(Los Angeles) Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen knows that if the season ended today, his team would have the best chance of drafting a hockey player with the most exceptional talent.
He’s also acutely aware that the odds remain higher of not winning the NHL Draft lottery — and the chance of selecting Connor Bedard on May 8.
“Look, there’s a 25.5% chance of the team finishing last, but there’s still a 74.5% chance of not. That’s way above 25.5, Kekalainen said.
“But we’ll see where it takes us. Wherever it is, we hope for the best. »
While the race for the league’s points record was already played out mid-season with the Bruins’ type of season, the hunt for the worst record remains to be determined.
The Blue Jackets are “first” with 51 points, followed by the San Jose Sharks (53), Chicago Blackhawks (54) and Anaheim Ducks (56).
Although half of the 32 teams do not make the playoffs, only 11 are eligible for the lottery. The rules put in place in 2022 state that a team can move up to a maximum of 10 places.
For the past two years, the team with the worst record has won the lottery, but often doesn’t. In 2012, the Blue Jackets had the worst record and lost the No. 1 pick to the Edmonton Oilers.
However, the last thing coaches at the bottom of the standings want to hear are lottery odds — especially if you’re Dallas Eakins, who is in the final year of his contract with the Ducks.
“We want to see development and progress every night,” said Eakins, who is in his fourth season with the Ducks. We’re not the Bruins right now. That’s why we have to be perfect to have a chance of winning a game.
“I don’t understand the lottery, to be honest with you. Finishing all the way down doesn’t guarantee anything. I’ve seen teams lose the lottery and end up with the best player in the draft. »
Sharks coach David Quinn agrees with Eakins’ analysis. And he knows the inner workings of the lottery more than ever as an NHL coach and in college.
Quinn was with the New York Rangers when they took advantage in 2020. He also coached Jack Eichel at Boston University when Eichel was the second pick in the 2015 draft by the Buffalo Sabers — after the Oilers won the lottery and selected Connor McDavid.
“When you’re in the situation the Oilers and Sabers were in then and we’re in right now, people pay attention for a variety of reasons,” he said. Back then it was Eichel and McDavid. It was pretty clear that McDavid would be the first choice, but Jack Eichel was going to get quite a consolation prize. »
No one expected the Blue Jackets to have the league’s worst record after making one of the biggest hits last year when they signed Johnny Gaudreau. But after having one of the highest injury rates this season, they have had to spend most of the season assessing their future.
The Blue Jackets suffered a major blow this week when forward Patrik Laine injured his triceps in training. Also missing is goalkeeper Elvis Merzlikins, currently in Latvia to be with his family after his grandmother fell seriously ill.
“If you have 13 injured players like we did at one point, it’s hard to expect to win,” Kekalainen said.
The Blackhawks and Sharks went into liquidation mode to improve their lottery chances. The Blackhawks sent Patrick Kane to the Rangers, while the Sharks traded Timo Meier to the New Jersey Devils.
The Arizona Coyotes were near the bottom three spots for most of the season, but a 6-1-3 streak over the last 10 games took them to 66 points, tied for sixth-lowest total points in the circuit.
The Coyotes’ chances of a top-3 draft have diminished significantly, but GM Bill Armstrong is calm about it.
“As a general manager, you never want to stifle the fighting spirit of your team. So you have to appreciate what you’re going through and how hard your team is fighting, he said.
“I’ve been through a lot of drafts. No matter what rank you end up in, you have to make the right choices. »