The NHL officially made changes to the draft lottery this week after approval from the Board of Governors on Tuesday. The changes are aimed at giving the teams that finish towards the bottom of the standings a better chance of landing the top pick in the draft. Can this possibly help the Vegas Golden Knights?
Several times in recent years, the league’s worst team has not picked first. Last year was probably one of the most egregious examples of how distorted the previous setup was when the poor Detroit Red Wings fell out of first overall because the 18th ranked New York Rangers moved up to the top spot and ended up with Alexis Lafrieniere.
Detroit, the worst team in the league by a long shot, ended up picking fourth.
Attempting to counteract the problem, the NHL has instituted changes to the process:
- The lottery now only applies to the top two picks instead of the top three.
- Teams can only move up 10 spots, so you won’t see a Rangers scenario unfold again where a team barely misses the playoffs and ends up with the top pick. The farthest back a team can jump to #1 is from #11 overall.
- A team can only win the lottery twice in any five-year period. This could be called the Edmonton Oilers clause, as the Oilers seemed to end up with a lot of top picks in the last ten years. Just ask Buffalo Sabres fans, who felt robbed of Connor McDavid by the lottery after Edmonton leapfrogged them to snag a generational talent.
While I think the league has not gone far enough to protect the weaker sisters, that’s an argument for another day.
How does this affect the Vegas Golden Knights?
Vegas is a team that figures to not be in the lottery for some time to come. They’ll be contending for the Stanley Cup, not wallowing in the shallow end of the pool. Yet there’s going to be a shift in the perceived value of those draft picks affected by the new rules, and when it comes to trades the value will be adjusted accordingly.
So now, when Vegas looks to make a move coming up to the deadline and beyond, teams that figure to be outside the bottom 11 are theoretically more likely to put first round picks into play. Anything that was out of the playoffs previously had a shot at being the first overall pick, no matter how small. Can you imagine dealing your pick at the deadline and watching it turn into the next big thing? Fans would be sick and the GM would be (unfairly) raked over the coals.
Now, any pick outside of the potential top 11 will be available. Teams that think they’re contenders this season might be more willing to offer up that first round pick knowing that there’s zero chance of it blowing up on them. Think about that – if you’re going for it this year and you think you’re close, what would your team be like with a game-breaking center, D or goalie? Now that’s not possible, so the borderline teams might make that “for now” move to mortgage “the future” more easily.
With the Golden Knights dealing from a position of strength in numbers but not cap room, getting a combination of draft picks and prospects back that don’t ding the cap can be preferable in many situations. If the VGK were looking to move players out to make some room for yet another move it brings more teams into the conversation. It can also be a pot-sweetener that is more easily dealt.
Conversely, it makes those bottom 11 picks a little bit more valued. There is now some extra juice on those positions because when you reduce the number of teams with a ping pong ball, you increase your shot at winning. Perhaps Detroit does end up first overall this year, but it could also be Buffalo, Ottawa… or a team that falls out just far enough like the Vancouver Canucks.
Either way, the new system is designed to do what the draft initially did: help the horrible teams get better. Even if you believe teams tank for picks, a team that even considers that move still has to be in the bottom five of the league. They’re not good. And giving the Rangers the top pick over the Red Wings, Sabres, Senators or any of the other bad teams is just bad business. There are franchise values to think about here.
To sum it up, this will ultimately offer more options as trade partners for teams like the Vegas Golden Knights. No, you won’t be picking first overall any time soon. But you might be able to stock up on one or two extra first round picks that weren’t available before.