NHL Entry Draft: Colorado Avalanche Got Robbed During Lottery

Does the Colorado Avalanche, finishing 20 points below anybody else in the standings, dropping out of the top 3 in the NHL Entry Draft spell the end of the NHL Draft Lottery?

The Colorado Avalanche finished the 2016-17 NHL season with 48 points in the standings. That’s 21 points below the second-worst team in the NHL, the Vancouver Canucks, who had 69. Now, the Colorado Avalanche, despite having (deservedly) the best odds at the number one pick, were picked fourth in the NHL Entry Draft Lottery.

The Avalanche Got Robbed

Calvin Pickard (31) (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

So how does a team who finished with 48 points end up drafting fourth after the NHL Draft Lottery? How does a team with genuine needs, who didn’t tank, or at least is very good at covering up, not get to fulfill those needs? Especially after the Avalanche had an 18% chance at that first overall pick?

The Colorado Avalanche, in addition to being dead last in the NHL standings points race, were also last in goal differential by a wide margin. This isn’t a team that is committed to tanking, this is a team with actual problems. And teams like Arizona and Vancouver are the same way.

The Avalanche fans haven’t had a lot to look forward to all year. Outside of a decent start, the Colorado Avalanche haven’t been good. They’ve been actively trying, but they haven’t found any rhythm. Somebody like Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier who could slot in behind Matt Duchene and play with Gabriel Landeskog would have been good news for the Avalanche. Even being in the top three, the Avalanche could have selected the best defenseman, another pressing need. But yet, they don’t get that good news.

And it might be because of a corrupt system, but we’ll get to that. Or it might be because of Edmonton because if anyone is at fault for this situation it’s the Oilers. But we’ll get to that as well.

New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Dallas?

The teams that beat out the Avalanche, and the Coyotes, and the Vancouver Canucks were the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, and Dallas Stars in that order. Now, New Jersey had 70 points. Dallas had 79. And Philadelphia, a team that was competitive in the East, had 88. 88 points! Nearly double the amount that Colorado had.

NHL Draft Lottery

Mar 28, 2017; Newark, NJ, USA; New Jersey Devils right wing Beau Bennett (8) celebrates with teammates (Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

New Jersey had an 8.5% chance at that first overall pick. That was good for fifth in the league, behind Colorado, Vancouver, Vegas, and Arizona. Those teams ended up fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh respectively. According to Tankathon, that’s the guaranteed worst all of these teams could do. The guaranteed worst. To put that into perspective, if there was a way that these teams could have ended up at the very bottom of the draft, the NHL might have done that.

Now, why does Colorado (and not just Colorado, the second pick likely should have gone to Vancouver instead of, again, an 88-point team that was very much in the playoff race for much of the season) losing out on a chance at Nolan Patrick upset me so much? Because this isn’t how other sports do it.

There’s a reason the NHL Draft Lottery feels rigged. It’s a system that doesn’t make a ton of sense, isn’t publicly viewed, and happens behind a closed door. Versus the NBA who very notably publicizes their draft lottery, which has led to some controversy – Patrick Ewing anybody – but not the NHL Draft Lottery.

So Why Is This Edmonton’s Fault

From 2010 until 2015, the Edmonton Oilers had four first overall picks. FOUR. That includes three back to back to back. Those four picks were, in order: Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, and most recently Connor McDavid. It was that stretch of three back to backs that led to the current NHL Draft Lottery system. It was just prior to the 2014-15 season that it was changed, and Nail Yakupov was drafted just two years prior.

Now, the previous incarnation of the NHL draft lottery was that no team could fall further than one position, and only the bottom five teams were given a chance at number one overall. If Edmonton was better at managing talent, there wouldn’t be a problem, and Colorado guaranteed ends up with Nico Hischier at worst.

NHL Draft Lottery

Nov 20, 2015; Edmonton Oilers forward Taylor Hall (4) and forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) talk between whistles (Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

But Edmonton couldn’t make due with three first overalls, and they continued to be a bottom-dweller until franchise savior Connor McDavid arrived. By the way, those two drafts in between Yakupov and McDavid? Edmonton came in seventh and third. They got Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl, both key to their current run.

Because Edmonton wasn’t able to make due with three back to back first overall picks, Colorado has dropped out of the top three in a bad draft. They might be this bad next year, and if the NHL has some angry Colorado fans on their hands, guess who’s to blame?

What System Makes Sense Instead?

What are the alternatives to this dumb system, if we are to get rid of it? Well, what about guaranteeing a team like Colorado who clearly earned their first overall pick that they can’t fall out of the top 3? Then, Colorado ends up with the top defenseman in the draft, and that’s a position that Colorado very badly needs.

Or, and hear me out: the NFL is doing just fine without a lottery draft altogether. Yes, the NHL is afraid of tanking, and that was something that has been done very recently. But the NHL Draft Lottery is stupid if it is being done behind closed doors, and there just seems something… controversial about what’s happening.

NHL Draft Lottery

Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (15) scores his second goal of the game (Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

Going with the worst team every time is usually not going to be a bad idea. And even tanking teams under this current system can still end up with the number two overall pick and a stud like Jack Eichel. And yet, the Colorado Avalanche, a team with actual needs, can’t get a top three pick.

There are better alternatives to protecting against an obvious tank. If it’s that clear, then the fans themselves will react negatively against it. Fans don’t like losing. They’ll show it. And if you want to protect against draft fraud, what about fining teams who obviously tank? And why does tanking not seem like a problem in other sports? The NFL, with the most tank-able system, is never dealing with a tank controversy.

Cause right now, it just seems like a whole other draft fraud, one that has potentially screwed the Colorado Avalanche and their fans out of something they very much need – actual talent. And again, I’m not a Colorado Avalanche fan, but when I see injustice something needs to be done. And the Avalanche were just done a disservice.

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