NHL needs to decide ‘relatively quickly’ on fate of June draft

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. (John Woods/CP via AP)

If the NHL is going to proceed with a June entry draft amid its paused season, deputy commissioner Bill Daly says it will need to commit to that approach “relatively quickly.”

The league began taking the temperature of member clubs and team executives by discussing the proposed idea during conference calls this week.

While no formal vote is required to set the timing of the draft, the league’s head office will consult with its 31 teams before reaching a decision, according to Daly. And time is of the essence given how much planning would need to be done before staging a virtual draft two months from now.

“I think we and the clubs would need a fair amount of lead time, so I would think a decision would need to be made relatively quickly,” Daly said Wednesday in an email.

The discussion comes with the NFL expected to draw record ratings for its draft Thursday night — the first one ever held entirely online in that league because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If that generates as much interest as anticipated, it will be tough for the NHL or any other professional sports league to ignore.

There’s a strong marketing appeal to holding a draft in June — generating fan interest at a time when you have a captive sporting audience, with an eye toward helping revenues return when it’s safe to get the league up and running again.

From the NHL’s perspective, it could also ease the fall off-season turnaround before the start of the 2020-21 campaign — should it manage to complete the current season during the summer, as hoped — by removing a major “to-do” item from a list that includes free agency, arbitration and buyout windows.

An informal poll of team executives was predictably mixed about the viability of a June draft and tended to fall down a line of whether it was perceived to benefit that person’s club or not.

However, there was also an underlying acknowledgement that it may be best for the big-picture health of a league that stands to lose more than $1 billion in revenue if it’s unable to complete the paused 2019-20 season.

When contemplating potential return-to-play scenarios or formats, Daly and commissioner Gary Bettman have been consistent about the need to be flexible under these unusual circumstances. The same logic should apply when considering the possibility of holding an entry draft before the Stanley Cup is awarded for the first time ever.

Plus, it’s not as big of a stretch as it might initially appear on the surface.

Consider that the draft lottery is always weighted entirely on the results of the regular season, and that this season was 85 per cent completed when play was stopped on March 12.

It’s a fairly representative sample to draw from.

There are some draft-pick conditions to wade through from previously completed trades — such as the J.T. Miller and Taylor Hall deals involving 2020 first-round picks that hinge on if Vancouver and Arizona, respectively, qualify for the playoffs — but in a one-time circumstance that can be reconciled by using where those teams stood at the pause without significantly altering the original spirit of those conditions.

The worst-case scenario for the NHL would be seeing a bubble team win the draft lottery and select Alexis Lafreniere No. 1 overall in June, and then go on a run during a resumed season in July and capture the Stanley Cup.

The odds of that occurring aren’t particularly high, but would need to be accepted as a possibility unless a restriction is introduced that doesn’t allow the bottom 15 teams in the standings to move up to No. 1, as is traditionally the case.

Indeed, the ramifications of holding a virtual draft before a season is completed would make for an unusual event — one that would almost certainly see trades limited to those exclusively involving picks, for example.

But it would also generate considerable interest at a time when that’s otherwise going to be difficult to do and could get the NHL started back down the long road to recovery.


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