With the 2019-20 NHL season on pause - and potentially finished - there are a number of questions that will need to be answered in the coming months.
One of the biggest unknowns is how the league will handle the draft lottery should the season be canceled. According to The Athletic's Craig Custance, at least one team has proposed an unorthodox solution - a tournament in which lottery teams would play for the first overall pick.
The idea is a no-brainer for fans and television networks. A tournament for the rights to a talent like Alexis Lafreniere would draw a ton of eyeballs and get fans re-engaged after the long hiatus. But for the teams involved, there are some serious questions that would first need to be answered.
If the regular season doesn't resume and the standings remain as they are, how would teams be seeded in this suggested tournament? Clubs have played a differing number of games, so seeding would likely need to be determined based on points percentage.
That's simple enough, but how would the tournament proceed? It wouldn't make any sense to have the worst teams in the tournament (presumably the higher seeds) competing against the better teams (the lower seeds) right off the bat. Would a bye be in order for the last-placed Detroit Red Wings? What would make it fair?
We can almost guarantee that Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman would be appalled by this proposal. His team has the best odds of winning the draft lottery under its current format specifically because Detroit doesn't win a ton of hockey games. Now the team would have to win an entire tournament? It's a little backward.
On the flip side, imagine a team like the New York Rangers - who looked more like Stanley Cup contenders than lottery players when the season was suspended - running wild in this tournament. How would the league make their path to the final reflect their odds (2%) of winning the lottery under the traditional format? Would they need to win by a certain number of goals? Begin each game with a deficit? It seems difficult to translate those minuscule odds into an on-ice scenario.
This is one of the proposal's major hurdles. Take the San Jose Sharks. They dealt their 2020 first-round selection to the Ottawa Senators as part of the Erik Karlsson deal. Each team sits 29th and 30th, respectively, in the overall standings. The Sharks wouldn't be afforded a lottery ball in the traditional format, so it wouldn't make sense to have them in the tournament. That's easy, but what about Ottawa?
Under the current lottery structure, the Senators would have an incredible opportunity to claim the top selection. Their pick alone gives them a 13.5% chance, and the San Jose pick yields odds of 11.5%. Assuming the tournament is single-elimination, would Ottawa be afforded more than one loss? What happens to the team's second lottery pick? How are the Senators' odds best reflected on the ice?
As Custance notes, holding this tournament during the summer, with fewer competing sports in play, could end up making this idea very successful and give the league something to build on. However, the league's priority is completing the playoffs, and the summer is the most likely time for that to happen. The NHL could hold both events simultaneously, but that would take some serious logistical savvy.
Another important question: Where will the games take place? It would only be fair to grant the worst teams (the Red Wings, Senators, Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, etc.) home-ice advantage, but where do you make that cutoff? How many home games does each of those teams get? Are their buildings even available? It would take a ton of brainstorming on the league's behalf to get this right.
Under this proposal, we'd assume the loser of the championship game would get the second pick, while the losers of each semifinal contest would square off for the third and fourth picks, like a bronze-medal game at the Olympics.
What happens to selections five through 15, though? If the league were to default the remaining standings based on points percentage to decide the order, what's the purpose in playing the early games in the tournament if the results only matter for teams that at least advance to the semifinals? The most logical approach would probably be for the "eliminated" teams to continue playing one another until a definitive order is reached based on those results.