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Timing of draft lottery can put scouts at disadvantage, but don’t expect it to change

The NHL has turned the draft lottery into a television event that helps kick off the second round of the post-season, but moving the lottery up to the days before Round 1 would be more beneficial for scouting staffs throughout the league.

When the NHL held its annual draft lottery Saturday night, it met the goal of satisfying its broadcast partners. Because it’s all about the eyeballs, right? But it did no favors to the teams who will actually be picking the players in Dallas on June 22 and 23.

The Carolina Hurricanes will gladly take the second pick overall, particularly since they went into the lottery with a measly three percent chance of hitting on the No. 1 pick. They went into the lottery seeded 11th, so to move up nine spots in a top-heavy draft is certainly a great thing for them.

But this is the Carolina Hurricanes were talking about here. Even with new owner Tom Dundon taking the reins, this is not an organization that is flush with money and every dollar counts. So basically, the Hurricanes had spent the better part of two weeks scouting one group of players, only to find out Saturday night that they’re now in the Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina, Brady Tkachuk wheelhouse. And the only problem is that as of Sunday, all three of those guys are finished playing hockey for the season.

It might not seem like a big deal to fans and people with the league, but it drives scouts and GMs nuts that the league waits until two weeks after the season to hold its draft lottery. It wasn’t so bad under the previous format because a team could fall no more than one spot and move up no more than four. But now a team that has almost no chance of winning could be in the top three and a team that was seeded in the top two could be as low as fifth. See: Coyotes, Arizona – 2018.

But back to the Hurricanes. You think their scouts and hockey operations department wouldn’t have appreciated knowing they were picking second overall going into the recent Under-18 World Championship? Their scouts went to Russia likely thinking they were going to be picking in the 10-14 range, since they went into the lottery seeded 11th. So they were probably focusing their efforts on players such as Joel Farabee of USA and Joe Veleno of Canada. Had they known going into the tournament that they were picking No. 2, they almost certainly would have looked a lot more closely at another player participating in the tournament or Svechnikov during the second round of the Ontario League playoffs.

Again, not a huge deal for a lot of people, but an enormous shift for the scouts, who happen to be the lifeblood of every NHL organization. And it might not mean much to a big revenue-generating team, but that money spent by organizations such as the Hurricanes and Coyotes is very real and very much at a premium. The Coyotes, for example, are now picking fifth and that information would have been vital for them going into the Under-18s.

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When you’re spending literally millions to scour the world for the best players, you generally want to put your dollars to good use. But it’s not just about money. The Philadelphia Flyers, one of the richest teams in the NHL, went into last year’s lottery seeded 12th, but jumped up to second. There’s and excellent chance their scouts had no idea they’d be in a position to take Nolan Patrick second overall until they won the second stage of the draft lottery. That’s an enormous shift in thinking at a time when most of the best draft eligible players have already finished their seasons.

So why doesn’t the NHL simply move its draft lottery back to the days between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs? Good question. One GM said it’s “on the radar,” but when reached by thn.com, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said it hasn’t been considered, nor will it likely receive serious consideration. The standings are set the minute the season ends, yet the league waited almost two full weeks to hold the lottery, so it could be done in conjunction with the first game of the second round of the playoffs.

Again, it’s all about eyeballs. But would it not make just as much sense from that standpoint to hold the lottery in the three or four days between the end of the season and the start of the playoffs? Fans are generally starved for something to watch while waiting for the first round to begin. To hold it on a dark night would put all the focus on the draft lottery and allow the broadcast partners to fill a night in the schedule when there’s no hockey with a separate show.

And it would also give the teams that need it most a better chance to prepare for the draft. It’s an inexact science at the best of times, but making it even more inexact by unnecessarily holding up the draft lottery does no favors to anyone.

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