Who Might Be in Goal for the Leafs Next Season, and Why It Won’t (Or Shouldn’t) Be Frederik Andersen

All contract terms are taken from CapFriendly, and all statistics from Natural Stat Trick; All information is accurate as of March 16th.

For the past half-decade, 31-year-old Frederik Andersen, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of this season, has taken on the often-thankless task of playing goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and provided them with stable goaltending not seen in the city since Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour manned the crease.

In the previous three seasons, Andersen ranks second in games played (178), is tied for 15thin all-strengths save percentage (.915) and amassed the 11th most goals saved above average (GSAA) – a statistic that determines how many more goals a given goalie has prevented, compared to a hypothetical league average netminder facing the same quality of chances. The ranks are all among goalies with at least 4500 minutes played, roughly equivalent to a full 82-game season’s worth of time-on-ice. 

A busy man most nights – Photo: Flickr

While Andersen’s play has largely resembled that of an above-average goaltender in spite of a heavy workload, his spot as Toronto’s starter is all but assured for next season. This ambiguity stems from the historical mixed-bag of long-term contracts given to goalies over 30, with Carey Price and Sergei Bobrovsky being notorious examples of those whose play has noticeably declined after being awarded gargantuan deals based on name-recognition, rather than their actual ability at the time, and that apprehensiveness has only grown with Andersen’s poor start this year.

As of mid-March, Andersen is sporting a well below-average .900 save percentage and a mark of -4.00 GSAA, representing an inadequate return on the $5-million (tied for 13thamong goalies) he’s owed in 2020-21, and although the team still struggles to prevent scoring chances against (ranking 20th) and expected goals against per 60 minutes (19th) at 5-on-5 play, Toronto’s defensive play has looked better than the past and it is unnerving that Andersen’s numbers have fallen drastically in spite of their improved structure.

It is difficult to parse out whether his challenging start has simply been due to an unfortunate run of form, a by-product of a heavy workload taking its toll, or a symptom of age-related decline, although he has himself admitted that his recovery from injury this season has been turbulent, further casting his future productivity into doubt.

Why Does This Matter?

Professional sports are a callous industry, one in which players are judged through the lens of “what have you done for me lately?”, fairly or not. As such, Andersen’s recent performances have not inspired confidence at a time in which the Leafs should be poised to capitalize on a weaker division and avoid the league’s top contenders until the third round of the playoffs, representing Toronto’s best opportunity to reach the Stanley Cup Finals in several decades.

Most notably, Andersen’s tendency to fall flat in elimination games during the playoffs has been particularly back-breaking for the rest of the Leafs, who for all of their legitimate flaws, may desire the much-needed psychological reset that would come with Andersen’s departure.

With the salary cap remaining flat for the foreseeable future due to pandemic-related losses in NHL revenue, finding a bargain-bin free agent would allow the Leafs to re-allocate Andersen’s sizeable $5-million cap hit elsewhere, perhaps for an additional top-six forward to complement their already potent attack (Filip Forsberg or Taylor Hall anyone?), or a top-four defensemen (Dougie Hamilton?) to solidify their backend.

Regardless of which avenue they eventually choose, what is evident is that the Leafs have several feasible options heading into next year, with a mixture of experienced veterans and young, but unproven, alternatives available for relatively affordable prices.

Below, I will evaluate seven potential acquisitions, and determine how likely each one is to come to fruition.

1.) Cal Petersen, Los Angeles Kings (Age 26) / 2020-21 Cap Hit: $858, 333/ 2020-21 Stats (All Strengths): 15 GP/ .921 SV%/ 2.63 GAA/ 6.81 GSAA

Our first target comes from a familiar trade partner, and is someone who has a single year left on his contract after this season. Petersen has split the net with Jonathan Quick early on and has greatly outperformed the veteran when called upon.

Petersen’s posting of the 6th most goals saved above expected in the league this year has been an important factor in the Kings challenging for a playoff spot, only a year after selecting 2ndoverall in the entry draft. At 26, Petersen is in no real danger of declining anytime soon and could form half of a formidable partnership with ex-King Jack Campbell for less than a combined 3-million-dollar cap hit, significantly less than the probable cost of extending Andersen. 

