Draft day questions looming if the NHL season is cancelled

It’s beginning to look a lot like the NHL season will be cancelled.

Just this week, commissioner Gary Bettman was interviewed by NBCSN, and discussed the possibility that if there are still games that will be played this season, they could happen in neutral locations away from regular home rinks.

There has also been the possibility of the playoffs starting in August or September, delaying the start of the 2020-21 season until at least November.

Lots of interesting playoff structures have been discussed as well if the NHL chooses to jump right into a postseason tournament once play resumes.

Still, the most likely scenario for the NHL, as with the other sports leagues around the world, is that the season will be cancelled, no playoffs will happen, no Stanley Cup winner will be crowned, and we’ll all start fresh for 2021.

Obviously, some things are more important than watching a group of adults playing a game for millions of dollars. But if the NHL does cancel the season, it would be upsetting news for the many teams. In this era of parity, lots of teams were very much in the mix for a playoff spot, and they’ll now have to wait another year to compete for a championship.

If the season ends and the playoffs don’t happen, the biggest hockey related event on the horizon is the draft.

However, with the timing of the pause, there are lots of questions and uncertainties around where the Flames will pick and how many picks they will have.

Draft Position

Normally, draft position is determined using a few different rules:

  • Picks 1-15: Teams that did not qualify for the playoffs the previous season
  • Picks 16-23, up to 27: Teams that qualified for the playoffs in the previous season but did not win either their division in the regular season or advance to the conference finals
  • Picks 24-27, variable: Teams that won their divisions the previous season but did not advance to the conference finals
  • Picks 28-29: Teams that lost in the conference finals
  • Pick 30: Team that lost in the Stanley Cup final
  • Pick 31: Team that won the Stanley Cup

It’s a bit complicated. And, every single pick relies on playoff outcomes to determine. If there are no playoffs and no teams had clinched spots, how can 16 teams be selected to participate in the lottery? If no team had clinched their division, how can mid-round picks be determined? Is it fair to give the current Presidents’ Trophy leading Boston Bruins the 31st pick when the Tampa Bay Lightning, who won the trophy last season, were swept in the first round?

For a bubble team like the Calgary Flames or Winnipeg Jets, there is a huge difference between making the playoffs in a wild card spot and getting to participate in the draft lottery.

Where would Everyone pick?

There are a lot of questions, and the NHL will have to come up with a way to answer them all. A likely scenario is that the normal rules stay in place with the assumption that the current standings are the final standings. It isn’t perfect, but the most fair way to sort teams is by points percentage. Here’s how the draft order would look based on a few assumptions:

  1. The Presidents’ Trophy will be used instead of the Stanley Cup for spots 31 and 30
  2. Next priority is given to Division leaders
  3. Next priority is given to teams in home ice playoff spots (second place spots)
  4. Next priority is given to teams with playoff spots in their own division (third place spots)
  5. Next priority is given to teams in the first wild card
  6. Next priority is given to teams in the second wild card
  7. Next priority is given to teams out of the playoffs
PosTeamPoints%Reasoning
1Detroit 0.27531st Points%, not in a playoff spot
2Ottawa 0.43730th Points%, not in a playoff spot
3San Jose 0.45029th Points%, not in a playoff spot
4Los Angeles 0.45728th Points%, not in a playoff spot
5Anaheim 0.47227th Points%, not in a playoff spot
6New Jersey 0.49326th Points%, not in a playoff spot
7Buffalo 0.49325th Points%, not in a playoff spot
8Montreal 0.50024th Points%, not in a playoff spot
9Chicago 0.51423rd Points%, not in a playoff spot
10Arizona 0.52922nd Points%, not in a playoff spot
11Minnesota 0.55821st Points%, not in a playoff spot
12Winnipeg 0.56320th Points%, not in a playoff spot
13NY Rangers 0.56419th Points%, not in a playoff spot
14Florida 0.56518th Points%, not in a playoff spot
15Columbus 0.57917th Points%, not in a playoff spot
16Calgary 0.564Second wild card, second highest Points%
17NY Islanders 0.588Second wild card, highest Points%
18Nashville 0.565First wild card, second highest Points%
19Carolina 0.596First wild card, highest Points%
20Vancouver 0.565Next own-division spot, fourth highest Points%
21Toronto 0.579Next own-division spot, third highest Points%
22Dallas 0.594Next own-division spot, second highest Points%
23Pittsburgh 0.623Next own-division spot, highest Points%
24Edmonton 0.585Next home ice spot, fourth highest Points%
25Philadelphia 0.645Next home ice spot, third highest Points%
26Tampa Bay 0.657Next home ice spot, second highest Points%,
loses tiebreaker vs. Avalanche based on RW
27Colorado 0.657Next home ice spot, highest Points%,
wins tiebreaker vs. Lightning based on RW
28Vegas 0.606Next Division Leader, second highest Points%
29Washington 0.652Next Division Winner, highest Points%
30St Louis 0.662Presidents’ Trophy Runner Up
31Boston 0.714Presidents’ Trophy Leader

What about Conditional Picks?

Unfortunately, this order can’t be confirmed just like that. There are 14 conditional draft picks that had not yet been resolved at the time of the pause. By round, they break down like this:

  • Round 1: 6 picks
  • Round 2: 0 picks
  • Round 3: 3 or 4 picks
  • Round 4: 3 or 4 picks
  • Round 5: 0 picks
  • Round 6: 0 picks
  • Round 7: 2 picks

With six picks being first rounders, the top of the draft board can still shuffle quite a bit. Conditions range from qualifying for the playoffs, to playoff performance, to certain players scoring a certain number of goals over the course of the season (looking at you, James Neal).

It’s a bit of a sticky situation. The 2020 draft is one of the deepest we’ve seen in a long time, and picks in the first three rounds will be very valuable to many teams.

The NHL may still be trying to get the season back up and running, but they’ll have to make some serious decisions regarding the draft as well.

Stay tuned for a full breakdown of conditional picks.

What do you think the draft order will be based on? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @wincolumnblog

2 thoughts on “Draft day questions looming if the NHL season is cancelled

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