The addition of the 31st franchise in the NHL has changed the layout of the 2017 NHL Draft. Since 1995 the league has used a lottery system to determine the order of selection in the first round for all non-playoff teams. It’s an effort to make it less appealing to give up at the end of the season in hopes of getting a higher pick in the draft.
The lottery has done just that. Sometimes teams keep the top overall pick, sometimes a team jumps up a slot or two to the front of the line, and even the team that finished closest to the playoffs has the slimmest chance to find itself selecting in the top three. (The NHL conducts three lotteries using the same odds to determine the top thee picks. Then teams are slotted in from 4-15 based on record)
There’s no debating the lottery’s effectiveness on curbing tanking. But there is a debate on this nugget from TSN.
The one problem for the Devils – or any other team interested in improving their odds – is that tanking has been slightly disincentivized this year with the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights. –Frank Seravalli, TSN
Exact odds have not been released yet for the 2017 lottery including Vegas, but the projections take the word slightly literally.
In 2016 the last place team, Toronto, had a 20% shot of winning the lottery and getting Auston Matthews. It happened. The second to last place team, Edmonton, came in at 13.5% with Vancouver behind them at 11.5%.
The Expansion Rules indicate that Vegas will have an equal chance in the lottery as the third worst team. Last year that would have meant 11.5%, but in adding a team the odds must change a bit. Again, the numbers have not been released yet, so these are just speculation, but the guess is the worst team will have a 17.9% chance, with 2nd worst 12.1% and Vegas/3rd worst tied at 10.3%.
For the worst team, that’s a difference of 2.1%. The second worst, 1.4%, and the third worst 1.2%.
You are telling me teams are changing their strategies because of a couple percent at the most? Not so fast.
Teams aren’t tanking because the lottery odds simply aren’t worth it. The worst team in the NHL had a 20% chance at getting the first pick. Extrapolating the odds, that means they had a 47.5% chance of losing all three lotteries and picking 4th.
Let me recap that again so it sinks in. 20% chance to go 1st. 47.5% chance to go 4th.
There almost no incentive at all to be bad with these odds. Look at a team like Carolina. Currently the Hurricanes are in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, 23rd in the NHL. If the season ended now, that’d be good for a 5.4% chance to pick first, and around a 44.7% chance to pick 8th. Carolina is 9 points out of the playoffs with 16 games left to play. Realistically, they aren’t making it, but if they were to tank, the best they could do is fall to 3rd worst (and they’d need help to even do that) giving them a 10.3% chance of picking 1st and 34% chance of picking 6th.
Lose every game from here on out, and you gain less than five percentage points to win the lottery and have a small increase to move up from selecting 8th to 6th. Whoop-di-do. Not worth it when you consider if the Canes win six straight, there’s a chance they are knocking on the door of the final Wild Card slot. Hockey Reference gives the Hurricanes a 1.2% chance of making the playoffs this season.
Vegas isn’t the reason teams aren’t tanking, the odds are. They are so slim it’s not worth it to even entertain the idea of losing a game if there’s even the smallest chance of still making the playoffs. Heck, even once you’re eliminated, the change is still at best a percentage point or two. Nice try TSN, but this time it’s not Vegas’ fault.
**Stick tap to HockeyViz.com for the probability charts**