Friday, 26 June 2020

A Tough Choice

I would admittedly be cynical of the NHL's Draft Lottery process as well if I were a Detroit fan after seeing the Red Wings drop from a league-worst finish at the time of the "pause" to fourth-overall at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Upon closer inspection, though, it should be noted that since the introduction of the lottery, the odds-on favorite to win the top pick in the NHL Entry Draft has happened just twice when Toronto selected first-overall in 2016 and Buffalo selected first-overall in 2018. What bothers me more, however, is that a team who was to miss the playoffs based on points percentages and will now be playing in August thanks to the play-in round for the NHL Playoffs will pick first-overall as the worst teams will see a team markedly better than them improve drastically with the additional of Alexis Lafreniere.

If the fifteen-worst finishers had simply been dropped into the draft lottery while keeping their respective percentages of winning the draft, the likelihood of this mysterious "Team E" winning the draft would remained the same. That team, for the record, would have been the Winnipeg Jets, and I cannot tell you how important that Lafreniere pick would be in shoring up the center position for the Jets.

Therein lies the problem for the sixteen play-in teams who need to decide whether it's better to win a Stanley Cup in a city not their own in an empty arena or have a 1-in-8 shot at drafting a potential franchise-altering centerman in Alexis Lafreniere who is, by all accounts, the consensus top pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

We've heard the rhetoric for the lottery as it's designed to prevent teams from tanking, but I honestly believe that it punishes teams who are legitimately bad as well since the lottery has never favoured the worst teams in the NHL historically. I get that no system is ideally perfect, but to see two incredible bad teams in Ottawa and Detroit draft 3-4-5 this year when they absolutely need a franchise player makes me wonder how this system could have been improved if, say, a decently-performing team such as Edmonton or Pittsburgh stumbles in the play-in round and finds themselves standing at the podium with the first-overall pick.

What do you do if you're a team like Winnipeg who seemingly might win a play-in round only to lose in the official first round of the NHL Playoffs? Is it worth tossing away a chance at Lafreniere for a handful of extra games?

What do you do if you're Montreal who could desperately use a franchise-altering, Quebec-born, French-speaking superstar centerman, but likely can beat a team like Pittsburgh in the play-in round if Carey Price plays as well as he is known to play?

I'll go on record right here in saying that no player will ever want to utter, admit to uttering, or listen to any sort of tank talk at any time. Players have pride in themselves and their teams, and I seriously doubt that any NHL player would even consider the idea of tanking for Lafreniere when there's a chance to win the Stanley Cup. With the length of NHL careers, it's unfathomable any player would give up the opportunity to win no matter where they are in their careers.

For management, though, the dilemma is real. The difference between a general manager on the hot seat or a general manager envied by his peers is one superstar draft selection. While Peter Chiarelli benefitted for a year or two from the Connor McDavid selection, the reality was that the Oilers were terrible under his watch which lead to his firing. Assuming that the Oilers didn't land McDavid, it's reasonable to assume that the Chiarelli experiment in Edmonton may have ended earlier. Could Marc Bergevin, John Chayka, or Dale Tallon extend their management careers with the selection of Lafreniere? The answer seems it would.

While no one will fault the managers on a five-game play-in series loss, there will be changes made at the management level at some point for these play-in teams as no owner wants his team stuck in mediocrity. The chance to draft Lafreniere and build a team around him is the stuff that GMs dream of, but no owner, manager, or player will ever give up a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup. Unless there's a monumental shift in thinking at all management levels, I can't see anyone sacrificing a chance to win the Stanley Cup by simply playing out the play-in games.

Would you play for the Stanley Cup or would you just write off the season and hedge your bets on a 1-in-8 chance to win the Lafreniere Lottery? Whatever you choose, NHL GMs, may the odds forever be in your favour.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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