Why should the NHL continue to reward the Edmonton Oilers for on-ice failure and organizational ineptitude by giving them a better chance to select the cream of the crop at the Entry Draft while more successful teams line up behind and wait their turn? It shouldn’t.

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I was contemplating the whole greasy, distasteful subject of teams tanking to achieve a better selection in the Entry Draft as the Oilers prepared to face the Buffalo Sabres Thursday – Jason Gregor and I were talking about trading away useful players like Matt Hendricks and Jeff Petry to keep the Oilers in contention in the Connor McDavid-Jack Eichel sweepstakes.

I dislike the idea of teams being rewarded for losing by having better odds of picking first overall (no matter how it’s weighted) because the idea of playing games should be to win. The reality under the system employed by the NHL, however, is that if the season is a write-off and playoffs are a pipe dream, it makes sense for teams like the Sabres, Oilers, Carolina Hurricanes and Arizona Coyotes to keep losing.

By edging the Sabres 3-2, the Oilers hurt their chances of getting a crack at McDavid or Eichel in the upside-down standings by improving to 35 points. The outcome leaves Edmonton four points ahead of the 30th-place Sabres. Simply put, as a bottom-feeder, winning is bad. Losing is good. There’s something fundamentally wrong with that.

From where I sit, it’s time to change the system and take away any reward for being awful, as the Oilers have been for years on end, turning lack of results into first overall picks Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov. John MacKinnon at the Edmonton Journal wrote about doing exactly that – changing the system — this morning. The story is here. I don’t agree with MacKinnon on much, but I’m with him on this one.

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It won’t happen, of course, but it should.



The NHL has already changed how it weights its lottery system for 2015 and will do so again for 2016. It amounts to nothing more than tinkering with a system that rewards failure. What I’d like to see, as MacKinnon suggested, is the elimination of that in the first round by giving all teams the same odds of drafting first overall regardless of whether they finish 30th or first during the regular season. Thirty balls into the machine, 30 balls out. Equal luck of the draw. In remaining rounds, use the reverse order format.

Worst picking first is a hangover from the pre-salary cap era when a handful of wealthy teams could and often would spend two or three times on player salaries than teams without the same resources. In 2002-03, teams like the New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues, to name just four, spent $60-$70 million, or more, on payroll. 

At the same time, have-nots like the Oilers, Minnesota, Nashville, Columbus and Pittsburgh, to name five, hovered a few million dollars on either side of the $30-million mark. While big-spenders had no guarantee of success, teams who had owners with deep pockets could throw money at mistakes and spend without limits trying to get it right. The have-nots could not and lost players to wealthier teams through free agency. The disparity was huge.

That disparity hasn’t been completely eliminated, but it’s been narrowed considerably by the salary cap and floor that’s in place now. The Red Wings or the Rangers can’t throw twice at much money at payroll as the Oilers and Sabres can. There is not the same need to throw the have-nots a bone at the Entry Draft to “even things up.”

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Edmonton owner Daryl Katz can spend to the cap if he chooses. POHO Kevin Lowe, general manager Craig MacTavish and the rest Edmonton’s hockey ops management isn’t handcuffed by lack of money as management under the EIG was before a new CBA came along.

All Cal Nichols and the EIG wanted was the chance to compete on an even playing field. That came in 2005-06. Why, with the ability to spend as much as any team, should the Oilers of today (or any team) be rewarded for lack of results, for doing a lousy job, with a better chance at picking first overall? Why should the Oilers or the Sabres have better odds of landing McDavid or Eichel than the Chicago Blackhawks or Boston Bruins?



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The Oilers have been selling hope instead of results without delivering on their promises since they drafted Hall in 2010. The NHL, though the system in place, has been the enabler. “We’re lousy, but it’s a process. We’re putting the building blocks in place.” Hall, first overall. RNH, first overall. Yakupov, first overall. “Look at these great kids we’ve got. We’ll build around them. Be patient.” That’s been the pitch here, no?

Dangling the possibility of landing the next Eric Lindros or Sidney Crosby, the next “generational player,” as a consolation prize takes some of the edge off the fan base when a season has been a disaster. The upside-down standings create buzz. In Edmonton, it has bought management more time than it deserves with fans and the guy who signs the cheques. Here we are again, barely into 2015, hoping the Oilers are bad enough to hang on to a shot at McDavid or Eichel. It’s time to kick away that crutch.

It’s time for the NHL to stop rewarding failure. Give every team the same odds of getting the first overall pick. Fans shouldn’t be reduced to cheering for losses, they should be cheering for wins knowing that no matter where their team finishes in the standings, they’ve got the exact same odds as any other team of walking to the podium first.

