Linden’s Post-Draft Lottery Thoughts: “What can you do?”

I’m not sure disappointment would be the right word to describe the feelings of Canucks fan as the draft lottery results were revealed last night. The first mouth drop came just three picks in when the  13th-overall pick was revealed to belong to the Winnipeg Jets, thus solidifying Philadelphia’s possession of a top-3 pick. As if fans weren’t shaky enough, the Dallas Stars then jumped up five spots from No. 8. Then finally, the final blow came as the 27th-place New Jersey Devils were announced as the final team in the top 3.

For the second straight year, the Vancouver Canucks will be drafting fifth overall. Optimism was booming before the draft. Talks of Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier had already begun to escalate, with Casey Mittelstadt’s name creeping up if the Canucks were to land at 3rd-overall. Some, however, remained hesitant to engage in any talk because, knowing the luck of the franchise, the Canucks were going to fall.

And that, they did. For days, Trevor Linden had been cautioning fans by saying there was a better chance of the team dropping than there was to win the lottery. That’s what lotteries are about – it’s meant to be a game of chance. Though visibly shocked, Linden saw it coming.

Linden: “Honestly, what can you do? They’re bouncing ping-pong balls out of a water cooler. There’s not a thing you can do about it. I think you get disappointed when you have control over a situation, and this you don’t. I’m honest when I saw this, I really am excited about the player we could get at five. In this particular draft, it’s not the situation of the last two years.”

This was the second year of using the new lottery system. Initially implemented to prevent teams from tanking, the system is flawed because it presents a reasonable possibility of good NHL teams receiving an unnecessary top-3 draft pick. As if there were critics prior to the reveal, there are bound to be even more today. There are significant differences between teams like Tampa Bay and Philadelphia, and Colorado and Vancouver. The purpose of the NHL Entry Draft is to compensate the NHL teams based on the success of their season. If the team did poorly, they should have a high pick of the lot of draft-eligible prospects. The top-ranked prospects are meant to go to teams who’ve suffered disappointing seasons – not the other way around.

The Philadelphia Flyers were in the thick of a playoff hunt throughout the season. They had a 2.2% chance of winning the first-overall pick. It would be hard to argue against the drawing process because it is a lottery and it is literally a game of chance. Philadelphia, Dallas, and New Jersey were incredibly lucky as the lottery balls were drawn. If one were to run the draft simulator, it’s clear that anything could happen. Yes, Colorado, Vancouver, and Arizona/Vegas had better odds, but those odds were slim from the start.

The problem I have is the inclusion of all non-playoff teams. As stated previously, there is a large difference between the state of the Philadelphia Flyers, and that of the Colorado Avalanche. Because it’s a game of chance, the lower-odds teams mathematically being successful was extreme slight. I’m not saying this just because I’m frustrated, but the NHL should honestly give a complete review of the fairness of the draft lottery. Instead of including all non-playoff teams, it would be fairer for the naturally weak teams – possibly the bottom ten – to be the only ones participating. New Jersey winning the lottery isn’t as big of a deal as Philadelphia getting a top-3 pick. The Devils were pretty bad this season, but their chances leant on the more favourable (although still pessimistic) side. The Stars were also poor this season, and their odds were in the middle of the pack. Philadelphia was on the complete opposite side of the spectrum, and the odds were stacked against them. Their chances were extremely slim, but they got so lucky and won a lottery anyways.

Let’s make an obvious point: after their terrible season, Colorado needed a top-3 pick abundantly more than New Jersey, Dallas, and Philadelphia. If it seemed like the Canucks had it the worst, the Avalanche were at the top of the mountain. Their season was brutal – the worst we’ve seen since 2012-13. Colorado was the ultimate loser of the draft lottery, and they lost to a team who arguably shouldn’t even be considered. Situations like these show that anything can happen during the lottery. As if there were any more reasons to question the format, his year only emphasizes the ordeal.

