NHL Looking to Move Draft to Early June
As the NHL continues through their pause of the season, which started in mid-March due to COVID-19, the league is continuing to figure out how and when they will return to the ice. There continues to be plenty of back and forth between the league and the Return to Play committee along with the NHLPA. One thing that continues to be a potential bone in contention has nothing to do with a return to the ice but how to deal with the upcoming NHL Draft.
Originally, the NHL Draft was scheduled for June 26-27 in Montreal but that, along with the scouting combine to be held in Buffalo and the NHL awards to be held in Las Vegas, were postponed back in March. After speculation that the draft wouldn’t take place until sometime later this summer or at some point after the season eventually reached a conclusion, there has been a pushback by the league of late to push the draft forward. On Friday, the league aggressively pushed a case to hold the draft in early June, regardless of whether the season had restarted or if teams had played the same number of games at that point.
In a memo sent out by deputy commissioner Bill Daly, it was announced that the league is looking at holding the draft on June 5 with it being virtual, much like the NFL’s was last month. The big concern among teams and their respective front offices would be that a team that potentially would make the playoffs in an extended playoff format could end up winning the lottery and the Stanley Cup. With that said, the league stated in the memo that they would use points percentage to determine which 15 teams would be in the draft lottery. Instead of drawing for the top three spots in the draft and having teams having the potential to climb or fall four spots, the league has discussed drawing for just the #1 pick. That would mean that the Red Wings, the worst team in the league by a wide margin, would be selecting no worse than second.
Daly said that the league would need about a month to get things prepared for the virtual draft. The statement was also made that the league’s broadcast partners, NBC and Sportsnet, are massively in favor of the early draft. Daly said: ”We think it's a great opportunity for fan engagement. Fans have been missing NHL hockey for a month and a half. It'll be three months when we get to June."
With that said, not everyone is on board with the plan. While many front offices are quiet about their thoughts and feelings rather than put them out there for the media, Steve Yzerman, the Hall of Famer and current GM of the franchise that he spent his career with, the Red Wings, fired back about the proposal on a Fox Sports Detroit Facebook Live chat:
“My thought is: Why would you do that? Why would you need to do that? There’s a lot of things that are affected, obviously. The draft position hasn’t been established; we don’t know who’s in the playoffs, who’s out of the playoffs, in some cases … But at this time, my own opinion is, I haven’t heard a good reason why we should do it prior to the end of the season, if we do conclude the season over the course of the summer.”
There are still other logistics to figure out. Several deals had conditional draft picks attached to them, based on whether a team made the playoffs or how far they ended up advancing. Under the current proposal, the league would come up with a premise on a case by case basis and then teams would have a week to decide whether to go with those parameters or come up with new ones that both teams would accept. The other big issue as it stands is centered around how teams would be potentially hamstrung when it came to making deals at the draft due to trade deadline and playoff eligibility issues.
The league feels that the draft needs to be in June because otherwise, the offseason, which likely is going to be condensed by the time the Stanley Cup is awarded, would be that much more crowded by pushing the draft and the lottery in there. There are pros and cons to both sides. However, the league trying to muscle the teams into a situation that isn’t necessarily seen as favorable from their perspective could lead to a form of power struggle. With so much uncertainty involved in not only the standings, the lottery, salary cap situations and how to deal with potential trades, it might make sense to push it back somewhat.
The best course of action may be to conclude the regular season and then do the draft lottery. That way, the right teams are involved and the playoff teams can be slotted into the draft order based on their points percentage. In addition, it can help alleviate some of the concerns involved by the teams. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen throughout the Gary Bettman era, the well-thought out concept is one that is typically overlooked when you get right down to it. We’ll find out more next week when the league ultimately makes its decision.