This idea began to take shape, as many ideas do, at a bar.

In the spring of 2016, an English friend told me he wanted to better understand the NHL. I invited him to the Monarch Tavern in Toronto to watch multiple playoff games.

Sometime around the second pint, my friend peered across the multiple screens and asked: “Hey, where are the Canadian teams?” 

For the first time in 46 years, I pointed out, no Canadian team had made the playoffs. 

“That doesn’t make any sense,” he replied. “I thought Canada had the best hockey players in the world. Why wouldn’t the teams full of Canadians be in the playoffs?” 

“Canadian players don’t always play for Canadian teams,” I told him. “They get drafted to teams throughout the United States, too.” 

“Drafted?” 

The playoff action became secondary as I explained the concept of a draft to someone who grew up in a different sporting ecosystem, in which the best soccer players usually begin playing for their hometown team and then enjoy more freedom to sign with the teams of their choosing. 

My friend refused to believe the draft had any merit and echoed a sentiment I’d long had, yet kept tucked away in the face of traditional hockey culture: Why don’t the best hockey players have any say where they spend most of their careers? 

For the next few years, I’d share this question quietly in bars and press boxes, but now, it feels like the question needs to be asked a little louder. The disappointed look on Connor McDavid’s face on the night of the 2015 NHL Draft Lottery when he found out that he, a generational player, would be forced to play for a team with a history of questionable decision-making was evident.