However, his contract status suggests that Los Angeles would not be quick to part with him, especially as he is currently providing above-average goaltending for less than a million dollars. Further, while Quick has 2 more years left on his contract after this one, his shaky play and spotty health could give Petersen an opportunity to grab the starter’s role, and the Kings may view him as the 35-year-old Quick’s eventual successor. 

Petersen suiting up for the AHL’s Ontario Reign – Photo: Flickr

Despite Petersen’s surprisingly strong display this year, he has a limited sample-size of major league starts. His 34 games of NHL experience across several seasons means he is untested and may falter when entrusted with a greater workload. This assertion is borne out in his performance at the AHL level, as his numbers take a hit when starting a greater proportion of games. This represents a risky gamble if any of Jack Campbell’s pre-existing injuries flare up in the future, and Petersen must take the reins of a team who often relies heavily on their goalies.

Although Petersen does possess much of a track record in the NHL, he has played well in spot duty and his cheap cap-hit makes him a particularly attractive trade candidate. Additionally, the Kings allow a greater quality of scoring chances than the Leafs at 5-on-5, suggesting that he should be able to maintain his solid play in front of a more disciplined group. He’s worth a look.

2.) Chris Driedger, Florida Panthers (Age 26)/ 2020-21 Cap Hit: $850,000/ 2020-21 Stats (All Strengths): 12 GP/ .920 SV%/ 2.40 GAA/ 4.80 GSAA

When Sergei Bobrovsky faltered to start the season, Driedger was thrust into the crease and held the fort admirably for the surprising Panthers, who are currently tied for 1stin the Central division alongside the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

Although Bobrovsky has recently regained the confidence of head coach Joel Quenneville, Driedger still ranks 9thand 10th this season in save percentage and goals saved above average at 5-on-5 respectively, proving to be a reliable option when necessary. In fact, Driedger has often found himself outplaying his goalie partner the past few seasons, extremely worrying for Florida when you consider that Bobrovsky is slated to make more than ten times Dredger’s salary this season, and most likely pricing them out of what would otherwise be an inexpensive back-up. 

Driedger is a typical journeyman, with extensive minor league experience bouncing around in the AHL and ECHL, ranking among the top of the leaderboards in both leagues since the 2017-18 season. Similar to Petersen, Driedger does not have much in the way of prolonged NHL experience and it remains to be seen how he would respond to increased responsibility, somewhat diminishing his appeal despite the minimal salary he would command.

Since Bobrovsky’s boat-anchor contract has essentially cemented his place in Florida for the foreseeable future, and with 2019 first-round-pick Spencer Knight dominating the NCAA circuit, the Panthers’ logjam at goalie may make Driedger expendable, with rumours already flaring up ahead of the trade deadline next month due to his palatable cap hit and sturdy play as a stop-gap.

 If he stays put, Toronto’s ability to offer significantly more playing time next season may entice him to join in free agency, costing significantly less than the Campbell-Andersen pairing, even after accounting for a slight raise in salary.

3.) Jake Oettinger, Dallas Stars (Age 22)/ 2020-21 Cap Hit: $925,000/ 2020-21 Stats (All Strengths): 13 GP/ .917 SV%/ 2.10 GAA/ 2.91 GSAA

The Stars are currently carrying three capable goalies on their roster, and the fact that Oettinger has forced his way into more playing time has raised questions over the organization’s goaltending hierarchy.

Although he is relatively inexperienced for Toronto’s liking, and somewhat insulated within Dallas’ staunch defensive structure (they lead the league this year in expected goals and scoring chances allowed per 60 minutes at 5-on-5), Oettinger has shown glimpses of his potential with Anton Khudobin struggling so far to replicate his form from last year’s post-season, posting a .907 save percentage that is a far cry from the .930 and .917 he put up in the regular season and playoffs, respectively.

