The NHL entry draft lottery is one of the most overthought, sketchy systems in sports today theoretically designed to deter teams from tanking. In the process, the shady nature in which the selections are determined has always led to more questions than answers, and the term “rigged” gets throw around from time to time.
If the lottery is in fact rigged, it would theoretically be favored to give the best hockey markets the best players in order to keep the revenue high. Under that line of thought, the Philadelphia Flyers should have a pretty good chance given the mix of teams currently in the bottom of the league. As of this writing, the bottom five teams are Chicago, Columbus, Anaheim, San Jose and Philadelphia. Even six to ten (Arizona, Montreal, Nashville, Vancouver and Ottawa) don’t amount to many other notable hockey markets. Of this bottom ten, the only game-changing markets would be Chicago, Philly and Montreal.
Chicago had quite a run through the 2010’s, winning three Stanley Cups and went from basement dwellers in the attendance numbers to consistently selling out the United Center for almost a decade. Since their downfall, they’re currently drawing an average of 15,833 fans (77.2% capacity) during the 2022-23 season, which is less than the Flyers’ 16,719 (85.6% capacity). Montreal, even though they’re in the basement of the NHL, are currently atop the attendance figures with an average of 21,011 (98.8%).
The Flyers were a perennial top five attendance squad through a vast majority of their history, though they’ve been slowly sliding down the rankings for the last few seasons. They currently sit 20th during 2022-23, and finished 18th last season. They’re drawing around 2,000 less fans per game this season than they were during the 2019-20 campaign, the sixth biggest drop in the league during that time.
Last season, the Flyers drew their lowest average attendance dating back to the 1972-73 season. There were no city-wide covid attendance restrictions during the season, but there were spikes during the winter of 2021 that may have kept some fans away, especially around the holidays, but the empty building through the last few months of the season was entirely on-ice product based.
The Blackhawks currently sit 22nd in attendance during the 2022-23 season, and have lost the most fans per game since the pre-pandemic season with a whopping 5,600 drop in average attendance. They’re currently second last in capacity limits behind only the Buffalo Sabres at 77.2%.
The NHL may be suffering more in the short term because of the Blackhawks losing, but the Chicago market has always been volatile. Before their hot 2010’s, they were at the bottom of the league in attendance through most of the 2000’s. It’s a city that only shows up when things are good. Whereas the Flyers were a perennial top market that has been rotting away thanks to a decade of a terrible on-ice product.
Looking at other reasons to rig the system, there could be an interesting situation here: Connor Bedard is a Vancouver kid, and the Canucks are an absolute disaster. What a story it’d be for the hometown kid to save a franchise in peril.
Surprisingly, Vancouver is actually fourth in average attendance in 2022-23 with 18,584, a number they hover around more often than not. But they’re a complete disaster on-ice with various very public scrums between teammates on the ice and the fact they cleared out their entire front office and coaching staff last season after a 8-15-2 start. There’s a good chance they’re sellers at the deadline and the offseason with guys like Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat among their best trade chips as their rebuild officially takes off.
Is the draft lottery rigged? Who knows. It sure feels unlikely that it’s 100% complete luck.
Considering the stakes in the 2023 draft -a true franchise-altering first overall pick, and another handful of top prospects in the top ten- how the chips fall from the lottery are going to be insanely important. If there is a higher power dictating how the results shake out, the Flyers should be pretty high on the priority list. Getting the once-mighty organization out of the pitiful state they find themselves in is good for business for both the franchise itself and the rest of the league as a whole, and the only way to do that is by adding high-end talent.
Flyers fans have suffered quite a bit over the last ten years and things don’t appear to be getting better any time soon unless a little good luck comes their way. So Gary, before you send a legal team our way for questioningly the legitimacy of your lottery, just consider saving the Philadelphia Flyers and your wallet will reap the benefits soon enough. We’re a loyal masochistic group that just wants a little good luck going our way.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nhl.com