The PWHL’s ‘Gold Plan’ — Does it really change anything?

The IX: Hockey Friday with The Ice Garden, May 10, 2024

Hey, women’s hockey fans! It’s Lydia Murray from The Ice Garden bringing you another edition of Hockey Friday. This week, I’m sharing my thoughts on the “Gold Plan” to determine the draft order and whether the PWHL adopting it changes much.

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What is the “Gold Plan?” 

In the “Gold Plan” the number of points a team earns after being eliminated from the playoffs determines the draft order. The idea, first introduced by PhD candidate Adam Gold at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in 2012, was designed to keep teams playing meaningful hockey until the final game. The argument is it will reduce or eliminate tanking. The PWHL, which has been no stranger to trying new things, is the first major professional sports league to adopt the plan.

Objections to the plan

There are a lot of “Gold Plan” skeptics. One common objection is that bad teams don’t suddenly become good because the first overall draft pick is in play. However, that’s not the point. All the “Gold Plan” strives to do is make it so that purposefully underfunding a team from the beginning of the season or selling off all your good players at the trade deadline does not help you.

To contrast the “Gold Plan” with another system, let’s look at the NHL. They use a lottery system where the worse your standings position, the better your odds at the top pick. It’s still no guarantee, but if you’re a general manager and your team will not compete for playoffs, why would you not blow it up and be as bad as possible to get the best odds at the best pick? There’s no incentive to stay good. However, by adopting the “Gold Plan” the PWHL gives teams every reason to stay as competitive as possible, even if playoffs are a dim hope. Otherwise, they will not be rewarded with a good pick because, to flip this one around, bad teams don’t suddenly become good once eliminated. 

Another objection to the “Gold Plan” is that it doesn’t eliminate all tanking — just what would occur after a team is eliminated from playoff contention. Theoretically, a team could be purposefully awful at the beginning of the season to get eliminated from playoffs faster. Then, they could pick it up to get a good pick. However, I think there’s a pretty slim chance that would happen. We’re talking about professional sports, and I don’t think you’ll find many players or coaches keen on throwing games just to get a better pick. They all want to win as much as possible, even if it doesn’t look like they’ll get very far. 

All of this said, the “Gold Plan” does have flaws, particularly in a small, evenly-matched league. This season, the plan didn’t go into effect until the final week. The second and final team wasn’t eliminated until after the final game. So, there was no real competition. New York was far behind everyone else in the standings, and it was pretty clear they’d get the first pick. However, in a larger league, it gets a lot more fun. Take the size of the NHL, for example. That would mean 16 teams are all vying for the first pick by the end of the season. The competition between them would be just as fierce as the ones battling for their playoff lives and/or seeding. It would keep all fans engaged longer and, in turn, grow the game — which is good for everyone.

So…Is it worth it?

Overall, I love the “Gold Plan” as an approach to ordering the draft. It’s perhaps a little early for it to do much in the PWHL, but it’ll get more powerful as the league expands. That said, you could still see some of the effects this season. After New York entered the plan, they won their final two games in regulation. Before then, they had just three regulation wins all season. New York played with more fire in those games seemingly because they were finally playing for something attainable after their playoff odds had been putrid for weeks. 

As a fun bonus, New York also spoiled their opponents’ (Ottawa and Minnesota) playoff hopes with the wins. If either had won, they would’ve clinched a spot. Instead, Boston got in as the third seed and Minnesota eeked their way into the fourth after Ottawa failed to win their last game. That level of chaos is already fun. So, it’s exciting to think about what this could turn into once more teams are in on it sooner.

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PWHL Power Rankings: Week 14 (04/29-05/05), The Ice Garden — Click to see how each team fared in the PWHL regular season’s final week, but stay for the Lilo and Stitch theme.

PWHL Semifinals Preview: Toronto vs Minnesota, The Victory Press — Here’s how Toronto and Minnesota stacked up heading into their playoff series, which continues with Game 2 tonight at 7 p.m. EDT.

TIG Roundtable: PWHL Minnesota at PWHL Toronto, The Ice Garden — Several TIG shared their thoughts on various questions heading into the Minnesota-Toronto semifinal series.

TIG Roundtable: PWHL Boston at PWHL Montréal — The Ice Garden. Several TIG staff shared their thoughts on various questions heading into the Boston-Montréal semifinal series.

PWHL Mock Draft 1.0: We know the order, now here are the picks, The Hockey News — The PWHL playoffs may be the hottest topic, but the upcoming draft picture is also taking shape. Here’s the first of likely many mock drafts before it takes place in Minnesota in June.

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Written by The Ice Garden