Last week, the NHL officially announced their intention to fast track the 2020 Entry Draft. Reports quickly surfaces that the league was looking at dates as early as June 5th for the re-scheduled draft - something that was met by confusion from both fans and league GMs.
The league held a Board of Governors conference call this past Monday and the hope was that they would be able to make an announcement about the draft shortly after. No news came in the following days and it’s starting to appear as though the idea of holding the draft in early June was much more negatively received than the league office had anticipated.
On the latest episode of The Athletic’s “Two-Man Advantage” podcast, Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan spoke about how the idea is something he and his peers are not a fan of.
“I think most of the managers would like it to happen in a natural order. There’s a natural order of business, there’s a rhythm to it. Some teams use that time to reset their roster; it’s a way to manage your roster and cap situation for next season, it’s a way to make trades.”
MacLellan echoed the sentiment we had heard from other team executives - mostly anonymously - since the NHL announced their intention to fast-track the draft.
This is the biggest issue with the NHL’s desire to fast-track the draft. With the idea that the 2019-20 season will be resumed, a draft in June would mean teams aren’t allowed to make trades that involve roster players. That’s a big deal, this year more than most. Over the past few years, there have been very few trades made at the draft that involve more than picks. That said, this year is much different. With the league facing the prospects of a flat salary cap, there is a much stronger possibility that teams will be looking to dump contracts in exchange for picks. That can’t happen if the draft is held before the end of the season.
“A lot of decisions are based on how you concluded your previous season. So, if you go into the playoffs and maybe a weakness is identified or you weren’t as successful as you were (hoping) and you need to make changes, and the draft seems to be an area where you can accomplish those things before next season,” MacLellan added.
The league’s rationale for a June draft is that they are trying to put together a postseason that could run into the fall. With uncertainty reigning supreme thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent shut down of business in North America, the NHL doesn’t know when they will be able to conclude the season.
If the Stanley Cup isn’t awarded until September, there would likely be a very short offseason before the 2020-21 season begins. The league argues that such a short break would make it very difficult to hold a fully “traditional” offseason, so if they hold the draft in June, that’s one thing out of the way.
MacLellan did recognize that holding a draft while most of the world is under lockdown could help TV ratings. The 2020 NFL Draft, was held last month and saw a 35% growth in viewers. The average was 2.2 million viewers more than the 2019 and proved that holding a draft right now could help bring in more eyes. But the NHL is not the NFL. The 2019 NHL Entry Draft averaged approximately 325k viewers so while a 35% bump would be big, it’s little more than 100k extra viewers. It would hardly be the ratings boon some make it out to be.
While it would be nice to have one less thing to worry about if teams are faced with a very short offseason, and bring in 100k new viewers, those reason don’t seem like enough to outweigh the negatives that would come along with the draft being held “mid-season”.
MacLellan continued: “I also understand this is a business, it’s a league business. The commissioner and the league have some business decisions to make...so I think there’s probably a little tug-of-war.”
Luckily for Gary Bettman and Bill Daly, they can follow through with their plans even if it angers the team executives. The delay in an announcement this week points to the fact that this isn’t as easy as the NHL office was hoping. Speculation is that the league is trying to alter their plan just enough that the team GMs can live with the decision. They still won’t be happy, but it’s a reality they’ll have to deal with.
“The commissioner will make his decision and we’ll work with that. We’ll work within the guidelines he sets out.”