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Stop Tanking And Fix The Trade Deadline

It’s that time of year again. The weather gradually begins to improve, the NHL regular season enters its home stretch, and hockey people across the world complain about tanking and the Trade Deadline. Did I miss anything?

With the Trade Deadline in our rearview mirror and many hockey pundits throwing their support behind the “Gold Plan,” as they do every year at this time, I’d like to offer a revised way to fix both situations. Maybe I’m crazy, maybe my idea wouldn’t work or, maybe, I might be onto something. You decide. 

First, as a quick tutorial for those who don’t know, The “Gold Plan” was conceived in 2012 by a man named Andrew Gold. It gained a following and now The PWHL is implementing it for their coming draft. 

How does it work? Essentially, once a team is mathematically eliminated from playoff contention they begin to accumulate points. The team with the most points after their elimination gains the right to pick first in The League’s upcoming draft. Sounds like a solid plan. But there is a fatal flaw. 

Although the “Gold Plan” was devised to discourage tanking, it incentivizes teams to tank harder and earlier; that way they have more time to build up their elimination points. The sooner a team can get itself eliminated from playoff contention, the more time it has to start accumulating elimination points, which means the first several months of the season could be compromised by teams intentionally trying to lose games to get eliminated sooner. A good plan in theory, but perhaps not the best. 

Of course, The PWHL is the first league to implement the plan, so who knows, maybe it will work after all. Or maybe it’ll fail miserably. We won’t know one way or the other for at least a few years.

But now it’s time for my proposal. And while it doesn’t have a catchy name at the moment, let’s just refer to it as The “Star Plan.” (If you have a better idea for the name, I’m all ears).

So, here’s how The “Star Plan” works.

1) Just like The “Gold Plan” teams gain points in order to earn the top pick in the draft.

2) Unlike The “Gold Plan” those points don’t come after being eliminated from playoff contention.

3) Points are earned by all teams after they’ve played 55 regular-season games. So, games 56-82 are when you earn your points.

4) All 32 teams accumulate points.

5) Once the regular season ends, the 16 teams who have qualified for the playoffs are eliminated from the equation.

6) The 16 teams who did not qualify for the post-season are seeded in order of who earned the most points. The team with the most points earns the #1 pick in the draft. The team with the second most points gets the number two pick and so forth down the line until all 16 teams have their assigned draft position.

7) In the event that one or more teams are tied with the same number of points accumulated, the tie-breaker becomes head-to-head results. Then, the next tie-breaker would be points versus the other teams who did not qualify for the post-season. 

Did you get all that? Okay, perfect. Now let me explain why this would work.

First off, this plan eliminates the potential for teams to tank early in the season because it sets a fixed time for when points get accumulated. Second, it puts teams in control of their draft destiny, instead of leaving it up to the randomness of ping-pong balls. 

Now, this next part is where it gets interesting. 

As part of The “Star Plan,” the annual Trade Deadline would be moved up to February 15th. On average, most teams are within the 50-55 games played mark come February 15th, so it’s the perfect time to have the Trade Deadline because now every team would be incentivized to try and improve rather than sell off key pieces. 

If every team accumulates points towards the draft, then every team is going to want to win as much as possible during games 56-82, so that way, they can earn the highest possible draft pick. 

If you’re thinking that bad/rebuilding teams will get penalized by this plan then please allow me to correct you. If a team is bad/rebuilding, they want high draft picks. And how do they obtain high draft picks? They would have to try and improve quickly through trades and free-agent signings in order to accumulate enough points to earn those high draft picks.

Yes, I see the potential flaw in the plan. Why would teams make trades if they now need to hold on to their talent in order to accumulate draft points? 

Well, here’s the final piece of The “Star Plan.” 

Any and all teams who complete at least one trade at the deadline will earn themselves a supplemental draft pick. However, in order to be eligible, the trade(s) must involve at least one player off the NHL team’s active roster who has played in at least 25% of the team’s games. So, a team would not be eligible for a supplemental draft pick if they only trade prospects, draft choices, or scarcely used seventh defensemen or 13th forwards. 

You might find yourself asking, “Why would teams care about supplemental draft picks?” Well, let me in turn ask you all a question. “Why do teams hoard draft selections?” It’s because they’re an extremely important form of currency. The more draft picks you have, the better your odds of acquiring an impact player who could help you for years to come. 

MLB and NFL teams hold supplemental draft picks in high regard, to the point that they hold heavy influence over a team’s moves. So, why would NHL teams be any different? The answer is they wouldn’t. 

With the prospect of gaining a supplemental draft pick dangling in front of them like a golden carrot, NHL GMs would most certainly want to make trades at the deadline. Plus, trades could help their teams either gain better playoff positioning or better draft positioning. It’s an all-around win. 

Alright, that’s The “Star Plan.” What do you all think? Am I crazy or am I on to something? Let us know and maybe it’ll catch on. Now, I’m off to the loony bin to contemplate why I would ever willingly invite the scathing remarks this plan is sure to attract. But, I guess that’s just what it means to be a sports columnist.

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