For how long can the NHL reward Oilers’ futility?

The Hockey Central at Noon crew can't believe that the Oilers are tied for last with a Maple Leafs team that are presently little more than an AHL team, calling it embarrassing for Edmonton.

Tuesday night, the Edmonton Oilers suffered a 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators. It was the team’s fifth straight loss and eighth in nine games.

The effort, or lack thereof, prompted Edmonton’s head coach, Todd McLellan to voice his displeasure with the team post-game.

McLellan’s comments became a discussion point during the second intermission of the Calgary Flames/Los Angeles Kings game. During this discussion, I made a statement that stimulated conversation in the Twitterverse.

Yes, I said it. “You can’t suck for that long because it’s not fair to everyone else.”

While some believe my comment was biased, because I’m a Hextall and it was directed at the Oilers, it was not.

I won’t deny that I still feel the sting of the tears streaming down my face as my seven-year-old self watched my cousin Ron and the Philadelphia Flyers lose Game 7 of the 1987 Stanley Cup final to Gretzky’s Oilers. But, to this day as a hockey fan, I believe the ’87 Cup final was one of the best series of all-time.

Which brings me to my comment on Tuesday night.

As a child I watched the Oilers win five Stanley Cups in seven years. Now, as an adult covering the game, I watch the Oilers earn first-overall draft picks. They have accumulated four of those in the past six years.

And here they are last place in the NHL. If the NHL Draft lottery was held today, the Oilers would have the best chance (20 per cent), of selecting first overall… again. Hello, Auston Matthews.

Whether it’s a coincidence, or a result of the Oilers owning the lottery and therefore the NHL’s top young talent, in April of 2014 the NHL announced it would phase in a new draft lottery system.

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 7.09.30 PM

For 2015, the draft lottery was adjusted to produce a more evenly-balanced result by adjusting the odds of the 14 non-playoff teams.

Teams finishing in the bottom four spots received lower odds of winning the lottery and the right to pick first overall, while the odds increased for the other non-playoff teams. In 2016, the lottery will expand and assign the top three drafting slots instead of just No. 1 overall. Now, the worst team in the NHL could pick as low as No. 4 in the draft.

The Buffalo Sabres had the best chance of winning the draft lottery in 2015 (20 per cent) but it was not to be.

The Oilers, with an 11.5 per cent chance, scored the first overall selection and generational talent Connor McDavid.

While this is a tough pill to swallow for the 29 other NHL teams, it’s just how it works.

For this reason, I believe the NHL needs to implement a rule capping the amount of first-overall selections in a specific time frame.

Suggestion: a maximum of two first-overall picks within a five-year period.

Now, for those who say it’s not the Oilers’ fault they keep winning the lottery, that’s a fair point. After all, it is a lottery.

However, is it not the Oilers’ responsibility as a franchise to utilize those picks to build a strong on-ice product?

In 2003 and 2005, the Pittsburgh Penguins held the first overall draft picks, selecting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and phenom Sidney Crosby respectively. In 2008, the Penguins lost in the Stanley Cup final, but won it all the following season.

In 2008, the Kings drafted defenceman Drew Doughty second overall and four years later they won the Stanley Cup, and did it again in 2014.

Both the Penguins and Kings built a winner around their top draft picks. Yes, I hear you screaming Oilers fans.

There is no doubt markets such as Los Angeles have more allure to free agents. Let’s remember, I am from Manitoba and covered the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets have the same issue as Edmonton – it’s not a sexy market.

That’s not an excuse though. Take a look at the Detroit Red Wings.

While I have an affection for Detroit (my uncle Dennis played for the Red Wings, and Joe Louis Arena is one of my favourite places to watch a game), it’s not exactly a sexy market either.

But, Detroit acquires free agents for one reason – they win.

Ken Holland’s hockey club has rattled off 24 consecutive playoff appearances, the longest active streak in all major North American professional sports and the third-longest in NHL history. The Red Wings accomplished this even though their highest draft pick since the lottery began in 1995 was 15th overall in 2014: Dylan Larkin.

This season, Detroit is once again in a playoff position (third in the Atlantic Division), and Larkin is in the Calder Trophy conversation.

Most Consecutive Playoff Appearances in NHL History
29 – Boston Bruins (1968-96)
28 – Chicago Blackhawks (1970-97)
25 – St. Louis Blues (1980-2004)
24 – Detroit Red Wings (1991-pres.)
24 – Montreal Canadiens (1971-94)
21 – Montreal Canadiens (1949-69)
20 – Detroit Red Wings (1939-58)

Imagine where Detroit would be with four first overall picks in six years.

No one is suggesting the Oilers want to be in this predicament. New management was brought in to elevate the Oilers out of the basement and return the team to its glory days.

While working in Boston for NESN, I watched then-Bruins and current Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli craft a Stanley Cup contender and pull the trigger on several major trades. Along with Bob Nicholson, one would expect to eventually see change for the better within the Edmonton organization.

Until then, if this year’s draft lottery again falls in the Oilers’ favour, I assure you NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s inbox will be filled with emails from 29 GMs, stating in more colourful terms than I used:

“You can’t suck that long because it’s not fair to everyone else.”