It’s the biggest game of the season.
No, really, it is.
Tonight’s Canucks-Coyotes game (7 pm, Sportsnet) could have more effect on the long-term success of both of these franchises than any other game this season. That depends on how the ping pong balls bounce at the NHL Draft Lottery of course, but the loser of tonight’s game in Glendale, Arizona could increase their chances at getting a higher draft pick.
Here’s how the bottom of the NHL standings look heading into Thursday:
With three games left in the regular season, the Canucks are assured of finishing between 27th and 29th.
A win in regulation time by Arizona, who have made up a jaw-dropping 13 points on Vancouver since the last meeting between these two teams on January 26, would vault them ahead of the Canucks.
Should the Canucks beat the Coyotes, it would guarantee the Canucks finishing ahead of the Arizona.
While the Draft Lottery mitigates the effect of sinking in the standings, the odds still favour getting as low as possible. This season, there’s even more incentive to finish in the bottom-two, as Las Vegas enters the league.
As the last place team, Colorado will have a 17.9% chance of winning the first overall pick at the NHL Draft in June. They also have a 48% chance of getting a top-three pick.
The second-worst team will have a 12.1% chance of the first overall pick and a 35.3% shot at a top-three pick. The third-worst team will have a 10.3% shot at first, and a 30.7% chance at top-three.
Vegas will have the same odds as the third-worst team, but will slot in ahead of the position Vancouver currently holds should neither team win the lottery.
So for example, if the standings remain the same and none of Arizona, Vegas, and Vancouver win a top-three pick, Vancouver would select sixth. By contrast, Arizona would pick fourth.
Here are the odds of each pick selection, based on final standings positioning (courtesy of stats expert @Sir_Earl):
That’s why this game is a must-lose for both teams.
It should be said that this way of thinking (ie. hoping your team loses) is bad for the game. Diehard Canucks fans (and diehard Coyotes fans, if there are any), have legitimate reasons to hope their teams tank at this point in the season. The forward-thinking fans that truly care deeply about their team should actually cheer every time Arizona puts one past Ryan Miller tonight. It sucks, but it’s true.
The NHL has done good work in recent years to increase the effect of the Draft Lottery, upping the number of picks given out to three, and reducing the weighting of odds for non-playoff teams.
But the league should do more. A win or a loss in a meaningless game in April shouldn’t mean this much. I’d like to see picks 1 to 14 made into lottery picks, with odds tied to points, not position in the standings.