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How the Battle in the NHL Basement is Shaking Out

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With a month left in the season, most fans of teams in the bottom of the league want a high draft pick. Where does Ottawa sit and where will they most likely end up?

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Arizona Coyotes Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Ottawa Senators have 17 games to go in their 2017-18 season, and the only thing I’m looking forward to in the next month and a half is the draft lottery. Pierre LeBrun reported that the lottery will most likely be held on April 28th, so be sure to watch with all of your friends and pretend like it’s a playoff game!

With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at the standings in the basement and see how things could shake out the rest of the way.

As it stands, Ottawa sits 29th in the league (or 3rd last), ahead of the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres. For this exercise, I included those three teams plus only four ahead of Ottawa, since the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers are both 10 points up and essentially out of reach from the Senators perspective.

Let’s take a look at each team’s path to end the season:

Battle of the Tanks

Place Team Points Games remaining Home games left Away games left Games vs. playoff teams
Place Team Points Games remaining Home games left Away games left Games vs. playoff teams
31st Buffalo 53 15 8 7 7/15
30th Arizona 53 16 7 9 7/16
29th Ottawa 56 17 9 8 5/17
28th Vancouver 59 15 7 8 8/15
27th Edmonton 60 16 8 8 7/16
26th Montreal 61 16 7 9 10/16
25th Detroit 63 16 7 9 8/16

So there’s obviously a lot to dissect.

First of all, not every team is on a level playing field, as every team has different point totals. Nevertheless, it’s interesting that Ottawa appears to have the easiest schedule of the bunch. The Senators and the Sabres are the only teams with more home games than away games, plus only five out of seventeen Senators games are against playoff teams. At the same time, that number is a bit skewed if we consider the Florida Panthers a playoff team (who are in based on points percentage), because then Ottawa would have eight games vs. playoff teams.

The Montreal Canadiens clearly have the toughest schedule with ten games against playoff teams, including three vs. Pittsburgh and two vs. Toronto. With Max Pacioretty out, I wonder if they are a team that could fall quite a bit in the last month.

The rest of the schedules seem pretty similar, so let’s take a look at where Ottawa could end up. It’s unlikely that the Coyotes will catch the Senators, but let’s say they finish the year going 8-6-2. In that case, Ottawa would have to go something like 6-9-2 to in order to get overtaken. What about the Sabres then?

Since they have the same amount of points as the Coyotes, it would be similar as an 8-6-1 Sabres record would mean the Senators would have to go 6-10-1. One of these two scenarios occurring isn’t out of the realm of possibility considering the Coyotes have gone 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, but I wouldn’t count on it.

As for the teams above Ottawa, I feel like it’s inevitable that they end up passing Vancouver. The Senators sit three points back and have two games in hand, plus a Brock Boeser-less offense looks punchless. If Vancouver goes 6-8-1, then Ottawa needs to finish just 8-8-1 to move ahead. And with the way that the Senators have been playing recently, I can honestly see them winning some games.

With the Oilers and Canadiens, they’re essentially in the same spot as the Canucks, as Edmonton has 60 points in 66 games and Montreal has 61 points in 66 games. You’d think that with some of the talent on these teams, a 4/5 point gap would be enough distance between them and Ottawa, but as I mentioned earlier, a Pacioretty injury could change things, and the Oilers simply find ways to lose.

Lastly, there’s the Red Wings, who are seven points up with one more game played. A five point gap (at best) is not easy to close, but I wouldn’t rule them out as too far ahead just yet. Still, I wouldn’t worry very much about catching Detroit. So essentially, Ottawa could be fine if they finish below “NHL .500” (not counting OTL/SOL as real losses) with something like 7-9-1, and that 71 points should be good enough to finish in the bottom 3.

Having said all of this about finishing as low as possible, one thing is important to remember: that the draft lottery exists. As of now, the Senators still have a theoretical chance at picking anywhere in the top-10, but a top-3 or even top-5 pick would be a godsend.

The funny thing is, even the last place team is more likely to not pick in the top-3, just like what happened to Colorado last season. Here are the 2018 draft lottery odds, although as the website specifies, the numbers may be very slightly off:

Even if a few of the numbers are barely off, there are two interesting things to point out:

A) Even if Ottawa doesn’t pass anyone and stays in the 3rd last position, they only have a 31.2% chance of picking in the top-3, and their most likely spot is 5th.

B) These low odds for each team incentivizes Ottawa to lose even more (although the team itself isn’t going to be losing on purpose).

Of course we know that finishing last place won’t guarantee you the top pick or even a top-3 pick, but it at least guarantee’s you a top-4 pick. With this upcoming draft class, Rasmus Dahlin, Filip Zadina, Andrei Svechnikov are consensus top-3 players, and Adam Boqvist and Brady Tkachuk have mostly been listed at 4/5, so picking somewhere from 1-5 would be extremely beneficial.

If Ottawa finishes 3rd last, there’s an 82.4% chance they’re picking in the top-5, but if they pass Vancouver, that number drops to 54.6%. And if they pass Edmonton too, it goes all the way down to 28.4%. The overall point I’m trying to make here is that obviously finishing as low as possible doesn’t guarantee anything, but with each team that you pass in the standings, you are severely lowering your odds of a higher pick as well as pushing back how far you could theoretically fall in the lottery.

In the end, the Senators will most likely not picking in the top-3, but I really hope that they don’t ruin their spot too much and end up in the 7-10 range. At least if they do pass some teams in the standings, we can always hope for the right bounce of a ping pong ball.