‘Everything still on the table’ regarding NHL’s draft plans

Bill Daly speaks to the media. (Martti Kainulainen/Lehtikuva via AP)

Even as the momentum seems to have slowed around the NHL’s push for an early June draft, the possibility of conducting that event before the conclusion of a pandemic-interrupted season remains.

“Everything is still on the table,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Sportsnet on Thursday afternoon.

Many believed it was a foregone conclusion late last week after Daly sent an eight-page memo to teams touting the benefits of an early draft. But after a Monday call with the league’s Board of Governors and other discussions, there continues to be an internal debate about what direction to take.

Time is somewhat of the essence.

 
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In Daly’s May 1 memo, he indicated that a “minimum of one-month lead time” would be needed to plan and conduct a virtual draft. At that point, it was believed the NHL was eyeing June 5 as the date to hold it — although options later in the month have been considered as well.

Despite facing significant pushback from general managers, the NHL believes there’s value in holding the draft at a time when the sporting calendar is on hold because of COVID-19. Recent drafts held by the NFL and WNBA each drew record audiences and provided fresh content for those leagues.

Some NHL teams are uncomfortable with the idea of seeing a draft lottery conducted with the regular season still incomplete — although that concern might end up being moot with recent discussions centring around the possibility of jumping straight to a 24-team playoff upon restart. There were also issues raised by GMs who didn’t like that they would be prevented from remaking their rosters with trades involving active players during a draft held while the league was on pause.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

Daly acknowledged those concerns in his memo to teams last week, but made a case for pushing ahead towards a June draft anyway. In addition to the marketing benefits, he pointed to the fact that there would be a small off-season window to stage a draft in the event the league managed to hand out a Stanley Cup in 2020 — something he said wouldn’t happen before mid-September, at the earliest.

“Quite frankly, whatever we decide to do, there is no way, under these most unusual circumstances, for us to maintain the ‘status quo,”’ Daly wrote in his memo. “We do believe that there are valid reasons to consider moving forward with a June Draft — which would appear, on balance, to have more upside potential and predictability for the clubs and the League.”

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