Unproductive Status Quo
My problem is with the upper portions of the NHL standings, and the lower portions.
This is a league, you can say, that has upper and lower body injuries that become most evident when we get down to the final two weeks of the regular season.
Only about one-third of the league's teams, maybe fewer, are actually playing for something at the moment, with the "excitement" of the "playoff races" really a vast exaggeration.
I'm mean, it's great that Florida is trying to squeak in past Montreal in the east, and that Nashville, St. Louis, Edmonton and Anaheim are clawing for the opportunity to get knocked out in the first round by San Jose or Detroit.
But once more, we see a system in which the top 10 teams in the league are basically just spinning their wheels, biding time until post-season play commences with little to be gained by finishing much higher in the standings.
So what if San Jose finishes ahead of Detroit? The Sharks get nothing for it. Does it really matter a whole bunch if Philly finishes fourth or Carolina does?
Until the league starts rewarding teams more for winning their divisions and accumulating more points than is the case now, you're going to get this sense of inertia in cities when the good teams are just waiting for the season to be over.
At the other end of the spectrum are the teams that won't be making the playoffs, a group of nine teams or maybe 10 if you believe the Wild are done.
Some of these teams are playing pretty hard, or at least they look that way because so many of their opponents are either home and cooled out or in the same non-playoff mode as they are.
What bugs me is that while there is still little reward for teams that finish high in the standings, there's ample reward awaiting clubs that finish as far down the NHL standings as possible.
That, of course, is a high draft pick, or even a shot at No. 1.
Now I'm no great fan of the NHL draft. For a long time now I've believed we don't even really need one for the NHL, that the current bidding process for U.S. college free agents is evidence that the best teams wouldn't necessarily collect all the best young talent if it was just a giant free agent extravaganza of 18-year-old hockey players every spring rather than the entry draft process.
But if there must be a draft, every team that misses the playoffs should have their names thrown into a drum, and then a draw will be held to determine draft order. Not a weighted draw, one in which all 14 non-playoff teams have an equal chance. It'd be like holding the Sidney Crosby draft every year, giving the NHL a wonderful made-for-TV event.
If the Islanders still get No. 1 and the right to draft John Tavares, good for them. If they get the eighth pick or the 14th selection, they still get a good young player, but more important, understand that playing to be lousy doesn't pay.
This isn't my idea. Just one I've heard that makes a lot of sense.