The NHL is aggressively making its case to skeptical teams that holding the 2020 entry draft before a restarted season is essential.
In a memo to teams on Friday that was obtained by ESPN, deputy commissioner Bill Daly detailed several factors in support of moving up the draft. The league has targeted June 5 for the draft, which was originally scheduled for June 26-27 in Montreal. Teams would take part in a virtual draft, selecting players from remote locations.
"There are complications. There's no perfect solution. We think there are benefits to having the draft in June, including the fact that it's a necessary piece of league business that has to transpire at some point and time, and our clubs are as ready for it now as they would be at any other time -- and probably better prepared than they would be in the fall," Daly said in a CHED radio interview on Friday.
Daly said the league is concerned that if it's able to complete the 2019-20 season this summer, holding the draft during a truncated offseason before the 2020-21 season starts -- potentially in December -- would be asking a lot. "We don't want to have a situation where we're shoehorning a draft lottery or a draft into a very short window of time, which we may be faced with," he said.
In the memo, the NHL proposed it would use points percentages to determine the 15 "non-playoff" teams in the draft lottery. In other words, rather than using total points in the standings, it would use the percentage of available points the teams captured in games played before the March 12 pause for the coronavirus pandemic. This would help alleviate concerns about teams having played an uneven number of games before the season was paused.
Since the NHL has yet to determine whether it will expand the Stanley Cup playoffs this summer if the regular season can't be completed, some general managers have been concerned the same team that wins the draft lottery could, in theory, also raise the Cup.
As previously reported, the NHL proposed a tweak to draft lottery rules for this season: Instead of holding lotteries for each of the top three picks, it would revert back to a previous lottery format and select just the first overall pick. In addition, teams that win the lottery can move up only a maximum of four sports. In other words, the Detroit Red Wings -- who have the worst record in the NHL -- would pick either first or second overall.
Another concern from general managers was how conditional picks would be handled -- picks whose ownership is determined by, for example, whether a team qualifies for the playoffs or advances in them. In the memo, the league has proposed acting like a de facto arbitrator for teams. They would have seven days before the draft to reform the conditions of the trade or accept the NHL's proposed remedy.
The memo also addresses a critical concern for teams: their ability to make trades during the draft. Typically, teams use the draft to begin "resetting" their rosters ahead of free agency and other offseason activities. That includes making trades that help alleviate salary-cap problems. By holding the draft before the season is completed, teams would be unable to trade players from their rosters due to trade-deadline and playoff-eligibility restrictions.
According to Daly, the NHL did an analysis of the past five seasons that indicated roughly one-half of the trades made at those drafts "would still have been permissible in the context of an 'early Draft.'" The memo states that there were 106 draft-day trades conducted, and 64 of those deals still would have been able to happen had the draft been held before the completion of those seasons.
The NHL's proposal was sent to teams ahead of a key board of governors call on Monday. In the memo, Daly writes that "we have concluded that we will need a minimum of one-month lead time in order to plan and conduct a sophisticated and compelling Virtual Draft, and therefore, the earliest we could execute an early Draft would be sometime during the first half of June." It goes on to say that both NBC and Sportsnet, the league's broadcast partners, "are enthusiastically in favor of an early draft."
It's expected the league will make a decision about the draft's schedule next week. The NHL has been keen on using an early June draft to spark enthusiasm about the league after months without hockey. "We think it's a great opportunity for fan engagement. Fans have been missing NHL hockey for a month and a half. It'll be three months when we get to June," Daly said.