March can be a very troubling month for hockey fans. It's this time of year that roughly 1/4 of fans are placed in the unfair position of outwardly cheering for their team to win, while inwardly, (almost subconsciously) almost hoping they lose. This irks me. And I hate being irked. Especially in March.
So why do we tolerate this? Or the better question may be: Why do we continue to reward failure?
If you haven't deciphered what I'm talking about yet, let me explain. I don't want you to be irked. If you look at the standings, there are 12 teams still in the playoff hunt that still have an equally good chance of winning the draft lottery. Just like management must decide at the trade deadline whether they are buyers or sellers, fans have to look at the big picture and assess if their team really has a shot at making the final cut. Nobody wants to finish 9th. You have to spend all summer wondering how you let 1 point slip away, while drafting 11th at the table. So do you pray your team is the one that slides into the 8th spot, or secretly hope they slide down the standings and draft the next Crosby, Tavares, or Hall?
It's an unfair spot to put fans in. Maybe it's the ardent capitalist in me, but I hate rewarding failure. It never works. I realize it's been this way in all major sports league since the dawn of mankind, but that doesn't mean it's right. The theory behind it sounds very nice, and fair, and compassionate. The teams that stink need a chance to get better. After all, the Penguins and Capitals wouldn't have the dream teams they're enjoying now, had they not (somewhat intentionally) tanked it for 2 or 3 years. For some, the sacrifice is worth it, but maybe we're just accepting something we can't change.
Consider the cost. Literally. How many fans spent good money at the start of the season on those late March game tickets, only to find that their team has called up a bunch of prospects to "see what they can do". In other words, see "how they can help us draft higher this year".
Once again, I'm irked. So what's the solution? My first answer would be to make the draft order completely random. Put 30 balls in the hopper and let the chips fall. This is probably too extreme to even merit consideration, so let's meet in the middle with a reasonable compromise. Here how it should work:
You break the teams into two categories: those who made the playoffs in Group A, and those who missed the playoffs in Group B. Let's deal with Group B first. You rank the non playoffs teams from top down based on points (highest to lowest). And there's your draft order for the first 14 teams. That's right, the non-playoff team with the most points drafts first. No lottery, no whining. Consider what this would do:
1. It gives fans a reason to cheer for their team right down to the final game. What do Oilers fans have to cheer for at this point with still a month left to go? In this system, they still would have a shot at actually earning that #1 draft pick, instead of defaulting into it by losing more meaningless games.
2. No team is going to intentionally miss the playoff to get that #1 pick, so it maintains the integrity of the game.
3. Fans and teams in the middle will no longer have it in the back of their heads that it's ok, or even good, to lose a game.
As for Group A - I'm open to suggestions. Ranks them from top to bottom, or bottom to top, I don't care. Again, if you're a playoff team, the last thing you'll be worrying about is draft position, when you're fighting for home ice in the final week. Bottom line is this system makes every game meaningful. More importantly, I won't be irked.
So what's the downfall? The "negative" is that bad teams won't automatically get better in short order. They'll actually have to "earn" their way back to prosperity. In the long run, the franchises that do the best job of managing their team will benefit. Those that don't will struggle. Imagine that, letting the free market do it's thing. It works in the real world, so why can't it work in the NHL as well?