NHL Draft Lottery – Repairs Needed

By Bob Trask – This year a handful of teams in the NHL made a concerted effort to weaken their squads in an effort to improve their chances at the #1 overall pick. Despite what Gary Bettman says, it reflects badly on the integrity of the league. The way in which the draft lottery is currently constructed encourages GMs to try and game the system.

The fact that a team can drop a maximum of 2 spots in the draft as a result of the lottery, makes the gamble of gutting your team for the 1st overall pick a low risk approach. Yes, the goal is to help struggling teams be more competitive, but at what cost? The abuse of the current system is obvious.

Whoever designed the draft lottery made it as complicated as possible, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are simple solutions available and here is one of them (and it goes beyond the draft lottery and includes playoff teams).

Current Odds

With the current format here are the odds of acquiring the 1st overall pick

Odds (%)25.513.511.

We’ll refer back to these odds later for comparison purposes.

Categorizing Teams

At season’s end, teams would fall into one of three categories:

  • 1st Category: Teams in the bottom 8 of the standings
  • 2nd Category: Teams that finish above the bottom 8 but miss the playoffs. There are currently 8 teams in this category but if the league expanded to 34 teams, for example, there would be 10.
  • 3rd Category: Playoff teams

First Category

With eight teams in this category, the 32nd place team would receive 8 chances at 1st overall, the 31st place team would receive 7 chances and so on down to the 25th place team who would receive 1 chance at the 1st overall pick. There would be no limit on how far teams could drop in this category and, in fact, the last place team would have a chance of dropping all the way to eighth. But that would be as far as they could drop

Here are the odds for each team winning the 1st overall pick

Odds (%)22.319.4%16.7%13.9%11.1%8.3%5.6%2.8%

With this approach, with the exception of the last place team, the remainder of the bottom 6 teams would all see their odds of winning the lottery improve. As for the last place team, their odds of winning the 1st overall pick drop only slightly.

By allowing the last place team to drop as many as 7 spots in the draft, it removes a lot of the incentive to finish last. The risk/reward shifts dramatically.

Second Category

This category would use exactly the same approach as the first category but the picks involved would be picks 9 to 16 in a 32 team league with 16 teams making the playoffs. If there were 34 teams in the league, the picks would be from 9 to 18. The advantage of this approach is that it is scalable. The approach to the draft lottery does not have to change if the number of teams in the league expands (or contracts).

Third Category

My philosophy behind this approach is that the best team in the league should not be measured by regular season performance alone, nor should it be measured by playoff performance alone. The quality of the team should be measured by the combined performance of the regular season and the playoffs.

The total points earned divided by the number of games played (regular season and playoffs) would determine each playoff team’s points percentage. At the end of the playoffs, each team would be ranked based on their combined points percentage and that rank would determine their draft position.

In a 32 team league, this would involve picks 17 to 32 and while it wouldn’t have the same impact as revamping the lottery process for the first and second categories, it should be a far more accurate reflection of a team’s true ability. It doesn’t ignore playoff successes or failure nor does it ignore regular season performance.


Whether you agree with this approach or not, the situation surrounding this year’s draft has cast a shadow on the integrity of the league. The draft lottery fiasco and the approach taken by a handful of teams needs to be addressed.

One thought on “NHL Draft Lottery – Repairs Needed

  1. Nice work Bob. Looks like a great approach and I have seen a few others in the past couple of weeks that would be improvements on the current system. Unfortunately nothing will happen until Gary Bettman is buried. Even removing Bill Daley from the final presentation would be helpful.

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