Bettman talks lottery, Canadian teams, parity

Gary Bettman talks with Gene Principe about how the NHL Draft Lottery unfolded, competitive balance and what he thinks about no Canadian teams making the playoffs.

The NHL Draft Lottery, which awarded the Toronto Maple Leafs the first pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, was a success according to Gary Bettman.

The NHL commissioner spoke with Gene Principe in Dallas on Sunday and made sure to note that the league was not looking for any particular outcome, no matter how appealing one might be.

“As long as it goes through and does what it’s supposed to without a glitch I’m happy,” said Bettman. “Obviously, we don’t root (for a team to win), it is what it is.”

While this year’s format gave all non-playoff teams a chance to move into the top three, it was the last-place Leafs that made good on their 20 per cent odds of winning. The Winnipeg Jets jumped up from the sixth spot to No. 2, while Columbus rose one spot to No. 3.

Bettman was asked if he was happy that the team with the highest odds of winning the lottery did so.

“The lottery is intended to give a fair weighting based on performance and frankly the competitive balance we have is so tight,” he said. “Anybody can finish anywhere, there’s only a few points difference in the standings.

“We don’t look for a particular outcome, as long as the system itself works well we’re OK.”

And what would have happened, had the Edmonton Oilers won their fifth first-overall pick in seven years?

“The good news is we don’t have to deal with it, it didn’t happen.”

The end results of the lottery have Canadian teams holding five of the top six picks and six of the top nine. It’s been a difficult season for Canada’s seven NHL franchises, with none of them making the post-season.

The commissioner sees this year as an anomaly.

“First of all I like to remind people we’re one league and so at the end of the day it’s about the great 700 players that play our game, half of which come from Canada and in the final analysis it’s about what takes place on the ice,” said Bettman. “The fact that this hasn’t happened since I think 1970 proves that it’s not a regular occurrence and I’d be surprised if we see it again any time soon.”

If the regular season was defined by a lack of success from Canadian teams, the post-season might be notable for the early exits from the traditional heavyweights. The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings, winners of five of the past six Stanley Cups, were both ousted in Round 1.

It’s something that Bettman sees as a sign of the league-wide parity the NHL has seen since the salary cap was implemented.

“As long as the hockey is exciting and entertaining, that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “And we have the most incredible competitive balance and you’re seeing it in terms of the number of teams that made the playoffs this year that didn’t the year before; I think that’s five teams, last year it was seven.

“It’s unpredictable and when the Cup is finally hoisted in June, it’s going to be because the best team was able to get through four rounds.”

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