad team better is to force all the best available UFA’s to sign for that team for low dollars and short term. Drafting players doesn’t make you better until 3 or 4 years down the road, but signing top quality NHL capable UFA’s can make a team better overnight. Of course, any team with impending free agents would simply sign them up before the season is over.

  • 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.

  • Prongers Promises

    Love it. Absolutely love it. There is no selling hope for next year. Its do or die every damn year!

    The fans would be at the throats of management and proper action would need to be taken

  • sportsjunkie007

    Anybody who is serious about fixing the draft should read Adam Gold’s “How to Cure Tanking”

    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.

  • Sevenseven

    Your argument saying that teams are trying to lose is so subjective. If a team’s management and players really are bad enough to be the worst team in the league they should get the best player at the draft so they can become stronger.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Don’t have to work for Deloitte & Touche to predict neither the Oilers nor the Sabres will get McDavid.
    Bettman’s Phoenix experiment needs a lifeline.
    Toronto’s 100th anniversary needs something better than the current s///show.
    Comcast Flyers could use a boost.
    The NHL can’t risk letting its latest hype-job being buried in the obscurity of the Oilers.
    And to reward the most shameful, blatant, egregious bail in the history of the NHL by rewarding the Sabres? No way. The NHL didn’t change the lottery rules just to throw it all away on a random assortment of lottery balls.

    • Serious Gord

      The draft guarantees at least the number two to buffalo and the number three to EDM regardless of who wins the draw (even if it’s by hook or by crook) and the #2 maybe even better than the number one.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I’m not so sure it matters how they handle the draft. The NHLs own version of Socialism. Someone’s going to be crying foul. I don’t care how or why they get McDavid, I just want to see a competitive team in town again. Beg, borrow or even steal Connor if you have to. Screw what’s fair, all I care about is Edmonton.

    Not everyone is going to agree on how it should be done. There’s just too many teams and not enough talent to go around. Still believe more than 25% of the players in this league are AHL’ers. Watered down hockey at NHL prices. Not just the draft should be scrutinized. Oilersnation appears to be watering things down somewhat as well. 7 Brownlee articles a month instead of 10 is a step backwards.

  • @peteroiler11

    “Why should the Oilers or the Sabres have better odds of landing McDavid or Eichel than the Chicago Blackhawks or Boston Bruins?”

    Just look at the location. Nobody wants to come to Edmonton if they have NYC or LA to choose from. And that in itself is and always will be a disadvantage.

    Your lottery suggestion would only divide the league more. Bad teams in small markets would struggle for decades. Chances for a team to land 1st overall once in a century would be extremely low. Teams would go bankrupt and look for new location all the time.

    What NHL strives for is stability and current system does just that. Tweaking the lottery, yes. Going to your extreme suggestion, No.

  • Marshall Law

    Robin Teams are measured by Playoff success.

    22 teams do not win a playoff series.

    By your theory!

    Reward the best!

    Lets give the top picks to the top 8.

    Really Buddy!

    • Thanks for the tip about playoffs.

      By my theory . . . Uh, no. I don’t talk anywhere in the item about rewarding the best. Equal odds are equal odds. You missed the point or never bothered to try to get it before commenting.

      And I’m not your buddy.

  • so what your saying Robin is if a team like Pittsburgh got mcdavid for example from this everyone included payroll, then they wouldnt be able to sign him because there payroll is to big, so they would have to trade him straight away
    that includes the first 10 or so NHL teams
    That does not work so well

  • vetinari

    I would make a simple rule adjustment– if you pick 1, 2 or 3 in this year’s draft, you cannot pick equal or better than that number in the next draft regardless of your place in that year’s standings. For example, if you get the #2 pick this year, the best you can get with your pick next year is the #3 pick. In the Oilers case, in the three worst years, they would have picked #1, then #2 and then #3 in successive years.

    • T.J.F.M.

      we would be much better if we had picked #2 (Seguin, 2010), #1 (RNH – 2011), #3 (Galchenyuk, 2012).

      That rule would have made us a better team. We might have lucked out in the later rounds with better picks as well, and actually have some depth after 5+ years.

        • T.J.F.M.

          Thats three centre’s. Our NHL calibre centre depth would be respectable, maybe even above average. And certainly a better foundation than what we have now.

          But the main point of my comment was that we might have drafted better depth as well, in later rounds. But who knows. Picking Musil up at 31 or 33 would have been all the same.

  • 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.

  • Jordan88

    Well I agree with the mentality of not rewarding failure. We really need to take a step back and look at what we offer in comparison to other cities. Edmonton is and I love my city it is my home town and I intend to live here for the majority of my life.

    But there in lies the fault.

