Former NHL Exec: Draft Lottery 'Tragic' For Detroit, 'Disgrace' For League

"Stupid and sad and unnecessary."

Will Burchfield
June 29, 2020 - 12:09 pm
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Fans of the Red Wings were in revolt Friday night when the team was victimized, yet again, by the draft lottery. So were some prominent voices around the NHL.

Not because Detroit caught such a raw deal, but because the system in place allowed it to happen. 

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Take it from Brian Burke, who spent over 30 years as an NHL executive, including five stops as a GM, and who once served as the league's director of hockey operations under current commissioner Gary Bettman. 

"There should be five teams in the lottery each year, no more," Burke, now an NHL analyst for Sportsnet, told the Jamie and Stoney Show. "This year there should (have been) seven, no more: the teams that are not participating in the play-in and the playoffs. Then you mitigate the risk of tanking, but you allow the worst teams to get the best players.

"This was a travesty. This was a disgrace. A team that may well have finished with 100 points or 95 points had we finished the season, might end up picking first overall. And Detroit was sitting at 39 points. And they didn’t tank, Detroit doesn’t tank. So this is a joke to me, and I’ve been pounding this drum for two years." 

Detroit slipped from first to fourth in the draft, despite entering the lottery with the best individual odds of picking No. 1. Meanwhile, a team that will have a chance to compete in the playoffs this summer will also have the right to draft a potential superstar in Alexis Lafreniere. It's the fourth year in a row the Wings have fallen in the lottery, and the third time in five years since the NHL expanded the lottery in 2016 that the last-place team will pick fourth in the draft. 

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"It’s absurd," said Burke. "I don’t care about which team is in and which team is out, the system is flawed. Forget this year, forget the pandemic year. Last year a team that just missed the playoffs, sitting at 90 points, had a chance to pick first overall and leapfrog teams in the 60's. How is that fair? How does that make any sense at all? And I don’t understand why the union isn’t part of this. Why don’t they think this makes sense?"

While the Wings had an 18.5 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick, they were much more likely to land exactly where they did. And the teams seeded Nos. 8-15 had a combined chance at the top pick of 24.5 percent. In the end, the league's two worst teams -- Detroit and Ottawa -- were the two biggest losers. 

"Steve Yzerman -- who never complains, which is one thing I like about him -- pointed out that if you add up the percentages for all these teams in the play-in round, it was well over Detroit’s percentage. So the odds of this happening were much greater than people think," said Burke. "Ottawa lost out here, Detroit lost out here and the league’s credibility lost out here."

The benefit for the NHL is that Phase 2 of the lottery will put the league back in the spotlight. 

"So now they’ve got two big TV nights out of it," said Burke. "But I think even the league would agree, that cost wasn’t worth it. The cost of embarrassing the league isn’t worth a second big TV night."

So, why adopt this system in the first place?

"I think the reason they went to this system is the teams that missed the playoffs, particularly in the U.S., went to Gary and said, 'It’s really hard when you miss the playoffs to get people to renew your season tickets. We could use a little bump in the summer, put us back into the lottery.' I think that was the rationale, and that’s a stupid rationale," Burke said.

Burke called the result tragic for the Red Wings.

"Detroit fans are fantastic, the franchise has been fantastic. They’re on their way back. Stevie will get them back there. I really like the coach, Jeff Blashill. But they could have used a boost this weekend and it was a tragic result. Just stupid and sad and unnecessary, that’s why it’s tragic. It’s not tragic because of the player they’re going to get. The way this draft is structured, they’re going to be fine where they’re picking now, " said Buke. "They just should have had a good chance to do better."