One of the most interesting events for Blackhawks fans over the next year is the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft, which is set for mid-June. It’s the kind of thing that will have the hockey world talking for weeks, and you’d think the NHL would recognize that and try to make it as big of an occasion as possible.
Instead, the NHL might be on track to totally screw this up, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Sean Gentile wrote Wednesday. Rather than turn the upcoming expansion draft into a fun, easily digestible piece of entertainment, the league might try to leave fans in the dark.
According to a report from ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, the NHL isn’t planning on making the protection lists for each of the 30 teams public when the draft goes down. This is because the league’s general managers don’t want them to be made public (which makes sense for them), and apparently that desire outweighs the NHL’s goals as a entertainment business.
However, on Thursday, the league said it’s reconsidering that stance. This is where we hope the NHL will hear from fans loud and clear, because keeping the protection lists secret would be a terrible decision for pretty much everyone but the GMs.
Gentile does a very good job taking the NHL to task for all this in his article, which makes it fairly clear how the league could turn the expansion draft into an exciting event for the hockey world. What we might get instead is a bunch of reporters scrambling from June 18-21 trying to report who each team protected while everyone tries to piece together who Vegas will actually be able to select.
It’s incredible to think that it could go this way, and now that there’s growing public outcry after LeBrun’s report, it appears they’re reconsidering. I really hope they do.
As Gentile noted, the NHL’s GMs wield an unusual amount of power given their job titles, and they’re just trying to act in their own interests. Nothing about what the GMs are doing is weird because it’s precisely what you’d expect people to do in the pursuit of success and self-preservation.
But keeping the protection lists private would continue a pattern of the NHL seemingly ignoring or failing to realize what a big chunk of its audience wants.
This is the same league that tries to conceal salary cap information, forcing mainstream media to use third-party sources like Cap Friendly. The same league that completely bungled its new NHL.com website, and hey, guess what, it’s still freaking terrible even after you “play with it a little bit.”
It shows an ongoing misunderstanding of how a lot of hardcore fans are following the game. When Gary Bettman said after the end of CapGeek, “I’m not sure fans are as focused on what players make as they are about their performance on the ice,” that was apparent, and now we’re seeing it again. This time it might be at the request of the league’s powerful GMs, but this is a pattern of the league failing to realize how big player movement and roster management can be as catalysts for fan interest.
Whatever the league’s reasoning is for making it more difficult to access useful information, it’s not good enough. Other leagues have blossomed partially because their fan bases are provided with loads of high-quality sources for information that make it easier to take your fandom to the next level.
Consider what the NFL does for the Combine around this time of the year. It’s just a bunch of college kids running in straight lines, jumping over stuff, and taking physicals, yet the NFL goes all out to turn into a grand entertainment product that’s easily consumable on all sorts of platforms.
It’s not the kind of thing that casual fans will tune into, but they have a big enough hardcore audience that they can cater to. That’s something the NHL should aspire to, and you don’t do that by withholding useful information during what should be one of the most fun weeks of the hockey year.
Ever since the move to Vegas became inevitable, the expansion draft has been one of the most interesting things on the NHL calendar. It’ll be a huge disappointment if it’s not easy to keep up.