Linden on the draft lottery format: “I’ve talked to Francesco about it. At the end of the day, it’s fair for everyone. Certain teams got lucky tonight, maybe one day we’ll get lucky. Those decisions are made at the executive board level. I have no doubt that there is every precaution taken that this was carried out in an ethical way. Francesco was in the (lottery) room watching tonight. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. It’s a lottery.”

Although all the talk recently has been focusing on the likes of Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier, the tide is turning. Management will shift it’s focus to the “playmaking centre” and “power-play defenseman” that they have publicly discussed. If you want even a tiny bit of optimism, it’s that it’s better to fall in this year’s draft compared to next year’s. Obviously, we do not know what next season holds, but dropping this year will not have as much of an impact as it could in other years. Patrick and Hischier are clearly No. 1 and No. 2, but the gaps between those players and the No. 3 to 8 are not significantly great. As Linden has stated before, “Perhaps the player you pick at four or five will be every bit as good as the player at one or two.”

Linden:“We don’t sit around talking about the top two players, we talk about players in the top ten who could be in the mix. I really believe this is the year you could do really well. Outside the top two, that player might not show up for a year or two but that’s okay. When you’re projecting down the road, that’s where you want the best player.”

With the disappointment out of the way, what happens next? The NHL Entry Draft is just under two months away on June 23rd and 24th in Chicago. The expansion draft will be held on June 18th to 21st, and the combine is from May 28th to June 3rd in Buffalo. Management and the scouting staff have a lot of work ahead of them. As a crucial part of the rebuilding process, the pressure is on to draft well. Although this draft is average, they need to find diamonds in the rough.

Linden on the Canucks schedule:“World Championships, we’ve got some draft discussions, combine in late May, then the full month of June to prepare for amateur meetings, and pro meetings in May. It’s going to be a full schedule with the expansion draft. It’s an exciting time of year. You’re thinking about ways to make your team better and build something that’s sustainable.”

The results of the lottery were shocking and disappointing. Is it rigged? Probably not. The odds favoured Colorado and Vancouver, but that specific lottery drew out arguably the worst possible result for every bottom-feeding team. It sucks, but there’s nothing we can do. The system isn’t meant to favour the bad teams. If it were, there would be fewer participants and higher probabilities. It treats everyone the same, regardless of how bad they actually are. They’re given number combinations, and some have more than others. This lottery was simply unlucky.

  • TheRealPB

    The Devils won 3 out of their last 24 games if I remember correctly and Dallas was pretty poor as well. Yes Philly was better but they were still pretty bad. Very few teams were truly in contention to make the playoffs of the ones that missed and even they were only in contention because some of those who did make the show were not particularly strong going into the postseason. It sucks that we dropped again but then that’s the reality of a lottery. As much as JD and others might argue that a tank still makes sense because at least we didn’t slip to 7th, I hope once and for all these two lottery results stop all of this tanking talk nonsense. Tanking is a dumb strategy for rebuilding. Building through the draft, judicious trades and signings, and focus on player development all make sense. Signing stopgap players like Eriksson or Miller is not a hindrance to development, anymore than hoping that the Sutters, Sbisas and Dorsetts of the world can punch above their weight while you try and see if the young prospects will pan out. Tanking as a strategy is like planning your financial wellbeing based on a conviction that the lottery balls are surely going to fall your way if you are close enough to the bottom. It’s dumb. Sure it stings that we won’t get a shot at those two top picks (though much less than in the last two drafts; as Vanessa and others have long noted there’s a lot less difference between 3-12 in this draft) but we are still going to have a pretty good player overall. There’s only been 2 truly generational players available since Crosby — McDavid and Matthews — and we couldn’t have planned to get either (anymore than Buffalo was successful in getting McDavid).