Khudobin’s magical run to the Cup Final last season was rewarded with a three-year contract, an interesting development even with presumed starter Ben Bishop currently recovering from significant knee surgery. Bishop and Khudobin are both under contract until 2023, with the former’s deal carrying both a modified no-trade and no-move clause, leaving him to dictate his future in Dallas. 

However, with Oettinger still on his entry-level deal and being under team control for at least a few more seasons, Dallas probably feels comfortable with letting him marinate in the AHL once Bishop returns, grooming him to assume the starter’s role after their main 34-year-old options see out the remainder of their contracts. 

All things considered, Oettinger may be the least likely of arrivals on this list due to his draft pedigree and contract status but acquiring a touted goalie prospect would be a boon for the Leafs, with those currently in their pipeline looking more like wildcards than guaranteed starters at the NHL level.

4.) Antti Raanta, Arizona Coyotes (Age 31)/ 2020-21 Cap Hit: $4,250,000/ 2020-21 Stats: 9 GP/ .912 SV%/ 3.36 GAA/ 1.51 GSAA

5.) Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes (Age 30)/ 2020-21 Cap Hit: $4,500,000/ 2020-21 Stats (All Strengths): 18 GP/ .914 SV%/ 2.41 GAA/ 3.43 GSAA

Despite his experience as a dependable starting goalie, one thing that may give the Leafs pause is Raanta’s checkered health over the past few seasons. At 31, Raanta is moving beyond his physical peak and his 56 combined games over the past three seasons does not resemble a goalie who is capable of shouldering a workload of 40 games a season, and of assuming the starting role in the event that Campbell is not fully fit.

Not to completely disregard Raanta’s portfolio, his play when healthy has been worthy of his 4.25-million-dollar salary, ranking 17thin 5-on-5 save percentage and 21stin 5-on-5 GSAA since 2018, all the while facing an inordinately high number of quality chances behind an Arizona squad that has often struggled to adequately shield their goaltenders. 

Raanta’s teammate Darcy Kemper is also an attractive commodity, but Arizona views him as a less uncertain gamble, being slightly younger and carrying another year on his deal, even with his own injury struggles.

Additionally, among goalies with at least 1500 minutes played, Kuemper ranks 2nd in all-strengths save percentage (.924) and 3rd in GSAA since 2018, often singlehandedly keeping the Coyotes competitive. With the extra year on his deal, Kuemper would have to be acquired in a trade, and his extraordinary play may make him unaffordable, just to give the Leafs another goalie at a similar cap-hit to Andersen.

However, one factor that may urge the Coyotes to part with Kuemper instead is that he is due to make $2-million more in real dollars (salary owed v.s. cap hit) next season ($5.5 million vs. $3.5 million) and with Arizona notoriously penny-pinching mess of an ownership group running the show during a financially crippling pandemic, Kuemper’s raise may be too much for them to stomach, leaving them vulnerable to Toronto’s deep pockets.

The boring answer is that Arizona promotes the much cheaper Adin Hill in Raanta’s place and cut their losses. If the Leafs limit the term they offer to 2 years, Raanta is a decent bet to work well in a tandem in the interim, but the concerns surrounding his physical condition may be too prominent to ignore.

6.) Jonathan Bernier, Detroit Red Wings (Age 32)/ 2020-21 Cap Hit: $3,000,000 – 2020-21 Stats (All Strengths): 16 GP/ .914 SV%/ 2.90 GAA/ 3.64 GSAA

Ah, Jonathan Bernier, noted appreciator of social justice icons. While most Leafs fans may most strongly associate Bernier with the tumultuous period occurring between the team’s playoff appearances in 2013 and 2017, he has impressed this season as the main goalie on a rebuilding Detroit roster. 

Despite facing the most shots against per 60 minutes (34.35), the 2ndhighest rate of expected goals against per 60 minutes (2.52), and 11thmost high-danger shots per 60 minutes (8.25) in the league at 5-on-5 among goalies with at least 500 minutes played, Bernier has managed to accumulate the 8thmost GSAA, showing that a heavy workload won’t deter him from keeping his team competitive. If those totals alone don’t impress you, consider that Thomas Greiss and Jimmy Howard, Detroit’s other most common net minders in the past few seasons, have been atrocious comparably.

