As the NHL continues to determine how to most effectively move forward during the pause, some of the focus has turned to off-ice events such as the draft.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported several weeks ago that the NHL Draft will be held virtually, not in Montreal as scheduled, following the NFL's lead. But a decision on when the draft will occur has yet not happened, and it's a situation worth monitoring.
On the one hand, it's easy to understand why the NHL and its business partners would want to hold the draft as soon as possible.
The 2020 NFL Draft had record TV ratings, and with no major U.S. sports airing live, the league sees an opportunity to grab the spotlight for a day or two. Holding the draft as early as June 5 had been proposed, but with each passing day that seems to be out of the question (and recent reports say momentum for an early draft has slowed, but it remains a consideration).
Still, the point remains that the NHL would prefer to see the draft happen sooner rather than later.
On the other hand is the uncertainty an early draft would cause for many teams. With no playoff format settled and no expectation on when the season can (if at all?) return, it opens a serious can of worms. From the AP:
Unlike the NFL, which held its draft as usual in the middle of its offseason, the NHL would face several wrinkles going forward with a draft held before the season is complete: Teams would not be able to trade players, there would be a lack of clarity over next year’s salary cap and the draft order could be determined before all games are played.
The Blue Jackets, on the playoff bubble and with (presumably) significant off-season plans, would be adversely impacted by an early draft. Here's why:
Player movement. The Blue Jackets have
a glut of wingersplayers they could potentially trade for draft picks, but if the season is going to restart/the playoffs are going to occur at a later date, most teams aren't going to be trading their players away. Thus, any typical player movement at the draft would be impacted for teams looking towards the future. Take Josh Anderson; if the Blue Jackets were to trade him in a normal year, could they get a high pick in the draft in exchange for him? Certainly possible. The available draft capital would be limited, which hurts teams looking to add to their stockpile.
- Adding draft picks. If teams aren't going to be trading players, how else can they obtain picks later in the draft? The Blue Jackets hope to strengthen their prospect pool, which was ranked 31st in the NHL by The Athletic. The only way would be to trade down in the draft, which is plausible but less ideal than trading veteran/organizational depth pieces.
- Salary cap. Without opening up Pandora's box, the salary cap throws a monkey wrench into everything. Would the NHL announce a salary cap before the draft? Would it apply for the remainder of this season, or for next? How could the league forecast revenues without knowing when games will resume (and in what capacity)? Anyways, the Blue Jackets are one of the few teams in the NHL with no glaringly bad contracts and could afford to capitalize on teams in salary cap hell. But since teams aren't trading players (see the first bullet point), an early draft puts the brakes on this.
- Lottery standings. In a typical season, the Blue Jackets would have at least a shot (3.3%) to move up in the lottery to a top-three pick. But with the standings frozen and no lottery format determined, an adjusted draft lottery system could prevent them from having even a chance to move up in the order. It's unlikely, obviously, that they would win the lottery, but 3.3% > 0.0%.
The Blue Jackets aren't the only team who would be against such a plan. Even Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman, who would stand to benefit from these changes, had this to say:
“My thought is: Why would you do that? Why do you need to do that? 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.”
While the NHL's desire to be in the spotlight for a day is understandable, the headaches it would cause its true partners – its member clubs – should be reason enough to wait for a day with more clarity.