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Photo Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

NHL Draft in June is a Terrible Idea

There is no sane reason for the NHL to host their entry draft in June, yet right now the NHL is pushing to do exactly that. And to add to the lunacy, they are pushing to move the draft ahead three weeks to June 5th.

This truly defies logic.

What is the rush?

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One argument to host the draft before the 2019/2020 season has officially been concluded, is that sports fans are thirsty for any type of sporting event. Some have used the NFL virtual draft as an example. The main difference is the NFL annually televises all seven rounds of their draft. Every player picked turns pro immediately and goes to training camp ready to compete for a job. None of them go back to college to keep developing.

The NHL is the exact opposite. Realistically there might be three of four players from the 2020 draft who play in the 2020/2021 season, and probably only two in Alexis Lafreniere and Tim Stuetzle. Quinton Byfield doesn’t turn 18 until August, and while I think he will be very good in the future, he’d benefit greatly from another year developing in junior. The NHL draft doesn’t compare to the NFL, because 99% of players won’t be in the league right away. It doesn’t create the same buzz, especially when there is zero chance NHL players will be traded.

What makes the draft so exciting for most fans is the combination of future stars, plus trades that will improve their team immediately. Because this season has yet to be completed, or cancelled, teams won’t be able to trade players. That kills much of the potential excitement.

I’m sure die hard NHL fans would watch, but the same die hard fans will watch the draft in September or October.

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I wonder if the NHL is being pressured by NBC and Sportsnet to have the draft so they have some TV content to sell. It is the only reasonable explanation I see.

Last week NHL deputy Commissioner Bill Daly mentioned he was worried about a short turnaround from the conclusion of this season, possibly in September/October and the start of the 2020/2021 season in December. “We don’t want to have a situation where we’re shoehorning a draft lottery or a draft into a very short window of time, which we may be faced with,” he said.

It is a nice thing to say, however, the realities of the past few years show the NHL is used to concluding the season, then hosting the draft and free agency within a three-week span — EVERY YEAR.

YEAR                 Stanley Cup Decided             NHL DRAFT
2019                           June 12th                     June 21-22
2018                           June 7th                       June 22-23
2017                           June 11th                     June 23-24
2016                          June 12th                      June 24-25
2015                          June 15th                      June 26-27

The NHL is used to hosting the draft two weeks after the Stanley Cup is awarded, then free agency begins and the majority of signings are completed by July 5th.

If the NHL season concludes at the end of September and they want to start the 2020/2021 season in December, two months is ample time to host the draft, free agency and arbitration. It happens every summer, and moving it to October/November wouldn’t be much different for NHL teams. The amateur scouts have already done their work. They know which players they like and their scouting reports aren’t going to change or become less accurate because the draft is delayed a few months. The argument the scouts will know the players better today than in a few months is misleading. In fact, if any of the junior, NCAA or Euro leagues are playing games in September, the amateur scouts would benefit from a later draft as they would get more viewings of players.

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Do you want a June draft?

LEAGUE CREDIBILITY…

In order to have a June draft the NHL will change many existing rules — for no reason, that I can see, other than possibly earning money. It is a not a good look.

There will be many changes.

The first will be reverting back to the old draft lottery rules. There will be only one draft lottery (not three like the past few seasons) and the winning team can only move up four spots.

They are doing this because there is a good chance the playoff format will be expanded and want to avoid a team winning the draft lottery and making the playoffs. Based on this new-but-old formula, only Detroit, Ottawa, San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim have a chance to pick first. Ottawa owns San Jose’s pick, so really only four teams have a shot at picking first overall. Detroit would have a whopping 57% chance or picking first overall. Despite that, Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman is opposed to a June draft.