If nothing else, Bernier can take solace in the fact that he has somehow stopped 91.4% of shots in all situations this year, behind an awful Detroit team. Seriously, he should get a Vezina nomination simply for winning a game in 2021. His numbers should improve behind a more structured and cohesive team, is familiar with how intensely the team is scrutinized within this market, and could most likely be had for around $3-million.

What’s that? Every Leafs fan is breathlessly mouthing “no!” at their screen right now? Fine. Let’s end of this entry with a glitch from the Yahoo Fantasy Hockey app in which Bernier was hilariously credited with the most saves in a regular season game in NHL history, at the bottom of the screen.

With how few people are willingly watching Red Wings games these days, who’s to say it didn’t actually happen.

7.) Petr Mrazek, Carolina Hurricanes – 2020-21 Stats (All Strengths): 4 GP/ .955 SV%/ 0.99 GAA/ 3.14 GSAA

 Carolina’s goaltending situation is intriguing in that potentially all three of Alex Nedeljkovic, James Reimer, and Petr Mrazek may not be on the Hurricanes’ books come next season. The contracts of their goalie triumvirate are up for renewal this summer and with each one failing to maintain a grip on the starting job, significant turnover may be in the cards.

Petr Mrazek, who would be the most appealing option of the three upon hitting the open market, boasts a save percentage (.923) and GSAA (6.47) at 5-on-5 ranking in the top-30 of goalies since 2018, suggesting he could comfortably bear the brunt of a tandem workload. However, downplaying his numbers is the fact that he’s faced the third fewest shots against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 since 2018 among goalies who have played at least 1000 minutes.

This is partly owing to Carolina’s identity as possession-dominating demons, which, despite their recent improvements as a defensive unit and increased focus on maintaining possession by recycling the puck into the neutral zone, is in stark contrast to the Leafs’ tactics. And yet, he saves a good amount of chances in high-danger situations which may reflect well on his ability to integrate into Toronto’s free-wheeling system. But, as has been a recurring theme of this article, inconsistent health is a concern, with Mrazek only suiting up for 4 games this season.

Carolina will most likely attempt to shore up their goaltending situation for next season by bringing in a proven starter to lead the dark horse Cup contenders. What may complicate things is that the expiring contracts of Andrei Svechnikov and Dougie Hamilton must be addressed, likely eating into their budget for a starting goalie, and leaving an opening for the Leafs to pounce.

Where Do the Leafs Go From Here?

Frederik Andersen’s tenure as a Leaf should generally be viewed as a success, irrespective of the team’s shortcomings in the playoffs. Seeing as this article is being written in March and how goaltending is generally voodoo, Andersen may have reached new heights by June, singlehandedly dragging the Leafs to a championship, ensuring that he will never have to pay for a drink in Toronto until the day he dies.

Even if this fever dream materializes, and Andersen later leaves for a new challenge, Kyle Dubas can be confident in his ability to find an affordable, but imperfect, solution for next season, while comfortably walking away from the historically dicey gamble that is committing long-term to an aging goaltender solely because of their often out-dated reputation.

 If a team genuinely believes that Andersen can solve their goaltending woes and back up the Brinks truck for his services, he should take the money and run. But it shouldn’t be the Leafs.

Gold Drafting and the 2015 NHL Draft Lottery

            Last week, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported that the NHL was once again exploring the possibility of altering the draft lottery process, after doing so only a few seasons prior. The news reignited passionate debate about the faults of the current system, especially as it pertains to whether or not the teams that deserve higher selections, are actually receiving an appropriate spot in the draft order.

Further concerns were raised that these changes would just be another ham-fisted attempt by the league to foster and prioritize parity over entertainment, by continuing to introduce convoluted and superficial adjustments that do very little to address the issues inherent to the current format. 

