The calendar has turned to May and still the NHL season remains on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. If and when the current season may resume is the biggest question facing the league, but there is other business that teams need to attend to and the NHL is trying to fast track one item on the to-do list. The NHL sent a memo to all teams on Friday stating its case for keeping the NHL Draft in June as opposed to postponing it until after the conclusion of the season. Having the draft with the season still technically ongoing, however, raises numerous questions and challenges that the league would not normally face.
Here are the four biggest questions the NHL must answer if it does indeed intend to hold the draft in June.
How would the draft lottery work?
In a normal season, the 15 teams that do not reach the playoffs would all be included in the draft lottery with a chance to move up to No. 1 overall. The rest of the draft order would be determined by playoff results with the Cup winner taking the last pick. Obviously you can't do that in this situation. Not only have the playoffs not started, but the regular season has not even concluded yet.
In the league's memo, it proposed using points percentage to determine which teams to include in the draft lottery and reverting to the previous draft lottery system where one winner is picked and can move up only a maximum of four spots. In the current system, three teams are picked to determine the first three picks in the draft and the remaining picks continue on by record. That means any team in the lottery can earn the No. 1 pick and any team that is not picked could move back a maximum of only three spots total. The issue with using that system before the season is over is that a team could potentially qualify for the draft lottery on points percentage, qualify for the playoffs once the season resumes and win the Cup.
Having a team win both the lottery and the Cup in the same season is not something the other general managers would be happy about.
Reverting to the old format, however, would mean the Detroit Red Wings, last place in the NHL, would pick no lower than No. 2 overall.
What happens to conditional draft picks?
There are numerous trades that include conditional draft picks based on what happens in the playoffs. The New Jersey Devils, for example, traded defenseman Sami Vatanen to the Carolina Hurricanes for a package that included a conditional fourth-round pick. That pick becomes a third-round pick if he plays in 70-percent of Carolina's playoff games. Those conditions won't be settled if the draft is held before the season and the playoffs end.
So what will the NHL do?
In the memo, it stated the league would propose solutions for each condition and each team would be given seven days to accept the league's decision or rework the trade. That seems a very simplistic solution for what is a very complicated issue. No team will want to accept less than what they could have reasonably if the season were allowed to play out.
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Will teams be allowed to make trades?
A lot of action comes from draft weekend and the draft is only part of it. The other part is the numerous trades. But when you hold the draft before the season is over, that obviously complicates things. The trade deadline has already passed and you can't trade away players who are going to be on the roster for the remainder of the season.
OK, so just don't allow player trades. Easy fix, right?
There are two problems with this. First, draft weekend is a time when many teams work the salary cap, trading away players for draft picks. That will be needed this season with the salary cap such a big question mark. It is almost certain the cap will not climb next season. In fact, the ceiling may actually drop depending on what happens over the next few weeks with the season. If player trades are not allowed, it takes away a major tool the general managers use to work the cap in a normal year. That would hurt them even worse this year.
Second, some teams have compiled draft picks in order to unload them for player assets. Montreal, for example, has 14 draft picks for the 2020 draft after drafting a total of 21 players the past two years. There was no way Marc Bergevin was heading into this year's draft with the intention of holding onto all those picks. There just are not enough contracts to go around for 35 prospects in three years.
Obviously, the coronavirus has changed everything and the NHL shouldn't make too many adjustments based on what everyone just assumed would happen. Teams will have to adjust accordingly, but teams that were planning on using the draft to manage the cap or to try to package picks to obtain players, they are not going to want to see the draft cut into the season.
What happens to the Coyotes?
The Arizona Coyotes are being investigated by the league for fitness testing draft-eligible players which is against the rules. TSN's Darren Dreger has reported that the Coyotes tested at least 20 players with each violation carrying a fine of $250,000 or more per incident. The NHL has said this matter would be resolved before the draft, but the coronavirus has made these potential violations more serious considering how it has limited teams' access to prospects. Suddeny, Arizona may have information on these players that other teams may not be able to get at all. With no combine to test these players, the Coyotes could have an even greater competitive advantage if the allegations are true. Will that mean more severe punishments? Will Arizona be forced to divulge any information they obtained?
The timeline for finding out will be pushed up if the NHL sticks to this plan for a June draft.
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