Race for the lottery

So it's finally come to this. After going 1-13-1 in their last 15 games, the Hurricanes have gone from first place in the Southeast to in the bottom-five in the NHL and have all but removed themselves from playoff contention. It's a situation that nobody wanted to happen after how active Jim Rutherford was this off-season, but a run like this will doom any team and it's even more crippling when you are dealing with a condensed schedule. Weather any players, coaches or management is held accountable for how this disaster of a season turned out remains to be seen, but there isn't much the Hurricanes can do about it for their last eight games. The most they can do is just play out the remainder of a year and see what happens, and a lot of fans are hoping that the losing continues for draft purposes.

As someone who hates losing, the idea of "tanking" annoys me and as a former athlete, it makes me even more mad because I'm not a fan of being rewarded for being terrible. It's also something that isn't on the player's minds right now because I'm sure the last thing they care about right now, especially a team like the Hurricanes who are in need of a confidence boost. Draft picks in general are also a craps hoot since there is always a chance that a "great" prospect will bust and the Hurricanes don't exactly have a great track record when it comes to drafting. When I see fans cheer for their team's to "tank" the rest of the season, I get the idea that they think one good pick is going to solve their problems when that isn't the case at all.

People forget that most draft picks are not going to be NHL-ready and that's especially true for defensemen who take years to develop. Developing young players is a long process and while the Hurricanes need to replenish their farm system, one pick isn't going to solve their problems. With that being said, this draft has a lot of top-end talent available and the Hurricanes could benefit from adding one of those players to their system. They also have a good corps in place and have gotten incredibly unlucky on several occasions this season, which makes losing not the worst thing in the world right now. Would I like to see the team win more often? Obviously, but it really doesn't matter at this point of the season.

The Hurricanes currently sit two points out of the bottom spot in the NHL right now, so they appear to be in good position for a lottery pick if they continue to stay the course. However, something hit me when I was looking over the scores of Thursday & Friday night's games: There are a lot of bad teams in the league this year, most of which are in a similar position to the Hurricanes.

The Avalanche, Panthers and Flames might be the only teams standing in the way of the Hurricanes right now, but if you compare their underlying numbers to the rest of the pack here, the Canes seem a bit out of place. Why? Because they are better than most of these clubs.

Team GR Pts GF GA FenClose EV Sh% EV Sv% PP SF/60 PK SA/60
New Jersey 7 40 96 113 54.08% 6.6% 0.913 49.8 38.2
Edmonton 8 39 102 111 44.46% 7.5% 0.927 41.4 51
Buffalo 7 38 107 127 43.82% 8.6% 0.927 45.4 57
Nashville 6 38 98 115 46.20% 8.0% 0.926 47.4 45.4
Philadelphia 8 37 108 125 47.94% 7.7% 0.904 55.8 40.1
Tampa Bay 8 36 127 122 44.72% 10.8% 0.919 38.7 47.6
Carolina 8 34 103 129 52.07% 7.5% 0.917 48.3 59.4
Calgary 8 34 106 140 49.16% 8.1% 0.886 42.1 48.7
Florida 8 32 98 139 50.46% 6.7% 0.907 48.6 51.4
Colorado 7 32 96 128 46.58% 7.1% 0.915 45.1 51.1

The Canes have been a better team at even strength than the rest of these clubs, but injuries, terrible recent shooting luck and god-awful special teams have kept them down. I've talked about the club's recent PDO slide and that has played a huge role in their skid over the last 15 games. Is it enough to keep them in draft lottery position, though? If they continue to not score, get replacement level goaltending and get shelled on the penalty kill then absolutely. That might give fans some confidence because the Canes could add an elite talent this draft to what is a pretty good, but very unlucky, corps. Odds aren't in their favor, though. I mean, the Canes can't realistically shoot at 3.9% at even strength for the rest of the season if they continue to win the shot battle by this much. It's possible with only eight games left, but comparing their numbers to the rest of the pack here shows that they are more likely to rattle off a few wins and possible take themselves out of the bottom-five.

Buffalo, Edmonton, Tampa Bay, Colorado and Nashville are all legitimately awful teams who seem much more prone to tank the rest of the year than the Canes. Calgary and Florida are also in bad shape although they are getting zero puck luck on top of their bad play. The Flyers underlying numbers also look pretty brutal by most measures, so there's going to be some competition for the bottom-five. The one thing Carolina has going for them is that nothing is going their way and they can't seem to catch a break no matter how good or bad they play.

So, if you are a Canes fan and want to see them land a top-five pick, then you better keep hoping that they continue to run cold at even strength and get terrible goaltending because that might be what keeps them in this range. Most of their remaining games are also against teams gunning for the playoffs, so that might give some encouragement for those who are hoping for a tank-job. Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing a couple more wins because I want the team to end the year on a good note but losing isn't the worst thing in the world right now.