            Many fans and prominent media figures take issue with how the draft lottery, as it currently stands, simultaneously incentivizes losing and diminishes the quality of play as teams trade away players whose performances are leading to more victories than losses, holding out stars to recover from injuries – wink, wink – and purposefully icing poor rosters, while fans celebrate as the losses accumulate and bring them closer to the saviour that is destined (it’ll happen this time!) to drag the franchise out of perpetual mediocrity.

This reality ostensibly represents an overwhelming rejection of the competitive nature of professional sports, and makes brazen attempts at tanking more of a story than the actual on-ice product.

NHL executives assuring Gary Bettman that they’re trying their best

Current Draft Lottery Format

            Before I present an alternative, it’s worth explaining how the draft lottery is currently constructed, to identify possible areas of improvement. At the moment, each team that does not make the playoffs in a given season has a chance to pick within the top three, with a separate draw determining the order of the first three selections.

To ensure that the league’s worst teams are in the best position to select the most highly touted prospects, they are awarded the best odds and are assured of not dropping more than three spots from their actual place in the standings as a result of the lottery draw.

Presently, the three teams with the lowest point totals are given 49.4, 38.8, and 33.9 percent chances respectively of picking within the top three of the draft, with the remaining percentages signifying the probability that they pick outside of that range.

The current distribution of draft lottery odds, courtesy of tankathon.com

            Although even the most abysmal of teams cannot wholly guarantee that they will end up with the first overall pick, many find a season or two of renting the NHL’s basement for the purposes of boosting their lottery odds to be palatable when potential franchise cornerstones such as Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews or Shane Wright are within reach.

What is essentially an intentional concession of a playoff spot is  especially tempting for those teams that may not be active participants in free agency, find themselves on many players’ No-Trade lists, and regularly watch their marquee stars depart for more enticing locales.

This is often due to a confluence of factors including increased chances of immediate post-season success, lower tax rates, a warmer or more mild climate, a vibrant night-life or their proximity and attractiveness to sponsors. Or whatever it is that Taylor Hall saw in the Buffalo Sabres. Yikes.

A ‘Golden’ Alternative

            Yet, several proposals have been put forth by fans, league executives, and media members to tackle the issue of tanking, the most exciting of which I will briefly explain and then apply to the results of the 2014-15 NHL season.

The circumstances surrounding the 2015 draft, with Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel ranked either first or second across nearly every draft board of consequence, meant that one of the most highly touted prospects in a decade awaited the franchise that would have their numbers drawn in that year’s lottery.

Further, the 2015 iteration has been considered one of the deepest in recent memory, with franchise pillars in McDavid and Eichel later being followed by all-star level talent in Sebastian Aho, Mikko Rantanen, Mat Barzal and Kyle Connor, and supplemented by solid, unheralded players currently having breakout seasons in Conor Garland and Joel Eriksson Ek.

Noted Selke candidate Eriksson Ek

            The “Gold drafting” model, presented in a paper at the 2012 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference by the eponymous Adam Gold, essentially dictates that draft order is determined by each team’s point totals in games played once they are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. This assumes that the worst teams will be eliminated earlier and would therefore have more opportunities to accumulate points and secure a higher draft slot. Simple enough, yeah? 

            This suggestion has gained traction both online and within the media sphere as a system which would ensure that the NHL’s worst teams are still given an advantage in their pursuit of a higher pick, while assuaging the NHL’s fears that winning would be an afterthought as teams lasered in on the belle of that season’s draft ball.

Having several teams pre-emptively surrendering points tarnishes the league’s image in the eyes of fans, potential sponsors, and TV networks, restricting their revenue streams, and myopically hindering their own efforts to market to a wider audience, making it more likely that adopting avenues to encourage player movement, such as a raising the salary cap, are financially unfeasible.

Striking Gold in the 2014-15 Season

            Applying this model to the 2014-15 season offers a practical example as to how Gold drafting could have changed the fortunes of several of the league’s largest exporters of armoured war vehicles.