    Edmonton has really nothing to offer a 28 year old NHL journeymen in comparison to say Toronto or L.A. or even the teams in Florida. L.A is warm and west coast lots of stars and affluent women to chase. Florida cheap real estate amazing beaches models and anonymity.

    Now look at Edmonton we have what, an art gallery a few swimming pools and a theater. Not much for culture or entertainment. It can snow from Oct to June some years and the roads are so crappy you need a 4×4 of some kind but don’t worry Kentwood will give you an F-150. But don’t go in public or you will be told everything you are doing wrong from every armchair coach/gm/owner in the city.

    at 28 years old you have three teams offering you a contract for 5 years

    Edmonton at 5 million a year,
    Toronto at 4.25 mil
    Florida at 4.5 mil

    Now let me ask you this for an extra 2.5 – 3.75 million over 5 years would you deal with the stresses of what Edmonton has or would you go try your luck in an original six market or have some beach time with Bobby Lou.

    • Jordan88

      1 game knockout series would certainly generate non playoff teams some extra revenue. Maybe just have all non playoff teams having equal chance at the top 5 picks.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I’m starting to concur with this line of thinking, Robin. Oilers management have abused the ‘shiney new toy’ and ‘selling hope’ angle to such a degree that it now makes the whole strategy look cheap. Its the easy way to build a team. Hey, let’s be terrible for a decade, sell hope to our dopey fans, and we can keep our jobs the whole time!!!

    Who needs the first overall pick, anyway. Look at Sean Monahan; he’s looking to be just as good as RNH. Ryan Johanson was picked 4th in the Hall draft; would the Oil be worse off if they ended up with him? Trouba is looking like the best of the bunch in 2012; he went 9th overall.

  • toprightcorner

    In a perfect world a 30 team lottery would work, but the NHL is far from perfect. Worst teams have been picking first since the dawn of the league but if you look at any 10 year span, for the most part the same 10 teams are the worst 10, the top 10 teams stay in the top ten and so on.

    Why is this? Simple, teams are not equal in talent with each other at the beginning of the season and 1 player does not turn around a poor team, it takes many player changes to do that and as the Oilers have proven, only a few mistakes in a 10 year time frame and you have to start all over again. Good teams do not have to win every trade and succeed in every draft pick, a few mistakes are covered up as long as their trades average out as equal and they make the odd good draft pick they can remain strong.

    The only way this proposed system would work if the entire league redrafted their players like a fantasy draft so each team would start off as equal in talent as possible.

    If any of the top 5 teams in the league won the lottery and got McDavid, that team would separate themselves from the rest and that gap is too difficult to make up.

    Sure I hate the tank to get a better pick but it can’t always be equal opportunity either if you want to improve equality.

    That’s why a family that earns $100,000 a year doesn’t receive any child tax credits or GST rebate cheques, its just wrong and unfortunately Robin, in this circumstance so are you.

  • nugeformayor

    Great rant, but that is all it is.

    Next time maybe try to provide an intelligent suggestion as to how to fix the problem. We have enough of us fans blathering on about all that is bad in the universe.

  • Oil Fan in Ottawa

    Excuse me Mr. Brownlee but why didn’t you write this artice during the fall for Hall?

    Are you seriously angered by Calgary selling off Bouwmeester, Iginla etc.. and dropping for Bennett, or are you mad that the Oilers have been crummy for so long?

    The system works just fine. Nobody remembers Pitt selecting 5th, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd in consecutive years these days.

  • Derzie

    I like the idea in principle, however being a little old fashion, I would go to the draft ball system that was used to draft Crosby after the lock out season. 3 balls max, 1 ball minimum.

  • camdog

    League parody is what the NHL is trying to do with this system, also if you want the draft to work that way then there shouldnt be any money eg from the leafs oilers canadian canucks flames going to other teams either (markets that lose money all the time) are still getting money from equalization payments

  • camdog

    A 30 team fight for the number 1 lotto would bankrupt about 6-7 teams in the league. The Oilers are the rare bad team that can generate gate revenue. Imagine poorly managed team with no hope of ever getting better. You’d have to regulate the bad teams to another league like they do in soccer.

    Now you could take all of the non playoff teams and throw them in the hat with equal opportunity. 14 teams with a chance at number one wouldn’t be bad odds for really bad managed teams.

    As to tanking getting a little tired of people pretending the Oilers and Buffalo tanking was planned, that’s giving both organisations way too much credit, it’s like pretending they knew what they were doing.

    • he shoots he scars

      The Oilers had no intention of being this bad. The problem is there is a handful of teams 40 or 50 games into the season (sooner for the truly lousy like the Oilers) who realize they have no chance of making the playoffs and the door opens for the race to be worst.