“I think it’s pretty awesome, to be honest with you,” said Vegas Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon, whose staff will operate from owner Bill Foley’s Rock Creek Cattle Company, a private club with luxury homes, a world-class resort and a working cattle ranch in Deer Lodge, Montana. “Who knows? We expect this will be the only time that the NHL Draft will be held virtually.”
The NHL will use technology to bring people together across North America and Europe, and to give TV viewers a unique inside look. The first round is Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS). Rounds 2-7 will be Wednesday (11:30 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN1).
Had the draft been held as scheduled at Bell Centre in Montreal on June 26-27, fans would have been in the stands, and the 31 teams would have been at tables packed on the arena floor. Prospects would have heard their names called, put on hats and jerseys, walked up on stage, and enjoyed their moment in the spotlight.
The draft was postponed March 25 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus and couldn’t be held as usual. Most prospects will be at home, though some will be at places like arenas or restaurants. Other than Vegas, teams will be at their facilities. The GMs and some staff members will be in person; others will join via video conferencing.
“I was explaining to a general manager the other day when they were figuring out how this was all going to work,” NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer said. “I said, ‘Just imagine it to be the table.’
“When you’re sitting at the table, you could be on camera. There’s computers, there are phone lines, there are things that that allow you to complete a draft, and what we’ve just done is take all those elements and we’ve put them in San Jose, in Detroit, in Dallas, in Phoenix. We’ve just made it so that 31 tables have now just made their way to 31 different cities.’ “
Normally, the draft is the one time each year when executives, scouts and agents are in one place. They will miss the in-person interaction, which helps build relationships and facilitate trades.
Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman recalled when he was GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning and offered the Minnesota Wild a seventh-round pick to move up one spot in the third round to No. 79 in the 2014 NHL Draft. The Wild were at the next table at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, and Yzerman was able to make eye contact with counterpart Chuck Fletcher, now GM of the Philadelphia Flyers.
“I’m 10 feet away, and he’s like kind of, ‘Are you serious?’ ” Yzerman said. “And I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ Shrugged. And he said, ‘OK, but you’ve got to tell me who you’re picking.’ And we told him.”
It was a forward from Moose Jaw of the Western Hockey League by the name of Brayden Point, who led the NHL with 14 goals this postseason and helped the Lightning win the Stanley Cup.
But trades will still be made. Teams have multiple phone lines and all the other forms of modern communication.
“We do a lot of our business, sadly, through text now like the rest of the world,” Yzerman said with a laugh. “A quick text here or there. Hopefully you send it to the right person.”
There are advantages to teams being on their own too. Now staff members will be able to talk, display rankings and review video internally, without crowd noise and loud music, not to mention enemy eyes and ears.
“It’s just a little quieter,” Yzerman said. “It seems it’s going to be a little less hectic. Particularly in Round 1 when the building is full and, depending on who’s pick is coming up, the fans are chanting. There’s a lot of buzz in the building and a lot of people around. It can be very distracting. So I kind of like this format, actually. I think it’s going to work really well.”
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will host the first round; Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly will host Rounds 2-7. The teams will announce their own picks as usual.
Except this time, Commissioner Bettman and Daly will be at the NHL Network studio in Secaucus, New Jersey. The teams will be on video from wherever they are. So will the top prospects and others of interest, like Danny Weight, Kienan Draper and Mason Langenbrunner, the sons of former NHL players Doug Weight, Kris Draper and Jamie Langenbrunner, respectively.
NHL Network is producing a world feed that will be used by rightsholders and include more than 100 remote feeds over two days.
“This is very ambitious,” Mayer said. “They have been just incredible in terms of getting everything together and putting everything in a workable way that makes sense and will make for what I think will be a good broadcast. Even though you’re technologically way advanced, you’ve got all these feeds, it is important to really keep it simple, not go crazy and just make sure you’re doing it right and everything’s working.”
NHL Network partnered with Bitfire, a company with an internet protocol video transport system and concierge-level support. In short, it allows two-way communication with little latency for as many people as needed. Teams received special servers. The prospects expected to be on the broadcast received a link; all they have to do is click on it on their smartphone or computer.
“Certainly, the pandemic has posed a lot of challenges for all broadcasters over the past couple of months,” said Susan Stone, NHL Network senior vice president of operations and engineering. “But it’s also given us the chance to pivot and adapt and sort of opened our eyes to new technologies that maybe six to eight months ago we wouldn’t have tried.”
The prospects will still hear their names called. The NHL has sent about 40 prospects a box of 31 hats so they can put on one when the time comes. Don’t be surprised if the New York Rangers sent a jersey to forward Alexis Lafreniere from Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. They have the No. 1 pick, and he’s the No. 1 North American skater according to NHL Central Scouting.
“This is an opportunity to get into the individual war rooms of the teams, to see the players in their home environment sitting with family, waiting,” said Josh Bernstein, NHL Network senior coordinating producer. “Obviously, we’ve been put in this situation by the events over the past six months or so. Not ideal. But I think in many ways it’s going to be an opportunity to do things differently and even better.”
NHL.com Senior Director of Editorial Shawn P. Roarke and staff writers Tom Gulitti and Tracey Myers contributed to this report
Listen: New episode of NHL Draft Class