Management in Edmonton, any city, should stand or fall on its ability to draft well in every round and to develop that talent properly within a farm system. It should stand or fall based on making the right trades and signing the right free agents. It should stand or fall on putting all the pieces together and building a winning team. That means employing the best possible people in hockey ops at all levels – scouts, coaches, support staff, analytics people. Anything less is perverse.

It’s what we have here.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Yaaaaaaaaaaaay!!! My favorite article since I started coming to this site!!

    In life and in business, you don’t reward losers.. it creates an environment of entitlement, and punishes those that work hard.

  • Marshall Law

    The draft format is fine the way it is.

    To give all teams an equal crack at 1st overall ignores the fact that the salary cap did not make all cities equally desirable to play in.

    Buffalo has a long history of losing its best players to free agency: Hasek, Briere, Drury, etc… The reason being that it isn’t necessarily the most desirable place to live and play.

    The same can be said for the Oilers. Did Pronger leave because of incompetent management or a lack of a competitive team? Nope. It wasn’t even a money issue. He left after the Oilers got to game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals because his wife thought our city was a dump.

    Can anyone remember the last big name free agent that either of these teams was able to sign even when they were competitive? Why do you think they had to pay Nikitin, a third paring d man by any standard, 9 million dollars just to get him to play in Edmonton?

    There are elements at play that competent management cannot compensate for. Suggesting that everyone is now on the same playing field is ignorant.

    Even when these teams lose intentionally, it’s because they have no other way of acquiring elite talent. To remove this “crutch” from them and give a team like Chicago a crack at first overall picks would just cement bad teams in the basement for another decade.

    You have to give the less fortunate teams a chance to eventually compete.

    • The Last Big Bear

      Free agents go to winning organizations. The fact that UFAs don’t come to Edmonton has nothing to do with the city. Calgary and Edmonton are not dissimilar, yet the Flames can attract middle of the road UFAs without over paying (e.g. Hudler, Hiller)

      Over the last 10 years, Oilers have been a mediocre team at best, that is why they can’t attract UFAs. Even in 2006, when they made the SCF, the Oilers backed into the playoffs. Both Calgary and Vancouver spent a number of years being the “best” in the division, the Oilers haven’t been the “best” at anything in the last 10 years.

      The Oilers organization lacks vision of what winning hockey means, which is why they are the laughing stock of the NHL. It has nothing to do with the city itself

      • jonnyquixote

        >Free agents go to winning organizations. The fact that UFAs don’t come to Edmonton has nothing to do with the city.

        This actually isn’t true. Not to discount the effect of winning on a team’s ability to draw free agents, but there is a “Yankee” effect – and a strong one – that draws players to larger centers.

        This is due to a number of reasons – lifestyle, travel, prestige, increased endorsement opportunities, and other perks and socio/economic conditions. But the ability to draw free agents has more influence than just money and on-field/ice success, and large-market teams have a distinct and quantifiable advantage over small-market teams. This is true whether or not you’re the Oilers or the Flames or the Brewers or the Packers. It doesn’t mean they can’t sign Free Agents, and we’ve seen that. But it does mean that they’re at a competitive disadvantage.

        People who advocate wiping out the draft and making it just as easy for the 2015 Pittsburgh Penguins to draft Connor McDavid as the Columbus BlueJackets are ignoring or ignorant to this effect (and the whole notion of competitive balance being the lifeblood of a healthy league in the first place).

          • Serious Gord

            Pittsburg definitely is one of the preferred cities in the nhl.

            I have been there numerous times. The suburbs are beautiful, lots of recreation areas and the downtown is largely rejuvenated. A much more desirable city than EDM or wpg and even Toronto. And being in the east with far less travel and very short distances to cities like New York and the Atlantic seaboard.

          • Pittsburgh is a dump. Don’t make ridiculous statements just to disagree with people. It’s a preferred destination for one reason only, the hope of winning. Nobody has ever signed in Pittsburgh because it was their favourite city.

  • sportsjunkie007

    Anybody who is serious about fixing the draft should read Adam Gold’s “How to Cure Tanking”

    The short version? As soon as a team is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, points collected from winning count towards winning the highest draft pick. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s worlds better than what we have today.

    Every game should matter. Every win should count for something. Losing should NEVER be a good thing. Adam Gold’s system would help that. A lot.

      • sportsjunkie007

        Good luck finding 23 players who are willing to lose by choice AND good enough to win games the day after they are eliminated.

        Makes me wonder: if they are good enough to win after eliminated, why not simply win enough to get into the playoffs?

