Bottoms Up is a weekly feature on Backhand Shelf that admits that sometimes the underdog doesn’t win: sometimes they just lose and lose and lose some more. In this edition, how low can you go?
While the Senators, Capitals, Sabres, and Jets scrap for a spot in the playoffs in the East and the Coyotes, Stars, Avalanche, Sharks, and Flames do the same in the West, a slightly less inspiring battle is taking place in the basement of the NHL. All season long, the basement was a place to be avoided: one of the stairs is busted, the lightswitch at the top doesn’t work, and there’s a funky odor coming from…somewhere.
All that has changed, however, as we near the end of the season and more and more teams give up their playoff dreams for the much more realistic and attainable goal of a top-end draft pick. Suddenly, the basement is the place to be: Columbus has kitted it out with a TV and Playstation 3, Edmonton brought a couple lava lamps, and Buffalo forgot their scented candles when they moved out, which do a pretty decent job of covering up the smell.
The best the league’s have-nots can hope for at this point is to finish in the bottom five and have a chance at moving up to the first overall pick in the draft lottery.
There are currently 9 teams with a conceivable shot of finishing in the bottom five, 10 if you include the Winnipeg Jets, who will need to be superb to make the playoffs or terrible to slip into the basement. Their come-from-behind, overtime victory over the Washington Capitals on Friday has kept them in the playoff hunt, but they are still only 6 points out of the bottom five.
The reason the bottom five is so important, is that while any team that finishes out of the playoffs has a chance to win the draft lottery, no team may move up more than 4 spots in the draft. Thus, only the bottom five have a shot at the first overall pick. The upshot of this is that the team that finishes 30th overall has a much higher percentage of retaining the first overall pick. Not only does the last place team have a higher percentage of winning the draft lottery, they keep the first overall pick if any team outside the bottom five wins.
Some fans have been quietly hoping for their team to start losing games, bettering their chances of a high draft pick, for a while already. Some fans aren’t quiet about it at all, actively advocating that their team start tanking. When the Toronto Maple Leafs slipped to fifth last, Pension Plan Puppets cheered (albeit with some bitterness), while the hashtag #GreatestTankBattles has flourished on Twitter. Minnesota Wild blog Hockey Wilderness has started the “Dive for Top Five” campaign, describing it as a win-win proposition.
The position here at Hockey Wilderness is that this is a no lose (no win?) situation. If they win, that’s great. It is always fun to watch the team do well, and the guys in the room deserve that. If they lose, so be it. Losses help the Dive, and make the team better for years to come. Wins make the current team happy, and the fans get a needed injection of pride.
Either way, we understand completely. This isn’t about wishing them the worst, but simply being realistic and knowing that next year is a new season, and this season is lost. May as well be some sort of benefit out of it.
The battle for the bottom five will be fierce, as there are really only 4 spots available. The Columbus Blue Jackets have all but sealed up last place, as they have 55 points with just 8 games remaining in their schedule. They cannot finish with more than 71 points and the Wild, at fifth last, have 72 points. One more loss from the Blue Jackets and one more win from the Oilers and last place will be decided, but they are already guaranteed a shot at the first overall pick in the lottery.
Second to fifth last, however, are all up for grabs. In 29th place, the Oilers have 69 points, while the Hurricanes and Ducks, tied at 22nd, have 75 points apiece. That’s a span of just 6 points between 8 teams. The Hurricanes seem intent on fleeing the basement at top speed, if their recent 4-game winning streak was anything to go by, but last night’s 5-1 walloping at the hands of the Blue Jackets might remind them that the playoffs are a long ways off.
Here are the current standings at the bottom of the NHL:
|24||Toronto Maple Leafs||75||33||34||8||74||29|
|25||Tampa Bay Lightning||73||33||33||7||73||30|
|27||New York Islanders||73||30||32||11||71||24|
|30||Columbus Blue Jackets||74||24||43||7||55||20|
The one advantage that the Wild, Islanders, and Canadiens have, beyond already having a lower point total, is that they have fewer regulation and overtime wins, which are the first tiebreaker. If the Wild and Lightning tie for the final spot in the bottom five, the Wild will take it by virtue of having 7 fewer regulation and overtime wins. With 9 games left in each of their schedules, the Wild are unlikely to make up that difference.
With 7-9 games remaining in each team’s schedule and so many teams tightly clustered around the fifth and final spot, the bottom five could remain undecided until the last game of the season. It will be interesting to see what level of intensity these teams will bring to close out the season, particularly as they play teams that are battling for a spot in the playoffs. Will players playing for their jobs and for pride take a team out of a lottery position?
If you would like to keep track of the Draft Lottery Standings, TSN has a useful page that is updated every night.