The Gold model would have essentially done away with the numerous iterations of what had been dubbed “The McEichel Bowl”, the most notorious of which was a late-season matchup between the pitiful Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres that saw fans of each team cheering raucously for the opposing team’s goals.

While as humorous as it was bewildering, the scene served as an unpleasant reminder that competitiveness was not a pressing priority for many teams in their race (crawl?) to the bottom. 

            Now, without further ado, here is what the draft order would look like if Gold drafting was in place for the 2014-15 season, with each team’s actual draft position following the lottery compared to where they would be placed based on their Gold points. It is important to note that these would most likely not be the actual results as the incentives for winning would be flipped, but let’s suspend reality in the name of fun.

2015 Draft Order using Gold Drafting

            At first glance, there are some notable results. Buffalo and Edmonton are the first teams eliminated but would remain in the exact same spots in the draft, mostly owing to the fact that each team would have about a month until the end of the regular season to accumulate points.

Columbus, Colorado, and Dallas are the biggest what-ifs in this scenario, as their actual 2015 Draft positions are much lower than what would be expected under the Gold model. Columbus’ actual draft position grades out as especially punitive as they skyrocketed up the draft order by amassing points in all of their games following elimination and retroactively obtaining the fourth overall selection, with fewer games played than Toronto, Philadelphia, Arizona, and New Jersey.

The debacle that was Arizona’s post-elimination performance was particularly egregious as they accrued the seventh most Gold points despite being the third team eliminated from contention, and yet they were rewarded with a top three selection.

Although the Gold system would have undoubtedly forced them to renege on some of their more blatantly suspect roster decisions and leading to more of an honest attempt at winning, they should serve as the primary culprit in the movement to change how draft order is decided.

How Does this Affect the League?

            As has been demonstrated on numerous occasions, scouting teenagers and projecting their professional futures is a challenging task, even at the top of the rankings, where prospects are thought to be more of reliable commodity.

The most infamous examples of draft busts within the esteemed group of first overall picks in recent memory include Alexandre Daigle (Ottawa Senators, 1993), Patrik Stefan (Atlanta Thrashers, 1999), and Nail Yakupov (Edmonton Oilers, 2012), who all underachieved for a plethora of reasons related to poor relationships with coaches, inability to acclimate to the NHL, or decline related to suffering significant injuries.

However, completing this exercise in 2021 allows us the benefit of hindsight, and to contemplate how teams may have fared as a result of occupying a different draft position.

            At the top are McDavid and Eichel, two superstars who would still go first and second in a re-draft to Edmonton and Buffalo and would most likely remain in NHL purgatory judging by the historic incompetence of their management groups, frustratingly incapable of capitalizing on the immense talent falling into their lap. However, with Columbus now picking third, several notable events may not have come to pass in the following years. 

            Columbus’ actual selection happened to be collegiate star Zach Werenski at 8thoverall, eventually forming one half of their top pairing alongside Seth Jones, who was later acquired in return for center Ryan Johansen (age 23). At the time of the 2015 draft, Columbus’ center depth on a given night consisted of some combination of Johansen, Boone Jenner (22), Brandon Dubinsky (29), and Alexander Wennberg (21).

Now, with several budding young centers in the pipeline, the Blue Jackets may still have picked highly-regarded defenseman Noah Hanifin with the third pick over center Dylan Strome, suggesting that picking either one of Hanifin or Strome would still result in Columbus eventually following through with the Johansen-Jones deal, or some form of it, to bolster their defence corps and would result in somewhat similar playoff success.

Former Columbus Center Ryan Johansen

            However, if they selected Mitch Marner with their pick, they would have their true offensive star in the vein of Artemi Panarin, who they would acquire in 2017 for Brandon Saad, but one that would have been under team control for a longer period of time.

It is not difficult to imagine that Panarin and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who left Columbus as free agents in the summer of 2019, may have viewed the organization’s future differently with Marner waiting in the wings, and elected to re-sign.

    Additionally, residing in a smaller market may have suppressed Marner’s salary demands as a result of a lack of the hometown boy-type leverage that he had over Kyle Dubas, and his status as a rising star may have made Columbus a more attractive destination for free agents who would relish the opportunity to play alongside him in the lineup.