    • wiseguy

      That system has been bandied around for a few years. The big issue I see is that it still provides incentive to tank. The points don’t start adding up until you’re mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Neither the oilers or Sabres are eliminated yet. It would result in the same situation except that the race is to be first to playoff elimination then you have the most games to collect points. Yes, you may have dismantled your team so much that you can’t win after being eliminated but I see ways around that. For example, playing nikitin and Schultz 25 min a game and trading away petry now would get us eliminated quickly. You then bring up marincin to replace petry and then playing fayne, klefbom and ference 20+ minutes, benching nikitin and playing Schultz just on the power play would result in more wins post-elimination.

      Long and short is that for tanking, where there’s a will there will be a way unless we make it totally random and on chance.

      • your argument suggests that signing guys like Nikitin, Schultz, Marincin, Ference, Klefbom and Fayne indicates a deliberate intention to tank! if the NHL wants to prevent teams from deliberately tanking, then it should prevent teams from signing, or drafting non-NHL capable players.

  • silentbob

    Best thing to for the nhl is parity. I think it’s fair to say Arizona, Edmonton and Buffalo are nowhere near as good as an other team. This isn’t a real open market like uofa. Unless we want a massive divide in talent, the draft has to reward bad teams. I don’t like how the structure is laid out now. If la misses by 1 pt, do they deserve mcdavid?

    Bottom three teams are usually worse by a mile, and not trying to fix that is stupid. This isn’t the open cap era, the nhl decided It wanted a liberal type market where parity exists. I think you are forgetting that the oil thought they could make the playoffs. This team is BAD, not tanking. If ever a franchise needed a hand to recover, it’s this one.

    • Derzie

      The trouble is teams are bad for several reasons. If a team is truly weak but well run, they deserve a player to help them along. Buffalo & Edmonton are not that. Edmonton is poorly run with some decent players and Buffalo is being coached to lose with some decent players. Neither deserves McDavid. Arizona may be an example. No real stars (than than Domi in the wings). With random first round, the top 2 or 3 will be lucky to win. The rest will be rewarded if they have a good scouting staff and development system with whatever pick they get.

      • sportsjunkie007

        I don’t care why teams are bad. The nhl stands to make the most money if parity exists. If Buffalo is tanking, punish them. If oilers management is retarded, force katz’s hand. The nhl is essentially 1 company, not a free market. The don’t benefit from weakening teams. They need to keep all teams competitive so that they have the biggest possible audience. While I hate the oilers coming last year after year, not giving the 1OV is hurting the nhl. Edmonton isn’t going to rebuild faster because DSL doesn’t get 1ov. I would suggest they interfere with bad teams more, to address the reasons why they are bad.

          • he shoots he scars

            But it’s in their best interest. Edmonton and Buffalo are decreasing the nhl’s value in terms of merchandise sales, tv deals, exposure, ect.

          • do you think the Rogers tv deal would have been better if edmonton was a better team? it just means some other team would have been in 30th place instead. there’s always going to be a couple of lousy teams in the league…might as well be lousy teams that are still well supported. i don’t think Edmonton being terrible for 4 years has impacted the NHL’s bottom line.

  • T.J.F.M.

    Unless the Oilers draft first overall they should trade their 2 first round picks for actual NHL players. Give Hall Eberle RNH some support

    I am tired of waiting for the 18 year olds to mature. By the time any of these 2 first round picks become NHL players Hall, Eberle, RNH will be more or less gone

    I will get trashed for this so trash away

    • Burnward

      I’m not so sure why so many people still want to build around this “core” group of players of RNH, Eberle, and Hall. To my eye, Eberle and Hall seem more like the problem on most nights than the solution. If word on the street counts for anything, they are not the poster boys some seem to want to think, and they are not the team solidarians in the locker room. Hearsay??

      • Oil Fan in Ottawa

        This is basically what Hemsky when he left a year ago, the “core” has to start leading the team.

        An old saying in any sport is “your best players have to be you best players”. How many nights does the HNHE line outplay the guys across form them?

  • Jordan88

    Well I agree with the mentality of not rewarding failure. We really need to take a step back and look at what we offer in comparison to other cities. Edmonton is and I love my city it is my home town and I intend to live here for the majority of my life.

    But there in lies the fault.

    Edmonton has really nothing to offer a 28 year old NHL journeymen in comparison to say Toronto or L.A. or even the teams in Florida. L.A is warm and west coast lots of stars and affluent women to chase. Florida cheap real estate amazing beaches models and anonymity.

