SUN Hockey Pool

Stakes high in draft game

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

By the looks of things, there will be no June amateur draft in the National Hockey League.

To have a draft, you have to have a collective bargaining agreement, and we all know where negotiations on that matter stand at the moment.

But what if an agreement were reached before June? Or what if an agreement were reached in time to start play this fall, with a draft in September? How does the NHL hold a draft after a season in which it was shut down?

This is one of the topics that came up for discussion at the league's recent board meeting in New York and, as might be expected, the opinions were diverse.

Eventually, the governors were asked to give the matter some thought and to bring ideas to the table for the next board meeting.

LOTTERY NUMBERS

Certain teams -- you might be able to figure out where they finished in the standings -- suggested that since everyone ended with a record of 0-0-0, there was a 30-way tie. Therefore, draft order should be determined by a lottery.

Others, notably the Washington Capitals, who won the 2004 draft lottery and got the first pick, would have no objection to just falling back upon the 2004 selection order for 2005.

That's unlikely to happen. The Caps already acquired the rights to Alexander Ovechkin. There is no desire around the league to let them also pick off Sidney Crosby, the jewel of this year's draft eligibles.

There did, however, seem to be general support for a system whereby a few lotteries are held -- perhaps six.

The bottom five teams in the 2003-04 standings would draw to establish the order of the first five selections. Then the teams that finished sixth-last through 10th-last would have another lottery to determine their order of selection and so on.

But while the general idea seemed feasible, there was no agreement on the specifics. There is a school of thought which says that since the Capitals already grabbed Ovechkin, they should be allowed to draft no higher than sixth this time.

Others agreed, but said the concept should be extended even further. The player drafted right behind Ovechkin, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, has blossomed at a remarkable rate in Russia this season and may now be better than Ovechkin.

Therefore, if the Caps are to be excluded from the Crosby lottery because they already picked an elite player, the Pittsburgh Penguins should suffer the same fate.

As always, there is speculation the league has some nefarious little scheme hidden away. In this case, there are suspicions that league executives would like to knock the Caps out of the picture because that would allow the sixth-place finisher to get into the Crosby raffle. And the sixth-place finisher just happened to be the New York Rangers.

What could be better in the eyes of league executives than to have Crosby playing in Manhattan?

In past draft lotteries, the system has been weighted so that the stronger teams had a much smaller chance of getting the top pick, but these are uncharted waters. There's no guarantee that the same formula will be used.

Even though Crosby is the most coveted player in the draft, there are reasons to think that this draft could be a very lucrative one.

If there is no new CBA in place by June 1, then all the players who were drafted in 2003 and have not been signed -- and some very good players fall into this category -- could go back into the draft.

This is a matter to be negotiated, but that's the system that's in place at the moment. It would take a concession on the part of the NHL Players' Association to change that rule and, at the moment, such warm-heartedness is not likely.

But for any of these ruminations to matter, there has to be a settlement, and that, too, is nowhere in sight at the moment.


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