The Montreal Canadiens have been eliminated from the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff contention, but now I cheer against them so they finish at the bottom of the standings, and might get first pick in the draft.

They did have a good chance of getting the first pick if they would lose the last 11 games of the season, but they decreased the chances of picking first by winning a game.

That triggered a question for me: Is there anything that prevents a team from just playing to lose? Could management ask them to throw the game for end season ranking purposes, orr is there a rule in place forcing teams to trust the process and try their best even if they are mathematically certain of missing the playoffs?


Yes, although it may not be explicit.

Every sport has structures in place which allow the governing body (the NHL in this case) to penalise teams for conduct "detrimental to or against the welfare of the League or the game of hockey"1. Deliberately losing matches would be a prime example of this. What actually happens if the league decides to go after a team on these grounds is either undefined or not public - perhaps the closest analogy is when the NHL fined the New Jersey Devils both money and draft picks for attempting to violate the salary cap; at that point, even ESPN were unclear as to the exact details:

It was not immediately clear if the Devils can appeal the ruling.

In the end, the Devils did get one of their draft picks back, but it took three and a half years for it all to be sorted out.

A couple of examples from other sports:

1. That quote is actually from the NHL CBA. The CBA isn't directly relevant here as that's the deal between the owners and the players rather than the league and the owners, but it's a good indication of the language these sort of things use.


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