    Now look at Edmonton we have what, an art gallery a few swimming pools and a theater. Not much for culture or entertainment. It can snow from Oct to June some years and the roads are so crappy you need a 4×4 of some kind but don’t worry Kentwood will give you an F-150. But don’t go in public or you will be told everything you are doing wrong from every armchair coach/gm/owner in the city.

    at 28 years old you have three teams offering you a contract for 5 years

    Edmonton at 5 million a year,
    Toronto at 4.25 mil
    Florida at 4.5 mil

    Now let me ask you this for an extra 2.5 – 3.75 million over 5 years would you deal with the stresses of what Edmonton has or would you go try your luck in an original six market or have some beach time with Bobby Lou.

  • @peteroiler11

    “Why should the Oilers or the Sabres have better odds of landing McDavid or Eichel than the Chicago Blackhawks or Boston Bruins?”

    Just look at the location. Nobody wants to come to Edmonton if they have NYC or LA to choose from. And that in itself is and always will be a disadvantage.

    Your lottery suggestion would only divide the league more. Bad teams in small markets would struggle for decades. Chances for a team to land 1st overall once in a century would be extremely low. Teams would go bankrupt and look for new location all the time.

    What NHL strives for is stability and current system does just that. Tweaking the lottery, yes. Going to your extreme suggestion, No.

  • Sevenseven

    Your argument saying that teams are trying to lose is so subjective. If a team’s management and players really are bad enough to be the worst team in the league they should get the best player at the draft so they can become stronger.

  • maybe teams should just own their own junior teams, and develop their prospects that way instead. You know, they way the European football leagues do it. The right way to run a league. Relegation for bad teams, the best team in the league wins the league, and teams have to develop their own players, and buy and sell them like commodities.

    Or…stop whining and stop making the accusation that the Oilers have been rewarded for being bad. If they had been rewarded, they wouldn’t be a bad team anymore. It’s a totally false argument. Giving the worst team in the league better odds for drafting first overall doesn’t make them a better team. It would be more of a reward if the NHL said the worst team in the league was automatically awarded the best veteran, yet still NHL capable free agent top line center or first pair defenseman available during the summer. That’s a reward for failure…not drafting first overall. Anyway, where was this argument 10 years ago when pittsburgh was drafting 1st or 2nd overall for a few years? Why is it an issue now that it’s Edmonton?

  • camdog

    A 30 team fight for the number 1 lotto would bankrupt about 6-7 teams in the league. The Oilers are the rare bad team that can generate gate revenue. Imagine poorly managed team with no hope of ever getting better. You’d have to regulate the bad teams to another league like they do in soccer.

    Now you could take all of the non playoff teams and throw them in the hat with equal opportunity. 14 teams with a chance at number one wouldn’t be bad odds for really bad managed teams.

    As to tanking getting a little tired of people pretending the Oilers and Buffalo tanking was planned, that’s giving both organisations way too much credit, it’s like pretending they knew what they were doing.

    • he shoots he scars

      The Oilers had no intention of being this bad. The problem is there is a handful of teams 40 or 50 games into the season (sooner for the truly lousy like the Oilers) who realize they have no chance of making the playoffs and the door opens for the race to be worst.

  • Prongers Promises

    Love it. Absolutely love it. There is no selling hope for next year. Its do or die every damn year!

    The fans would be at the throats of management and proper action would need to be taken

  • he shoots he scars

    There are two reasons to maintain the current draft system as a means of helping weaker teams. One is that weaker teams, by virtue of being less competitive, have a more difficult chance to sign free agents. If free agents mostly sign with competitive teams, then the hierarchy will continue. The other is the current scourge of the NHL, the no trade or restricted trade contracts that the top end players are receiving.(perhaps an article on the number of nt or rt contracts would be useful). If most of the elite or semi elite players in the league can veto a trade to a noncontending team, then the weak stay weak and the contenders remain contenders. Thus , two means of getting a weak team better with current NHLers is mostly out of the realms of possibility, so the draft is a place where weaker teams have an opportunity to acquire better talent.

  • bored

    The topic of this article is a very “Oiler” topic, I doubt if this is even a afterthought any where else. The bass ackward logic of further penalizing weak teams by denying them better entry draft odds defies logic. I get the impression that “piling on” anything negative about the Oil strikes a cord at the moment.

    • bradleypi

      Completely agree. How in this system does a bad team ever get better?? Totally agree that this is the only site that is talking about this subject and actually thinking it’s a good idea…. I believe the real reward in hockey is the Stanley Cup. If a 1st overall pick is such a “reward”, why doesn’t every team strive for it? The system is fine the way it is. The Oilers are a prime example that getting this “reward” doesn’t guarantee anything at all.

  • Zarny

    I agree with the gist of the article. There is something fundamentally wrong when losing is the best option.

    I disagree that all 30 teams getting an equal crack at the top prospect is the way to go.

