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NHL Makes its Pitch for Holding Virtual Draft in June

The NHL wants the draft show to go on.

The league stated its case for a June draft during a conference call Monday with the Board of Governors. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly pitched the NHL’s preference for holding the event before the completion of the season in a memo that went out to teams last week.

No official decision was announced, but the NHL could reveal its intentions this week since it indicated it would need a month to prepare for the virtual event.

The draft was scheduled for June 26 and 27 in Montreal but was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The NHL is hoping that by staging the draft next month it will provide fresh content to broadcast partners and fans who have been without live games since March 12.

The NFL drew a record 15.6 million viewers across ESPN, ABC, NFL Network, ESPN Deportes and digital channels for the first round of its virtual draft April 23.

Canadian winger Alexis Lafreniere is the consensus No. 1 overall pick and provides a rare element of star power for the league to showcase.

But holding the NHL draft before the Stanley Cup is awarded presents a series of challenges, such as the selection order, how to settle conditional draft picks and the difficulty of trades.

Daly reportedly countered in his memo there would be little time to hold a lottery and a draft during the condensed offseason if the 2019-20 season is completed in September or later.

The NHL proposed using points percentage to determine the order for a June draft, with the 15 nonplayoff teams participating in the lottery for the No. 1 overall pick.

The Golden Knights would get the No. 24 selection, a slight benefit since they would pick anywhere from No. 24 to 31 under the traditional format.

Critics of the NHL’s plan noted that by conducting the draft in June before the postseason field is determined, it’s possible for a team to win the lottery, then get hot if the season resumes and hoist the Stanley Cup.

To combat that potential outcome, the league reportedly proposed changing the lottery format to one winner while limiting any team from moving up more than four spots.

That means Detroit, with the league’s worst record, would be guaranteed a top-two pick and goes from an 18.5 percent chance of getting the No. 1 selection to 57 percent. Ottawa, which owns San Jose’s first-round pick, could do no worse than the third and fourth overall picks.

There are also several conditional picks for the 2020 draft, and Daly’s memo indicated the NHL would propose solutions for each, according to multiple reports. The teams would have seven days to alter the deal or accept the NHL’s compromise.

The Knights received a 2021 fourth-round pick from Winnipeg for center Cody Eakin that becomes a third-round pick if the Jets make the 2020 playoffs or re-sign Eakin before July 5.

Based on the current points percentage, the Jets would miss the playoffs if the regular season is not completed. It’s unclear whether the July 5 deadline would be adjusted in accordance with the offseason.

Meanwhile, Daly’s memo reportedly noted that trades involving roster players would be “effectively eliminated” with an early draft, but argued they could be completed during the offseason. And deals for picks and prospects were still possible.

The league is hoping to begin phase two of the return-to-play plan and open team facilities for small group activities as early as mid-May.

If permitted by medical experts and national and local authorities, the NHL could resume games this summer and is vetting cities to serve as four centralized locations for regular-season games, the playoffs, or both.

MGM Resorts acting CEO Bill Hornbuckle said last week in the company’s first quarter earnings call that it has been in talks with sports leagues, including the NHL, about hosting games in Las Vegas.

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