Here's how we would stop NHL teams from tanking
Bill Harris’ system would prevent a team from selecting in the top three for another five years. That would deter horrible teams such as the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs from tanking to get the top pick year after year. (Ernest Doroszuk/Toronto Sun file)
I call it the “Harris Three-and-Five Draft System.”
If implemented, it would curb tanking dramatically, and usher in an era where young hockey talent is distributed more fairly.
You might be tempted to shorten the name to the “Three-and-Five System.” I'd prefer to leave “Harris” in there. After all, we have the “Page Playoff System” in curling and no one seems to have an issue. But I won't be picky about it.
What I did get picky about was what happened over the past couple of months of the NHL regular season, on the ice, in the media and among the fans. I don't think what occurred was good for anyone. It actually started to make me angry, and I got thinking, “There has to be a better way.”
So now, with the NHL draft lottery on Saturday, and Connor McDavid as the top prize, I believe I've thought of a way to end this madness in the future.
First, a bit of background.
I was a sports writer for a long time before moving to entertainment 10 years ago. These days, I have a “one step removed” relationship to the sports world, not being in the trenches any more but keeping track as an “observer.” And here's what drove me crazy about the past couple of months.
The tanking among certain NHL teams was out of control. Players don’t necessarily tank, but organizations do. And when, for example, goals by the home team in Buffalo were being booed by Sabres fans, I realized this has to stop.
The media does its best to give its audience what it wants, so especially in markets where teams were in the running for top picks, the McDavid sweepstakes dominated coverage. Newspapers ran daily charts with percentages, breathlessly updated with the previous night's humiliating losses.
One night in early April, after the Toronto Maple Leafs had beaten the Ottawa Senators, I got thinking that if you’re a real Leafs fan at the end of such a horrible season, one of your rare joys should be watching your team try to derail a rival’s playoff hopes.
That’s all that’s left, you know?
But immediately after the game, broadcasters were applying the appropriate perspective, saying, “Well, that’s a nice win for the Leafs, but actually bad news for Leafs fans, because the more points the team gets, it hurts the lottery odds.”
Considering all this, my proposal has sprung from the following premises:
(1) Getting more points never should be a bad thing.
(2) The concept of giving the top picks every year to the worst teams, over and over again, is obsolete. I understand why drafts went that route. It was a logical thing in a simpler time. But teams are too sneaky now.
(3) No matter how a draft lottery is weighted, if teams have a better chance of getting the No. 1 pick by finishing as low as possible — especially in a year when there's a McDavid — they will attempt to do so.
So now I give you the “Harris Three-and-Five Draft System.” It’s really simple, but I actually think it solves almost everything.
There are only two components to it:
(1) Every year the top three picks in the draft are determined by a 100%, non-weighted draw.
(2) BUT, the big stipulation is, if you get one of those top three picks, you are not eligible again for five years.
The benefits are many.
It greatly would decrease the value of tanking. If your team truly is the worst in the NHL, you’re guaranteed of picking no worse than fourth overall, so theoretically you’ll still get a good player. But very rarely are there four generational players in a single draft year, so tanking doesn’t really help. You might as well actually try to win every game you play. What a concept.
The practice of consistently bad teams being rewarded with top-three picks over and over again — like the Edmonton Oilers in recent seasons — would end. And the practice of consistently good teams being punished for excellence or over-achievement over and over again — like the Detroit Red Wings, who have the audacity to make the playoffs every year — also would end.
But if your team gets a top-three pick, it had better make it count. Another one isn’t coming for at least five years, no matter how good or bad the team is.
The percentages of draft-lottery success would change over the first few seasons, of course. All 30 teams would be eligible for a top-three pick in Year one. Year two, 27 teams. Year three, 24. Year four, 21. And then in year five and forever afterward, 18.
I know some of you will say, “Who the hell is this Harris guy and why would I listen to him?” I get that a lot in my personal life, too.
But here’s the bottom line for me: What happened in the NHL over the past few months was completely unacceptable. Too many teams were focused on the wrong stuff, which means the media was focused on the wrong stuff, which means the fans were focused on the wrong stuff.
The “Harris Three-and-Five Draft System” fixes everything.
And by fix, I mean fix in a good way, not that other way.
What do you think about the 'Harris Three-and-Five Draft System'?
It's great, the NHL should give it a try
It sucks, would never work
It's OK, needs some tweaking