    • Donald's Hat Trick

      If your definition of tanking is to lose as many games as possible in order to try to secure the top pick, it doesn’t make sense because the odds of winning that pick aren’t that good, and you’ll probably lose out on ticket revenue during the losing season. If on the other hand your definition involves what the Leaves did last season, essentially offload anyone with any trade value whatsoever in order to pile up picks while icing a lineup that’s not going to win you many games, well then, that approach didn’t hurt the TO at all.

      • TheRealPB

        I think looking at TO as a model is as unrealistic or misguided as a “Boston/LA” heavy model or Chicago or Detroit models. The reality is that there are no teams in the NHL that have the ability of the Leafs to leverage their economic power and unshakeable fan base to do what they did two years ago — actually and openly tank. I guess the Sabres sort of tried because of Pegula’s wealth but talk about a crazy meddling owner (firing the GM of your football team one day after the draft plus the entire scouting staff?). The Leafs weren’t trying to be bad when they ended up with Reilly or Marner, they have had pretty forgettable drafts outside of them, and were pretty lucky to have Nylander fall to them (not just the Canucks passed on him for him to be chosen at 8th). They were able to absorb big veteran contracts and stash them in the minors and swap other vets for picks but again only because they had the money to pay the real salaries in the minors. And they have a fanbase that they know will come back no matter how bad the on-ice product — how many other teams can actually do that? We can already see the empty seats in Vancouver.

    • pheenster

      Preach PB. Unfortunately the usual suspects who were cheerleading losses on Twitter all season seem to be doubling down on that strategy rather that recognizing its weaknesses.

  • The_Blueline

    I was f… gutted. But nothing you can do about the lotterie.

    Where you can make a difference is by scouting better and developing better than the competition.
    I just don’t have much faith in management that they can pull that of

  • Steamer

    Best part is seeing Linden & other GM’s in classic Kindergarden mode, sitting like a bunch of teacher-pets, waiting for a ‘snack-time’ that never comes.

  • Mellowyellow

    “The odds favoured Colorado and Vancouver, but that specific lottery drew out arguably the worst possible result for every bottom-feeding team”

    I would have to point out that’s not entirely true. The % spread from teams 2 through 5 is not even a difference of 4%. Its like 2-5 have almost an equally likely chance of winning. Lets face it.. does the assigned distribution of % prevent tanking? the answer is yes. Does it properly distribute the % to give it slightly more favour for teams based on standings? it does not.. They need to give some more weight to the bottom tier teams and create a little more spread between them.

    Look at last year. Toronto was able to win but, the 2nd and 3rd pick had teams due to the nature of the small spread take the 2nd and 3rd picks. pushing edm and vancouver back.

    • FanPhil

      I agree. If they combined this draft with a cap on movement like earlier versions of the draft, it might balance out. If the first place draft were limited to a maximum move of 8, second to a maximum of 7, and third to a maximum of 6, it moves the balance in favour of the weakest teams, while still being a significant benefit to any winner. Applied to this year’s lottery, it would have produced the following results:
      NJ – 1st overall (unchanged)
      Col – 2nd overall due to Philidelphia limited to moving from 13th to 6th
      Dal – 3rd overall (unchanged)
      Van – 4th
      LV – 5th
      Phil – 6th (7 up from 13th)
      balance unchanged.
      While Philadelphia still gets a significant win, the bottom 3 teams are not impacted by it. Basically it adds about 15% to the probability of the worst team getting the first overall pick.

  • CMG30

    What you say is true. The draft lottery should be set up to help the bottom teams. As short as 2 years ago it use to be that way. Unfortunately, there was a great heu and cry from the fans of a number teams, including a few teams out west including, cough… Vancouver… cough… Colorado, that it was so unfair that Edmonton won so many lotteries. The mentality was that since they sucked on the ice they didn’t deserve high picks, let alone number 1’s. So the shortsighted mob broke out the pitchforks and got the league to ‘fix’ the lottery. Now here we are. The way the system is now will not help the bottom teams get better and we may well not see the full extent of the damage done for years.

