Suspicion arises following NHL Draft Lottery

The scene at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Photo credit: Arnold C., Wikimedia Commons.
The scene at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Photo credit: Arnold C., Wikimedia Commons.

Suspicion surrounding the NHL Draft Lottery is as old as the Lottery itself.

Ever since the League switched from giving the first-overall pick to the last-place team to employing a lottery system in 1995, fans and media have wondered how honest the process is.

The NHL is a business — its objective is to make money. The League makes more money when its most valuable teams play well, so there’s always the speculation that it favors those organizations when it can.

Typically, Draft Lottery skeptics are met with invitations to take off their tinfoil hats. But this year is different.

Fans and media alike wonder if the NHL wanted the next generational talent to go to the Chicago Blackhawks for financial reasons.

Barring any unrealistic event, the 2023 first-overall pick will be Connor Bedard. The hockey world has expected it since Bedard was 13 years old.

He received CHL Exceptional Player Status at age 14, allowing him to compete in the highest level of Canadian junior hockey a year early — something that just six people had achieved before him. In 134 games with the Regina Pats, he managed 134 goals and 271 points, all before his 18th birthday.

Players like Bedard can change the direction of a franchise. And he’s already gotten started.

The Blackhawks won the first-overall pick Monday evening, meaning that they’ll have the option to select Bedard on June 28. According to Ben Pope, a reporter for Chicago Sun-Times, the Blackhawks sold over 500 season tickets, totaling $2.5 million, within an hour and a half of the Draft Lottery.

This comes in the aftermath of the sexual assault scandal within the Blackhawks organization. They’ve also struggled on the ice recently. The combination of these two issues has caused disinterest in the NHL’s fourth-most valuable franchise.

If there’s an NHL team that needs a boost, it’s the Blackhawks. When they’re good, they’re one of the League’s biggest money-makers. When they’re bad, they don’t sell tickets.

Adrian Aucoin, former Blackhawks captain who played there from 2005 to 2007, once told the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast that he could “literally yell at (his) kids across the building, ‘sit down, shut up’” (64:30).

On several occasions where teams have committed far more excusable sins than that of the Blackhawks, the NHL has revoked those teams’ first-round draft picks.

When the scandal was exposed, the Blackhawks had already traded their first-round pick for that year. The League was expected to revoke their 2023 first-rounder instead, which would have been this pick. But it didn’t happen.

The League has attempted to make the Draft Lottery more transparent by releasing videos of the drawings afterward. Because the drawings aren’t done live, some wonder whether the League does multiple takes.

Of the 28 draft lotteries that have taken place, the first-overall pick has been awarded 21 times to teams that have had it multiple times. In four of the remaining seven years, it has gone to struggling Original Six teams — typically the most profitable teams in the league.

Another thing that spiked the attention of many this year was the slip-up of NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes. Weekes was providing background information on each team as NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly announced each pick.

Before the third-overall pick had been announced, Weekes let it slip that the pick would go to the Columbus Blue Jackets. It is, however, likely that Weekes had access to that information ahead of time in order to plan his remarks.

Frank Seravalli, the president of hockey content for Daily Faceoff, reported that he was present behind the scenes for the Draft Lottery. “It’s as legit as it gets,” he said.