It just doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make any sense at all.
Teams such as the Thrashers, Islanders and Maple Leafs spend the first three-quarters of the season diligently digging their way to the bottom of the NHL standings – only to foul up their draft-lottery chances by getting hot in the homestretch.
What on earth are they thinking? “Well, we won’t make the playoffs, but if we get on a roll we can drop from the first or second pick to 13th.”
Yeah…because John Tavares and Victor Hedman probably won’t pan out anyway.
Heading into the March 14-15 weekend, Eastern Conference laggards Atlanta, Toronto and the Islanders all were among the hottest teams in the league. The Islanders were 6-2-2 in their past 10 games, while Atlanta and Toronto went 6-3-1.
Of course, it’s a positive from the standpoint that it’s good for the players. The rosters of the Thrashers, Isles and Leafs are mostly filled with guys hoping to earn a job for next season. So, obviously, if they can prove to management they’re capable of playing on a winning team – as they’ve been doing for the past 10 games or so – they bolster their own chances for being in the NHL next season.
And, of course, there’s the little matter of competitive integrity; we can’t have teams tanking it for draft position. It wasn’t right when Pittsburgh beat out New Jersey for the No. 1 draft pick and Mario Lemieux in 1984 and it’s not right in the draft lottery format.
But…well, come on, these teams have been the worst in the league all season, without debate. (That’s the case for the Islanders and Thrashers, at least; the Leafs, it must be said, have been bad, but not dead-last-overall bad.) And, they dumped many of their veterans and top players at the deadline, dealing away the likes of Niclas Havelid and Bill Guerin and Nik Antropov in exchange for prospects and draft picks.
So now they’re going to cruise through the last portion of the season, falling down the draft order with every win they rack up? It’s easy – at least, easier – to win when there’s no pressure. But these teams deserve, and desperately need, a high draft pick that will turn into an elite NHL player. Don’t believe the hot streaks you see right now; they’re merely an oasis for teams that have been wandering around the desert all season.
Speaking of which, over in the desert, the Phoenix Coyotes have it figured out. After hanging around the Western Conference playoff race for the first 50 games or so, Phoenix has gone 3-6-1 in its past 10 and has entered the fray for the No. 1 overall draft pick. The only team that’s been worse than Phoenix in its past 10 games is Colorado (3-7-0), and the West-worst Avs have steadily digressed as the season unfolded.
Wouldn’t it be wild to see Tavares in Phoenix, the NHL’s Next Great Scorer being coached by the league’s best playmaker of all-time? Or how about in Colorado, where he could skate with ol’ Joe Sakic for a season or two and then move over to Paul Stastny’s line when Sakic retires?
Another team still in the last-place race is Ottawa: Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and John Tavares, anyone?
Sam McCaig is The Hockey News' senior copy editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend and his column, From The Point, appears regularly.
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