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Lottery Bowl: Canadiens, others giving Coyotes competition for NHL’s worst record

Craig Morgan Avatar
January 18, 2022

Ten minutes into Monday’s MLK-Day matinée at Gila River Arena, it was apparent which team had come to play and which team had come to lay down. The Montréal Canadiens were a collection of disorganized, disinterested bystanders as the Coyotes played the better part of those minutes in the Canadiens’ end.

Rem Pitlick’s goal added some intrigue after Travis Boyd and Johan Larsson gave the Coyotes a two-goal lead, but both times that the Canadiens pulled within a goal, the Coyotes responded, and there was never a point where you thought Montréal was a threat to win in a somewhat anticlimactic 5-2 Coyotes victory.

“We just wanted to be the best version of ourself again tonight,” said assistant coach Mario Duhamel, who was filling in for André Tourigny, who was still in COVID protocol. “We started really strong in the first and after we took the lead, 2-0, maybe we slowed down a little bit there, but beside that 10 minutes in the first, we came back strong in the second.”

The Coyotes knew how this game was being portrayed. It was The Lottery Bowl. The Disaster Bowl. The Toilet Bowl; a game between the two teams at the bottom of the NHL standings with major implications for the NHL Draft Lottery. One team had planned to be here through a stripped down roster, the other had arrived here through a series of unexpected personnel losses and some overrating of its remaining personnel. Whatever the analysis going into the game, the negative attention focused on it was the overriding storyline. 

While one team didn’t seem to care; the other took it as an insult.

“When you have an opponent that is where you’re at in the standings you just want to step on them and go forward,” forward Antoine Roussel said. “For us, it’s just about pushing, create a culture, create an environment. We want to be in games and I felt like we have proven many times this year that we have been in games.

“We haven’t won as many as we wanted but we have been in those games and we worked our balls off.” 

If you were hoping for affirmation of the culture that new coach André Tourigny has created, this game was a good sign. If you were hoping for a Coyotes loss, Lottery Bowl was a letdown. With the win, the Coyotes moved three points ahead of the Canadiens and the last spot in the standings, which carries the best (if still small) odds of winning the No. 1 overall pick and presumed top selection Shane Wright.

Montréal is in this lottery race to stay and unless goaltender Carey Price returns and works some magic, there may be nothing the Coyotes can do to finish below the Canadiens.

But there are other teams with eyes on the prize as well. As we approach the midpoint of the season, here’s the way I look at this upside down race. You’ve probably heard of the Thanksgiving cutoff where teams more than 10 points out of a playoff spot by that holiday rarely make the postseason? Well, if any team has a 10-point lead on a bad team by January, that bad team isn’t catching the team ahead of it. Bad teams clearly accumulate points at a much slower rate than good teams. The Coyotes aren’t catching anybody that is 10 points or more ahead of them.

Here’s a look at the bottom of the NHL standings.

Source: NHL.com

So who is still in the race for the worst record in the NHL by our measure? Technically, six teams, but the Islanders are going to be above a .500 points percentage by the time this season ends. They’re too good and they are 6-3-1 in their past 10 games, now that they have finally started playing some home games and have adjusted to the brand new UBS Arena. 

That leaves Arizona, Montréal, Ottawa, Seattle and Buffalo. 

Here were The Athletic’s points projections as of Tuesday morning. Note that Dom Luszczyszyn still has the Coyotes finishing below the Canadiens.

Let’s take a look at those five teams and while we’re at it, let’s look at which teams deserve the No. 1 overall pick the most.

Current points/game splayed: 22/37
Home/away games remaining: 22/23
Why they might get it: Because they have the worst roster in the NHL.
Why they won’t: Because going on a streak and ending up 27th in the NHL standings would be such a Coyotes thing to do.
Merit score: The Coyotes have never had a top-two pick in franchise history, This stunned The Athletic’s Arpon Basu when we interviewed him on the podcast on Sunday. How does a team with so little on-ice success never land a top-two pick? Bad luck, man. Bad luck. The Coyotes have never moved up in a draft lottery and most seasons – at least when their picks haven’t been stripped for league rules violations – they have dropped. To Coyotes fans, this franchise already feels like the gum on the bottom of the league’s shoe, a messy and hard-to-get-rid-of annoyance. To say that the Coyotes deserve a turn of good fortune in the lottery is an understatement.