Yet, we must account for the presence of the strict taskmaster John Tortorella, whose abrasive coaching style has unnerved several young talents including Johansen, Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and most recently, Patrick Laine, and one must wonder if the same would occur with Marner, leading him to demand a trade and eventually blossoming elsewhere. Although Columbus is admittedly an extreme example, it is important to note how quickly an organization’s outlook can change by hitting on a pick. 

            As previously mentioned, the first round of the deep 2015 draft gave teams the chance to draft one of several stars and one has to wonder how the fortunes of teams such as Arizona, Carolina, and New Jersey may have changed as a result of picking any one of those players in lieu of the actual underachievers they selected in Dylan Strome, Noah Hanifin, and Pavel Zacha.

The Toronto Maple Leafs were also rumoured to be interested in selecting Hanifin, a pick which would have left them lacking a dynamic sidekick for Auston Matthews, something that may not have mattered if Toronto does not win the draft lottery the following season. Evidently, even this minor change would drastically transform the balance of the NHL half a decade later. 

Benefits of Gold Drafting

            Applying the Gold method to the 2014-15 season teases out several of the significant benefits it would offer to the NHL and frankly, any professional league which allocates new players via a draft.

First, and most importantly, teams who earnestly try to win are the ones who are ultimately rewarded with the opportunity to select higher-ranked prospects in this scenario. With players who can immediately vault a team into contention such as McDavid and Eichel on the line and accumulating points being the only mechanism to pick them, regularly suffering nightly blow-outs is no longer a viable avenue to success.

This should push teams to ice their best possible rosters through to the end of the year and ensures that fans are paying for a competitive product. It would expose executives who rely on failure to build their success rather than those who take risks and make shrewd signings and trades to improve their teams.

In a league notorious for recycling the same names for management positions, this may result in an influx of new and innovative hockey minds.

Pictured: A teenager so talented, fans cheered against their teams for the chance to select him

            The Gold plan also offers the NHL a built-in marketing opportunity, with the battle for Gold points resembling a type of in-season tournament, and one whose prize could tangibly affect the quality of the team in future seasons.

Imagine an NFL Red Zone style channel, purely dedicated to showcasing the final drive for that year’s prized prospect. Take the Arizona-Buffalo game I mentioned earlier, instead of two fanbases cheering for a loss, they would be clamouring for the coaches and general managers to put the team in the best position to win, and for players to execute to the best of their ability.

These matchups would hold more intrigue for viewers and replace the slog towards the conclusion of the season with suspenseful, high-stakes entertainment.

Drawbacks of Gold Drafting

            Despite the clear positives of this method, there are some issues that may need to be addressed. Some teams would undoubtedly try to lose as many games as possible, as early as possible, to begin their accumulation of Gold points.

Other teams may just simply be poorly constructed, and be punished regardless of their effort level. Trading players who may not fit the age profile of the team or are looking to play for a contender are common ways for poor teams to accumulate draft capital and re-stock their prospect cupboard. Removing significant assets via trade may result in their inability to win games when it matters and limits their ability to make necessary transactions for their future.

All of these are valid arguments against the Gold plan, but the fact that the worst teams would still have the most runway to accumulate points, should act as enough of a safeguard against inadvertent punishments.

What Now?

            Sports are often a platform for the most polarizing debates of what-if, supplying many a daydream for long-suffering fans of franchises that were agonizingly close to claiming sporting legends as their own.

Think Michael Jordan being passed over by the Trailblazers in favour of Sam Bowie, or Tom Brady falling to the New England Patriots in the sixth round, unwittingly setting the foundation for one of the most memorable dynastic empires in football and sports history.

Although countless hours could be devoted to analyzing the repercussions of altering the past, even the lone example of the Columbus Blue Jackets should demonstrate that the Gold model would significantly adjust how teams are incentivised to play, and reward teams whose sincere efforts at competitive relevance are more reflective of the spirit of athletic competition.