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“My thought is why would you do that?” Yzerman told team broadcasters Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond. “There’s a lot of things that are affected. Obviously, the draft position hasn’t been established. We don’t know who’s in the playoffs, who’s out of the playoffs in some cases. So there’s a lot of questions and ultimately, if (the draft) needs to be done prior to, we’ll figure it out, but at this time my own opinion is I haven’t heard a good reason why we should do it prior to the end of the season, if we do conclude the season.”

The GM of the team who benefits the most from changing the draft is opposed to it. That’s how bad of a decision it would be.

Another example: If Buffalo wins the lottery, they would move from the seventh pick and land the third overall selection. But they could get hot when the season resumes and make it into the “proposed expanded playoffs.” They are three points back of Montreal with two games in hand. Maybe they win one round, and now they have the third selection. The scenarios are endless.

The entire draft order will be determined by the current points %. Usually the final 16 spots are determined by how teams do in the playoffs. But not this year.

It isn’t just the draft lottery that will be altered. Previously agreed to trades will be impacted.

2020 CONDITIONAL PICKS…

Oct 5, 2019; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward James Neal (18) celebrates a first period goal against the Los Angeles Kings at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

In a memo sent to all 31 teams last Friday, the league stated they are willing to allow teams to rework trades involving conditional 2020 draft picks. Seriously.

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Look at the James Neal/Milan Lucic trade. If Neal scores 21 goals, and 10 more than Lucic, the Flames receive the Oilers’ 2020 third round pick.

Neal has 19 goals while Lucic has eight. If you prorate their goal totals, Neal would finish with 22 and Lucic with 10.
But everyone knows prorating is far from accurate. It is a simply a projection. Will the league use a projection to decide if a draft pick changes organizations?

Why should Ken Holland negotiate a new deal at this point? Or even Brad Treliving? Holland doesn’t have a fourth rounder (went to Detroit for Mike Green), while Brad Treliving would look at a fifth rounder much differently than a third. Both GMs could argue in favour of why the current goal totals favours them.

This is just one example, but imagine the league making a decision prior to the season being finished. What if they rule in favour of the Oilers and Calgary gets nothing? Then the NHL completes the regular season and Neal scores two goals and finishes with 10 more than Lucic. The Flames get screwed.

And if the league rules in Calgary’s favour, the Oilers could get screwed if play resumes and Neal doesn’t score two goals, or maybe he does, but Lucic scores four and finishes only nine back of Neal.

There is zero reason to risk losing credibility over this.

NO NHL PLAYER TRADES…

Photo Credit: Eliteprospects.com photographer Timo Savela

I’ve read a few articles where the author used the NFL’s virtual draft, and very good TV numbers, as the main reason the NHL should host their draft in June.

The argument is fans will flock to see it because they are starving for sports. I understand that thinking, but the NHL draft is not close to the NFL draft. And the NHL draft will not move the needle in the United States.

The NFL has televised all seven of their rounds annually for years, plus every player drafted turns pro immediately. And their season was over. They went about business as usual. NFL players were traded.

The NHL is the exact opposite. Basically 99% of the players drafted return to junior, college or Europe, and with this season not being complete there will be movement of NHL players.

Of course diehard NHL fans will watch the draft, but they would have watched it whenever the season concludes as well, and there would be much more hype around the draft after this season. Teams will be more inclined to make trades as they try to figure out the new financial landscape (which will occur due to massive revenue losses due to Covid-19) of the NHL.

With no trading of NHL players in a June draft, the excitement level is diminished significantly.

I spoke to a few GMs and scouts this weekend and all of them agreed this is a bad decision.

Hockey Operations does not want this, which means the NHL is making this decision based purely on finances.

It is a sad statement that the NHL is willing to sacrifice credibility, clarity and tradition, simply to chase some potential revenue. In 2005, after losing an entire season they didn’t move the draft ahead. In fact, they moved it back until July. But now they are rushing, unnecessarily, to have the draft.

Many businesses and individuals are concerned about our financial future, but making knee-jerk decisions, with very little benefit, is simply the wrong decision to make at this time.

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