    It’s never a good idea to base procedure changes on spite but there it is. Hopefully the league rolls back the changes soon. Not that it’s going to matter since it’s already too late for you guys. Too bad, but I guess you reap what you sow.

    • truthseeker

      I hope not. I’m a canuck fan and I hope they make the draft more even. You’re right, a lot of canuck fans who were whining about the Oil getting too many # 1 picks are suddenly wishing for the loser teams to get high picks. Most people are highly irrational though and think with emotions rather than logic.

      I don’t see why failure should be rewarded. And while I do understand you can’t have the best teams picking number one, you can at least reward good management by having a balanced system. No favoritism one way or the other.

  • Dirty30

    Classic case of closing the barn door after the Oilers sucked manure for ten years.

    But reality remains that while one player can improve your team, its depth that matters in the long haul. It’s not McJesus winning every game, it’s the other lines stepping up to make a difference that makes the difference.

    The Canucks may not fix themselves in or two or three drafts, but a handful of good trades for Baer, Granlund, and Goldy are paying dividends, picking up Boucher on waivers and getting Dahlin for Burrows looks good for the future.

    With some cap management the Canucks could position themselves to take in contracts with compensation and sign some free agents. They might even throw out some offer sheets to cap-strapped teams RFA’s.

    Expose Sutter, say bye to Miller, let the Sedins go next year or sign for their production not their loyalty, and make the best of opportunities available.

    Big unknown is the new Coach … does he build and accept the losses or believe the hype and play plodders to hope for a winning season?

    • truthseeker

      yep….canucks are actually in a great position to create a balanced roster of solid lines consisting of good young talent and fairly cheap contracts. Teams with lots of “stars” will have to start handing out huge contracts to keep them, crippling their ability to provide depth. Hawks anyone? There hasn’t been a team since, in the NHL that has been as deep as the 10 Hawks or even the 11 Canucks.

      The canucks need to look at building a team in a different way compared to the “draft a superstar and then fill in as much as you can” method. A deep four line team with scoring balance on all of them and a D of 7 solid players…none of which being spectacular, would cause fits for teams like the Hawks and what the oilers look like they may become.

      This is an opportunity for creative thinking on how to build a team.

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    The draft order is supposed to promote parity in the league. Part of the reason it’s so frustrating is that the league has the salary cap in place to force teams into a cycle of boom and bust to begin with, in order to promote parity, and the flip side of that system needs to be that when they’re bad, they need to be given the better opportunity to improve themselves at the draft. Sure, some teams have been able to contend fairly consistently in the salary cap era, but for the most part, success breeds decline as veterans require higher salaries, weaker draft position diminishes the prospect pool, and future resources spent to extend contention windows start to mature in the hands of others. There is no way that Chicago wins a bunch of Cups if they’re dropping to 5th overall during the years they drafted Toews and Kane, or that the Oilers are up 2-1 in the 2nd round if they aren’t a little extra lucky back when the draft lottery odds actually still favored the worst teams. So while it used to be that wealthier teams could buy themselves their advantages by outspending their competitors, the league’s push for parity (and owner greed) ended that system with the salary cap. Very, very frustrated right now.

  • Spiel

    The NHL overreacted to teams that were tanking and now the lottery doesn’t do what draft order has traditionally done which is give the worst teams the highest picks. Maybe the Canucks will get lucky eventually?

    If the first pick is supposed to go to the worst team in the league, then they need to factor in more than just points to figure out who was the worst team in the league. In a way, the NHL already does this for the rest of the first round. It is ordered by playoff finish plus regular season standings, not just regular season standings.
    The NHL could have a formula for determining draft order (1-15) that factors in points plus goal difference for example. The point is there are ways that could be fair and deterministic that would take “tanking” out of the picture.

    • truthseeker

      sound convoluted and would lead to even more fan nonsense about “conspiracies” than already are.

      the NHL needs to stop punishing success and rewarding failure.