Discussing the Bill Simmons Anti-Tanking Proposal for the NHL


Sports podcaster Bill Simmons has been a longtime opponent of the NBA lottery system and has openly discussed ways to combat tanking from bottom-of-the-barrel teams at the end of the year. Is his idea plausible for the NHL?

The “race to the bottom” discussion always comes up at the end of the season when there are multiple teams in contention for the top pick of the entry level draft. As was the case last year, Buffalo, Arizona, and Edmonton were the primary destinations Connor McDavid was likely headed to. Despite Buffalo ending the year at the bottom of the league, McDavid found himself in Edmonton after they were awarded the first pick of the draft; but, this is a whole different discussion for a different day.

Now, what if Buffalo was intentionally losing games at the end of the year (went 1-4 in final 5 games) in order to better their odds for getting the number one pick. Should losing be rewarded? Simmons says no. Instead, he proposed a mini draft-playoff of sorts. In this format, the bottom handful of teams would play for the right to have the top draft pick that year. This will give organizations an incentive to compete through the end in order to land the prized piece that would conceivably help their cause in the near future.

On the surface, this sounds great. Teams will have a reason to finish the season strong to give them a more favorable matchup heading into the draft playoff. Also, it will promote added games for these franchises, which can capitalize on added ticket and TV revenue. And, most importantly, it will reward organizations who perform through the end of the year, rather than putting it up to chance in the lottery.

However, it may not be as simple and effective as what Simmons and his listeners think. First, what incentive does a player have to try harder to receive this top pick? The front office, coaching staff, and foundation for the team does, but do the rest of the roster? This is especially the case for players who intend on being free agents, or those who can even be replaced by the draft pick the following year. For instance, if the Leafs and Oilers were facing off for the rights to draft the top-pick, and lets say the top prize this year is a center, would Mark Letestu (a 31-yr old fourth liner) put it all on the line in order for his team to possibly draft his replacement? If the top pick was expected to be a goalie, would Talbot or Brossoit play at the top of their game if it meant them seeing a backup role going forward?

In regards to the added revenue the teams will see, I do not think true hockey fans will miss playoff action from around the league to see a consolation tournament. There will be some added revenue from ticket sales, albeit likely closer to that of preseason games. Also, TV ratings would suffer as well because again, fans love playoff hockey and a consolation bracket will likely not be able to mimic the same intensity we see from the teams chasing the cup.

So, although there are some flaws in the current lottery system, I do not believe a “playoff” for the top draft pick is the answer. Rather than seeing teams compete for the top pick, the product would be more of a pickup game where players go through the motions because they are forced to be there. Simmons has a nice idea, but nothing more than that.


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