On this day, the day after April Fool’s, the NHL schedule makers have delivered unto us a whopper of a matchup here in the dying days of the 2018-19 regular season: the Pittsburgh Penguins head to Detroit for the first game of a crucial home-and-home which will help determine just about nothing for the Red Wings who have been out of playoff contention for weeks, and the Penguins who are a win or a Montreal Canadiens loss away from clinching a playoff spot for the umpteenth-straight time. Like I said a couple of days ago, it’s a joke that the League has these interdivision games this late in the season. The NHL consistently demonstrates its obliviousness on a number of fronts and the schedule is one of the most innocuous things to get wrong. They do this by computer, right?
Let’s talk about the woebegone Red Wings. Detroit has failed to make the playoffs for the third year in a row this season, after making the playoffs for twenty-five straight years beginning in 1991. Their last first overall pick in 1986, which was a shallow draft highlighted by guys like Brian Leetch, Vincent Damphousse, Teppo Numminen, and Ron Tugnutt, was Joe Murphy, who had a good career but bounced all over the League in his fifteen-year career. Their last top-five pick was in 1990: Keith Primeau, third overall, who was above-average but compared to his peers Primeau was nevertheless worse than Murphy (1990 was a stacked draft: Jagr, Brodeur, Zubov, Tkachuk, Potvin, Bondra were all drafted after #3). They’ve had a lot of luck drafting guys later on and finding those diamonds in the rough (Holmstrom, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, et al.), and now roughly half of their team are home-grown. Still, they could stand to hit the jackpot with a top-of-the-draft impact player.
There’s a growing number of people who follow the NHL and are dissatisfied with the way the League handles the order and odds for the Entry Draft. Right now, the teams at the bottom of the standings are given a certain chance of drafting first, second, or third overall, with increasingly better odds the closer to the bottom a team is, but no team has a better than 18.5% chance of picking first overall. By virtue of trading Matt Duchesne to the Ottawa Senators, the Colorado Avalanche have the best odds of landing the first overall pick but they will certainly do no worse than fourth overall. There are a couple of problems with this system clearly laid out before us: that teams will and do tank to increase their odds of landing the first overall pick, and the value of that first overall pick can vary wildly not just for that team but for others interested in acquiring a first round pick from a team that figures to be in the running for the first overall.
One unique method of dealing with this problem is to institute the “Gold Plan”. It’s pretty simple: once a team is eliminated from the playoffs, they are awarded “Gold” equal to the number of standings points they acquire after their elimination. The team with the most “Gold” by the end of the season drafts first overall, the next team drafts second, and so on. In this context, a team who is eliminated early has more motivation to remain competitive even after they have “nothing left to play for”, as their chances of drafting first overall are directly tied to playing well. This would also drive down the trade value of first round draft picks, as teams will be less likely to just ship them off if they think they can be competitive at the end of the season.
As of today, the gold standings are as follows (with the average draft pick in the current system in parenthesis):
- Detroit, 14
- Ottawa, 10
- Los Angeles, 9
- New Jersey, 5
It’s an interesting idea that should get more attention, but not because Shane Doan has been making his interest in the plan public, because fuck Shane Doan. Someone on reddit went back and analyzed the last ten years’ worth of drafts to see how the draft would have been different under a Gold Plan system; check it out especially for the lulz with the Flyers having the first overall pick in 2012-13. Imagine the rivalry then if they had taken Nathan MacKinnon!
As you can see, under this Gold methodology, a game like tonight’s or any game featuring already-eliminated teams would have more interest and home fans would actually have a reason to continue coming to games to support their team if they still had some motivation to win. As it stands now though, this game has relatively low importance for the Red Wings and less so for the Penguins. This being the third-to-last game for both teams, all that matters is getting to the end of the season and moving forward.