Current points/game splayed: 19/37
Home/away games remaining: 26/20
Why they might get it: Shea Weber may never play again, Christian Dvorak can’t replace both Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi up the middle and the Canadiens have very much given up on this season and turned their focus to the draft.
Why they won’t: Carey Price still hasn’t returned in goal, but he could be back next month. Price alone could carry the Canadiens to several wins and foil management’s lottery hopes.
Merit score: The Canadiens have had high draft picks in their long and once storied history, but they haven’t had a top-2 pick since 1980 and they haven’t had any luck moving up in the lottery in the times they have been in it. It would be pretty good theater if the Canadiens held the top pick in a year in which they are hosting the NHL Draft. Hmm, come to think of it, that also makes for a pretty good conspiracy theory.

Current points/game splayed: 26/38
Home/away games remaining: 20/24
Why they might get it: The Kraken are 1-8-1 in their past 10, and are playing as badly as any team in the NHL. 
Why they won’t: Their seven-point lead on the Canadiens feels almost insurmountable.
Merit score: Factoring in the expansion fee, the arena construction fees, the practice facility construction, the AHL arena construction, prosperity costs, salaries and such, the Kraken’s ownership paid somewhere close to $3 billion to start a pro hockey team. A $3B down payment makes for a pretty compelling case. Look, I know some people think that GM Ron Francis screwed up the lottery process and there certainly were mistakes made, but Francis did not have the same opportunity that Vegas GM George McPhee had because league GMs got wise to the process and were not offering handouts like they did when the Golden Knights entered the league. So what did people want Francis to do? Draft for the hope of being mediocre. What’s the point in that? To me, you go one way or the other in the expansion draft. You try to build a contender right now as Vegas did, or you build for the future as Seattle must. A No. 1 pick would be a great start.

Current points/game splayed: 24/31
Home/away games remaining: 27/24
Why they might get it: Because this is Ottawa we’re talking about.  
Why they won’t: The Senators still have a bunch of games in hand and they have too much firepower to finish at the bottom of the standings. The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn projects them to finish 26th.
Merit score: I can’t get warm and fuzzy about the idea of a Canadian team that can’t get its act together landing the No.1 pick, but the Senators have not picked higher than No. 3 since 2001 (Jason Spezza, first overall).

Current points/games played: 29/38
Home/away games remaining: 21/23
Why they might get it: Because Buffalo always seems to get lucky at the lottery.
Why they won’t: Because the Sabres had a hot start. It’s an annual tradition in Buffalo that somehow still fools the local masses. Now that the Sabres have fallen, Buffalo’s poor residents can look forward to another tradition: The Bills ripping their hearts out in the NFL playoffs.
Merit score: Are you kidding me? No, no and triple no. The Sabres do not deserve a whiff of the No. 1 pick. No team not named Edmonton has screwed up the draft process more than the Sabres. They have had the No. 1 overall pick twice in the past four years and they have had a top-two pick four times since 2014. The Sabres (and Oilers) are why the league instituted a new rule for this season stating that teams cannot win the lottery more than twice in a five-year period. Wins in the lottery prior to 2022 will not be counted toward this total, but they should. If Buffalo wins the lottery again and I’m Coyotes GM Bill Arnmstrong, I’d have an angry panda moment at my draft table.

Just out of curiosity, we checked to see how many games the Coyotes have left with that collection of clubs. They have two left with Seattle (including a road make-up game for a recently postponed game). They have two with Ottawa (home and away), one with Montréal (away), and one with Buffalo (home). Think of those games as four-point games, the last of which is scheduled for March 22 against Seattle. By the time that game concludes, we’ll have a much clearer picture of the possibilities.

In the meantime, we give a shout-out to our friends at tankathon.com for creating this oh-so-fun site where you can simulate the lottery and keep refreshing until you get the outcome that you want (I got this on the first try).

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