While Friday’s NHL GM meeting was supposed to center around plans to return to play, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that “a good chunk” of the discussion instead was spent on proposed changes to the NHL Draft Lottery system. Specifically, the Detroit Red Wings are leading the charge to get the lottery odds of the league’s worst teams boosted and Friedman believes they have considerable support.
The lottery structure is far from untouchable. The design has shifted several times since its inception and odds have been tweaked regularly. When the lottery began in 1995, there was only one winner selected and that team would only move up four spots. That structure changed in 2013, when the four spot limit was eliminated and every non-playoff team had a shot at the No. 1 overall pick, as they do now. In 2015, things got even more difficult for the league’s worst teams, as the odds shifted to the benefit of those teams closer to playoff contention in an effort to deter “tanking”. Finally, in 2016 things got even worse for those bottom dwellers, as all three of the top picks became lottery selections and the league’s worst team could fall all the way to fourth. And that is exactly what has happened in three of the past four years. In fact, the last-place finisher in the regular season standings has only retained the top pick twice since the structure shifted in 2013.
With teams like the 2017 Colorado Avalanche and now the 2020 Detroit Red Wings enduring historically bad seasons – without obvious tanking tactics at that – only to drop out of the top three picks entirely, it seems many of the league’s clubs have decided a change is in order. The current odds of the 31st-place team winning the lottery is 18.5%. This is 5% more than the team in second place, but still relatively low compared to the pre-2015 odds of 25%. The league has asked for specific proposals for a new alignment, which will also have to account for an incoming 32nd team in 2021-22, but given the recent history of deeply needy teams striking out in the lottery, it would not be surprise to see the odds for the last-place team bump back over 20% at least with bottom-three in the regular season standings all receiving a boost in their likelihood of sticking in the top three slots.