If ever there was a time to finish bottom of the NHL standings, the 2022/23 season is it. The reward is the chance to pick generational talent Connor Bedard in the 2023 draft.
Bedard, 17, is currently participating in the WHL playoffs with the Regina Pats with whom he has broken several records this season and is with good reason being compared to Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid who is the runaway leader in the NHL for points and goals.
While getting Bedard is the star prize, the upcoming draft is one of the best for high end talent in many years with the likes of Adam Fantilli, Matvei Michkov and Leo Carlsson up for grabs too, making last place a valuable asset for several teams in the regular season.
With just a handful of games remaining in the NHL regular season, three teams are tied on 56 points at the bottom of the standings.
For the coaches and players of Anaheim Ducks (23-45-10), Columbus Blue Jackets (24-45-8) and Chicago Blackhawks (25-46-6) the tag of last place is an unwanted one.
However, the team who finishes 32nd gets a 25.5% chance of winning the draft lottery. The second-last place team only has a 13.5% chance and the odds only worsen from there.
And so, for the General Manager of each side, last place is the best scenario that can now happen to earn the best chance of securing a player who can turn the fortunes of their franchise around overnight.
The Ducks have played one more game (78) than the Blue Jackets and Blackhawks (77), and the San Jose Sharks (22-39-16) also still have an outside chance of falling to the bottom, but they are currently four points ahead of the other three.
Anaheim are 1-9-0 over their last ten, Columbus 3-6-1 and Chicago 2-8-0.
Particularly in the case of the Blackhawks, General Manager Kyle Davidson has actively stripped his side of all assets for future picks to make his side the least competitive that it can be in attempt to get the best draft lottery chances this season.
For the most part his plan has worked, though the likes of Taylor Raddysh (37 points; 20 goals, 17 assists) and Andreas Athanasiou (33 points; 18 goals, 15 points) have helped the Blackhawks win more games than Davidson would probably have liked.
Davidson further sold at the trade deadline, allowing top scorer Max Domi, Sam Lafferty, Jake McCabe and Jack Johnson leave, in addition to Patrick Kane.
In 2007 the Blackhawks drafted Kane first overall, a year after picking current Captain Jonathan Toews at third. They had made the playoffs just once in the previous eight seasons, but just three years later were crowned Stanley Cup Champions. They repeated again in 2013 and 2015, and with Bedard capable of leading a re-charge like Kane and Toews, it's difficult to blame Davidson for his tanking efforts.
The Blackhawks play three of their final five games on the road where they are 11-24-3 and two at home where they are 14-22-3.
The Columbus Blue Jackets signed the biggest name on the free agency market in the off-season in Johnny Gaudreau and had hopes of ending their two-year absence from the playoffs.
Gaudreau leads the team with 71 points (19 goals, 52 assists) but Columbus have suffered from the absence of other star players, not least star defenceman Zach Werenski who was ruled out for the season through injury after just 13 games.
At neither end of the ice have Columbus really been able to get it going, ranking third worst for goals scored (205), just ahead of the Ducks (196) and Blackhawks who have scored the least (190).
Columbus' goals conceded (307) is second worse to Anaheim (320) while Chicago are 30th (280).
At trade deadline, the Blue Jackets made a clear decision to go for last place by trading away their best healthy defenceman Vladislav Gavrikov and their number-one goaltender Joonas Korpisalo.
The now much depleted Blue Jackets play three of their final five games at home where they are 15-21-2 and two away where they are 9-24-6.
The Ducks did little in the last off-season to improve their chances of ending their four-year playoff drought, instead opting to build modestly and allow their young core to grow while at the same time remaining a lottery team for the deep 2023 draft class.
With the offensive talents of Trevor Zegras, 22, Troy Terry, 25, and Mason McTavish, 20, the Ducks likely didn't expect to be at the bottom of the standings, but while they have again taken a step forward, the franchise is going to have to continue to be patient and build far better around them to become competitive again, particularly on the back-end where they have struggled badly.
The prospect of adding Bedard to that group is certainly an exciting one and they have three home games and one road game left before they find out their fate in the lottery.
Anaheim are 13-23-3 at home and 11-22-7 on the road where they have a single game against Arizona Coyotes who were expected to be in the running for last place, but have performed more than admirably with a roster of players who on the whole weren't considered NHL calibre to begin the season.
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