There doesn’t seem to be nearly as much drama in this year’s race for last place in the NHL standings – and first draft pick overall. For good reason, too.
For one, the prize for winning the draft lottery isn’t as distinctive as previous years. In 2008, it was the Steven Stamkos sweepstakes. In 2009, it was the John Tavares derby. In 2010, there isn’t a gap between Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. Both will be excellent NHL forwards in the coming years. For many scouts now, it’s a case of 1 and 1A. Pick ’em. The Hockey News is projecting Hall to go first, but we could change our minds by the time our Draft Preview edition comes out. A lot depends upon how they play down the stretch and what NHL scouts tell us.
Another reason is because the Edmonton Oilers look to have a stranglehold on 30th place and if anything, they’ll be dumping NHL bodies in exchange for draft picks or prospects before the March 3 trade deadline. The Oilers have a five-point cushion on the Toronto Maple Leafs for 30th place with 21 games remaining. Problem is, the Boston Bruins own Toronto’s first pick. There’s absolutely no incentive for Toronto management to not ice the best possible lineup down the stretch. Make no mistake, the Leafs will do everything possible not to finish 29th or 30th.
The real battle might be how some of the NHL’s lower teams settle in the final quarter of the season. Windsor defenseman Cam Fowler looks to be a fairly safe bet as the third-best draft prospect and after him it’s a wide-open race among the next five or six prospects.
The reverse NHL standings now look like: Edmonton 44 points, Toronto 49, Carolina 55, New York Islanders 58, Florida 58 and Columbus 60. All other bubble teams are very much in the playoff race. Carolina has been one of the NHL’s hottest teams lately, but they’ve made it clear they’ll be sellers at the NHL trade deadline. Florida is coasting along on fumes and will also dump players. They’re the best bets for third-last place, maybe even second-last.
The team finishing 30th has a 48.2 percent chance of winning the draft lottery in April and earning the right to draft first June 25 in Los Angeles. The team finishing 29th has an 18.8 percent chance followed by 14.2 percent for 28th, 10.7 for 27th and 8.1 for 26th. No other teams have a chance to move up to first pick.
Even though there’s no high-profile sweepstakes playing out this spring, the good thing about finishing 30th is that team has a 100 percent chance of getting either Hall or Seguin, the two top studs in the draft. Because even if that team doesn’t win the draft lottery, it can’t fall any lower than second overall pick in the draft.
That reminds me of the 2003-04 season when the Chicago Blackhawks finished 29th and had an 18.8 percent chance of winning the lottery to move up to first and select Alex Ovechkin. The odds were against them, but they must have figured the Pittsburgh Penguins had the best chance at 48.2 percent and they would happily settle for Evgeni Malkin. But it was the Washington Capitals, with a 14.2 percent chance, who won the lottery and jumped to the No. 1 slot. Pittsburgh slipped to No. 2 and Chicago – hoping to get Ovechkin, willing to settle for Malkin – got bumped to No. 3, where it took Cam Barker.
Here’s how I see the standings playing out for the bottom 10 teams this spring:
29th: Toronto (Boston pick)
21st: St. Louis
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
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