    The handful of wealthy teams can’t outspend the rest anymore, but that doesn’t mean every franchise is on equal footing. Big cosmopolitan cities and warm climates will always draw more interest than places like Edmonton and Buffalo.

    Winning is the only thing that can offset the discrepancy but if you have no way of attracting elite talent you will never win.

    I would prefer a system where all of the non-playoff teams had an equal chance to win the lottery. No one is going to tank to miss the playoffs.

  • CMG30

    Normally I’m with you on a lot of things Brownlee, but not in this case.

    I agree that it’s shameful of the Oilers to STILL be a miserable failure, but I think that’s more of a product of the Edmonton market than anything else. How many other markets would put up with this? Not many. If the fans disagree with the tank then they should stop supporting the team.

    Beyond that I think that there are legit reasons to keep the system the way it is. Namely, to ensure the talent continues to be spread around to some degree. Sure we can complain about the Oilers grabbing #1’s, but how would fans league wide feel if the Stanley cup winning team also walked away with McDavid? Not good for business. Next, losing teams still have a hard time signing free agents. They want to go to a winner and will take a discount to get there.

    Finally, Playing the tank game will eventually backfire on the Oilers or any other team that tries it too much. At a certain point, the RNH’s and the Halls will get sick of the losing and sign somewhere else. At that point they will walk onto a true contender in the prime of their career and the Oilers will be left holding the bag for a decade of stupidity.

  • How about a lottery for the bottom half of the NHL in the first round, and the rest based on the current system.

    This ensure that team do not tank, but get a decent pick based on performance.

    Trading away expiring contracts does not seem like a very good idea for the Oilers……..we are not very good in selecting professional players any ways…….it was not too long ago we were trying to sign Clarkson…….I understand he was a UFA but selecting established players is still a gamble.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I’m starting to concur with this line of thinking, Robin. Oilers management have abused the ‘shiney new toy’ and ‘selling hope’ angle to such a degree that it now makes the whole strategy look cheap. Its the easy way to build a team. Hey, let’s be terrible for a decade, sell hope to our dopey fans, and we can keep our jobs the whole time!!!

    Who needs the first overall pick, anyway. Look at Sean Monahan; he’s looking to be just as good as RNH. Ryan Johanson was picked 4th in the Hall draft; would the Oil be worse off if they ended up with him? Trouba is looking like the best of the bunch in 2012; he went 9th overall.

  • nugeformayor

    I really enjoy reading 99% of the articles you write (big fan); but this is by far the most ignorant one that you’ve ever written. It totally ignores the reality of advantages that some cities hold over others in the league like tax rates, weather/climate, lifestyle, ability for privacy, etc.

    But most of all, you’re system gives little hope for bad teams in disadvantaged markets to ever improve and truely be competitive. How do these teams ever actually become good again without being extremely lucky?

    – If they try to improve by overpaying for good players in free agency, they are essentially shooting themselves in the foot because it will have longterm cap ramifications.

    – If they try to improve themselves through the draft, you are essentially asking the scouts of bad teams to be smarter than the professional scouts of 29 other teams… because under your system, where you pick is 100% random. Is that really fair to the fans in disadvantaged cities? …”Your only hope to improve is if our teams scouting staff is supreamely better than the rest of the league, AND if the ping pong balls randomly fall our way for a stretch.” (It is common knowledge that in roulette there are sometimes bad stretches for people and good stretches. Is luck how you want to decide who improves and who gets worse? …Because you know that if you’re system was implemented, there would be some stretches where a great team gets picks in the top 5 for 2 out of 3 years, or a really bad team gets picks in the 25-30 range 2 out of 3 years. Any person with a brain can see how that could cripple a franchise for almost decade, or make a team elite for almost decade based on nothing but luck. When you consider the snowball effect that could have on a franchise (good or bad), the disparity in the league could have devastating effects.

    – If you’re asking a bad team to improve by developing its players well, that takes a long time… And for that to really work, that bad team doesn’t just have to be “good” at developing players, they have to be better than everyone else at it.

    Seriously, you are not asking disadvantaged cities and/or bad teams to be “good” at drafting, developing, trading, and acquiring free agents… You are asking disadvantaged cities and bad teams to be “better than everyone else” at drafting, developing, trading, and acquiring free agents year after year after year after year to be a legit contender for any stretch of time.

    Sorry Buffalo, Edmonton, Carolina, Arizona. We know that you’re a bad team right now, and that you may be at a disadvantage retaining and acquiring good players… But be better than everyone else every year at EVERYTHIN, and hope the balls fall your way for a stretch… And I’m sure things will turn around for ya eventually.”