July 14th, 2024

NHL GMs on potential move away from centralized draft: ‘It’s gonna be different’

By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press on June 30, 2024.

Ben Danford, bottom right, heads to the podium after being selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first round of the NHL hockey draft Friday, June 28, 2024, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

LAS VEGAS – Brad Treliving loves everything about the NHL draft.

The conversations. The camaraderie. Catching up with old colleagues. Meeting new ones. Seeing teenagers live out one of their dreams under the bright lights.

The Toronto Maple Leafs general manager also voted in favour of drastically changing the annual event from its current form.

The only major sport in North America to bring all its teams – including management and scouting staffs – under one roof to select the next generation of players is looking at decentralizing the annual event moving forward.

Much like the NFL and NBA, that would see most club officials holed up remotely and communicating to a handful of people on-site. One benefit would be simplified logistics, while also cutting down on travel and overall costs.

But gone would be the tables where heads are put together with the draft clock ticking down as fans look on in anticipation from the stands.

The NHL polled teams this season to gauge interest in altering the format. While the results weren’t made public, things could be vastly different moving forward.

The current setup, which started to take shape back in 1984, allows GMs to walk a couple tables over on the draft floor to talk with one of their opposites, meet an agent face-to-face at a restaurant, and get one last look at prospects up close before making what are sometimes franchise-altering decisions.

“It’s the interaction,” Treliving said. “The interaction with hockey people.”

Vegas Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon added it’s an opportunity for the game’s stakeholders to be in one place.

“For the players, it’s really neat,” he said. “All these players have an image in their head of what the draft day looks like.”

McCrimmon added so much of everyday life is now technology-based that it’s refreshing to shake hands and chat off the cuff.

“More and more our world is virtual,” he said. “Any time you have the opportunity to be in-person at these events, I think that it’s a really good way to do it “¦ we’re the only sport that does.

“It’s unique to the National Hockey League.”

This year’s seven-round draft marathon wasn’t held in an arena, but rather at the jaw-dropping, US$2.3-billion Sphere auditorium with its mammoth, mesmerizing screen that bends around the building.

“Outstanding draft,” said Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan, who added he also voted for draft decentralization. “Just the visual stuff, the reaction from people, the way some of the picks were presented. I thought it was more entertaining than any other draft we’ve been at or seen.”

But sports – and the world – has changed. Teams have far more scouts and staffers than in the past. It’s expensive and time-consuming to get everyone in one spot.

The pandemic, meanwhile, forced society into finding alternate ways to communicate. Video conference calls are now standard business practice. The 2020 and 2021 drafts were held virtually because of COVID-19. It wasn’t nearly as glamorous, but teams adapted and made it work.

The NHL also has a tight window at the end of its schedule. The regular season now starts in mid-October and teams get bye weeks during the 82-game campaign. This year’s Stanley Cup final ended June 24. The draft was held Friday and Saturday. Free agency opens Monday.

“There’s no downtime,” Seattle Kraken GM Ron Francis said. “This is really busy for us.”

Calgary Flames GM Craig Conroy said something, however, will be lost if the draft format changes.

“This does feel like the NHL,” said Conroy, who still gave a nod to decentralization. “You are going to lose that in-person feeling, going up on the stage drafting the kids. It’s gonna be different.

“(The change) is for now. You never know what’s going to be coming in the future.”

Treliving and his management team are staying in Las Vegas for the start of free agency instead of heading back to Toronto because of the tight window. MacLellan and the Capitals are doing the same.

“It’s the calendar, it’s what it is,” Treliving said. “But the draft, it’s a special thing when you got everybody on the floor.

“If indeed it is the last one, I’ll miss it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2024.


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