The tank wars are on in the NHL
There are two weeks left in the season and we have a good ole fashioned race to the bottom of the league standings. There are 5 teams within 5 points of each other engaging in a loser-takes-all battle for the top spot in the lottery. Rasmus Dahlin is the consensus top prospect as a game changing defenseman the draft hasn’t had for years.
Some may argue that tanking isn’t very effective given how the lottery can be cruel to the worst teams. Just last season, the top 3 spots went to teams outside the bottom 3 in the standings. The Devils won from the 5 spot, Flyers went to 2nd from the 13 spot and the Stars went to 3rd from 8. However, it is important to note that while tanking might not guarantee top spot in the 1st round, it does guarantee a higher position in the next rounds of the draft. While that distinction isn’t too large, it is still worth it for teams to gun for the bottom if they don’t have strong playoff chances. That being said let’s take a look at this year’s basement dwellers:
The Buffalo Sabres currently hold the worst record in the league. With 24 wins and 60 points in 76 games, their intentions are clear. Power forward Evander Kane was dealt at the deadline for futures which also helped the tank crusade. Jack Eichel is still playing at a high level along with Sam Reinhart and Ryan O’Reilly who also have 20 goal seasons. Rasmus Ristolainen took a step back offensively but is still a solid young defenseman. The issue is he seems to be their one young defenseman with potential, this makes their pursuit of Dahlin even more necessary.
The Arizona Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks each have 63 points in 76 games. Currently, the Coyotes “win” the tiebreaker by having fewer regulation/overtime wins than the Canucks so they are in the 2nd spot for the lottery. The Coyotes are still rebuilding and several years into this new regime, they still don’t seem to be making much progress. Rookie forward Clayton Keller is a huge bright spot with 60 points in his first season poised to be a leader for this franchise for years to come. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a great defenseman in this league and is still only 26 years old. Now that they have a future leader in Keller, they should try to trade OEL at the height of his value and strengthen the rebuild. This move would be even better if they can get Dahlin in the draft to refresh that defense core with an elite prospect.
The Canucks meanwhile have a different story. They have refused to state that they are rebuilding with multiple questionable trades and signings that try to push the team from the league basement to the sunken place just outside the playoffs. Rookie Brock Boeser looks like another elite goal scorer for the league who has proven to be a star for the team. They have some solid young forwards in the pipeline but their defense core is abysmal. 2016 draft pick Olli Juolevi has been progressing steadily since the draft but still hasn’t made a jump to bea player with top pairing potential. Historically, the Canucks haven’t had many great, revered defensemen but Rasmus Dahlin could be that guy for a Canucks franchise that desperately needs him.
The Ottawa Senators are the most surprising team in this bottom 5. They lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals last season. This year they find themselves on the opposite side of the league. Superstar Erik Karlsson had a rough start to the year and Mark Stone leads the team in points despite only playing 58 games. This team spiralled out of control this year and there were even rumours of the Senators trading Karlsson. Their prospects cupboard is fairly barrenwhich means this could signal the start of a full rebuild if Karlsson gets traded. This has truly been a disastrous season for Ottawa.
The Detroit Red Wings have the 5th worst record in the league with 65 points on the year in 76 games. The franchise’s streak of 25 straight years with playoff appearances ended last season. This year has proven to be another difficult one signalling the time for the Red Wings to rebuild. Young forwards Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha have shown signs of becoming quality players. The trade of Tomas Tatar has added to Detroit’s picks collection. If there’s one team to trust with scouting and development, it’s the Red Wings. But they certainly will have their work cut out for them.
The tank wars are even more interesting when you look at the remaining games because these 5 teams come from 2 divisions. Ottawa, Buffalo and Detroit each have a game against each other while the Canucks and Coyotes play each other again this season. Needless to say, those games will be looked back on as crucial to the outcome of the draft lottery and determine the fate of these teams.