It is now the month of March, meaning there are about 5 weeks left in the NHL season. For the league’s upper class, this is the beginning of the push to the playoffs, where postseason seeding comes into play and the bubble push is most dire. But to the league’s bottom feeders, this is a different competitive season: the race to the bottom and a desire to secure the best odds for the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery, where the top picks will be handed out. Of course, it’s a lottery, where even the worst team has a bad chance of getting the top pick (only 18.5%). However, based on your slot, the other scenarios vary greatly. For example, the league’s worst team is guaranteed a top four pick, the second-worst team is guaranteed a top five pick, and so on. This comes into consideration down the stretch as we watch the standings in the last weeks of the season. Below I have listed the five teams with the best shot at locking down the bottom three slots and thus, securing the most optimal Draft Lottery odds, and am trying to game out roughly where they will finish in the standings.
Ottawa Senators, 22-37-5, 18 games remaining, 0.766 points per game
The current league bottom feeder by a wide margin is going to be tough to catch. Just six weeks ago the Senators were 19-24-5, a respectably poor team. Since then, they are 3-13-0, with the season coming apart at the seams. They traded anything of value at the deadline, including Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, and Ryan Dzingel, three of their four leading scorers, which leaves the team basically a corpse of its former self. The team that was one game away from the Cup Finals in 2017 has been reduced to rubble in less than two years, leaving a couple young pieces (Tom Chabot and Brady Tkachuk) and absolutely nothing else. They are 1-8 in their last 9 and having just sold away their key pieces, it’s hard to see things getting better. Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic has a projections model which has the Sens as the projected worst team by a healthy margin, on pace to finish a full six points lower than anyone else. And what is, hilariously, the worst thing of all? Ottawa doesn’t even have their first round pick, having traded it to Colorado in exchange for Duchene before last year. It’s gonna be a painful few years in Ottawa.
Los Angeles Kings, 23-33-8, 18 games remaining, 0.844 points per game
The Kings are the most likely team to beat out Detroit for second worst. They are currently second worst, and have been in quite a slump, losers of 10 in a row. LA still has many of the key pieces of their two title teams, but for some reason all of their pieces are suddenly bad. Jonathan Quick is now atrocious, and despite a year where scoring has picked up across the NHL, none of Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, or Ilya Kovalchuk are even close to a point-per-game. At just over 2.3 goals per game, Los Angeles is one of the worst scoring teams in the NHL and they allow over 3 per game. It’s the type of team that I could easily see having an emphatic bounce back next year if the veterans get back in line. On the other hand, Kopitar is 31, Doughty is 29, Brown is 34, Kovy is 35, and Carter is 34 and it goes without saying that they could use an immediate injection of fresh blood. They only traded Jake Muzzin and a few smaller names at the deadline so it’s fair to believe they won’t get massively worse down the stretch. Their schedule doesn’t strike me as terribly hard, with 9 of their final 18 games against bottom 10 teams in the league, including three against the Ducks. Thus, I concur with Dom’s projection and think they’ll be just a hair better than Detroit in the standings.
Detroit Red Wings, 23-32-9, 18 games remaining, 0.859 points per game
My poor Detroit Red Wings currently sit in 3rd place. A competitive season that has yielded a ton of close games (a topic I’ll be writing about some day soon) has found the Wings on the losing side of things frequently. This has put them in good position to lock down prime lottery odds, provided they can tank the last 18 games, which they seem intent on doing. They traded Gustav Nyquist and Nick Jensen at the trade deadline, which isn’t a massive deal, but they were two of the team’s better pieces. The team does not have an easy schedule either, having to go out west twice and they face a team in the bottom eight just once the rest of the way. It’s not likely to produce a whole lot of wins, and the Luszczyszyn model has the Wings narrowly favored (by 1 point) to snare the league’s second worst record, and second best lottery odds.
Anaheim Ducks, 24-31-9, 18 games remaining, 0.891 points per game
The Ducks are the most astonishing collapse in the league in 2019. Just before Christmas Anaheim was a top 10 team in the NHL, cruising towards the playoffs. Since then they are a ridiculous 5-20-4, destroying their season. Their big issue? They can’t score. Like at all. At just 2.17 goals per game, the Ducks have no offense and they have no player with more than 16 goals! They could really use an immediate infusion of offense from the draft and are not a bad bet to end near the cellar. Their schedule is a bit more difficult than the Kings, and so it wouldn’t shock me if they found a way to drop below Los Angeles down the stretch.
New Jersey Devils, 25-31-8, 18 games remaining, 0.906 points per game
The final team of the major contenders for the cellar, New Jersey is having a down year after making the playoffs last season. A big factor has been the injury to reigning MVP Taylor Hall, who has been out since December and just had arthroscopic knee surgery last week. It’s a tough blow for the Devils, who have struggled mightily in his absence. They have a leaky defense (3.33 goals against per game) and they don’t have another major offensive weapon to pick up the slack outside of Hall. Their remaining schedule is also not easy whatsoever, but they also haven’t been as consistently bad as the preceding four teams on this list, which makes it seem likely to me that they will finish right around the fifth worst slot.
Outside of the bottom five, Edmonton lurks as a close-ish sixth, followed by Vancouver and Chicago, but none of those three teams look terribly threatening for a bottom three slot, barring a late season slump. Of course, given the lottery odds, they could easily finish in those given slots and move up if the ping pong balls fall their way, it just isn’t likely.
Following the late season tank is going to be very interesting. In this year’s draft, there is a strong incentive to get top two, since the 2019 Draft appears to have a clear 1A and 1B (Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko), followed by a notable drop off to the 3-6 slots. Once again it looks like Ottawa is the favorite to finish in the cellar, and their pick goes to Colorado, followed by Detroit and Los Angeles, who will likely get very similar odds at Top 2, and Anaheim trails at fourth worst. There always seems to be one team who tanks particularly hard at the end, but it’s tough to tell who that may be. One thing is true: no matter how the late-season tankathon goes, it only matters so much when the lottery comes in late April.
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