March Madness: Tank Edition

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 3:05 am by Cam Lewis

Tank

Earlier this week, I took a look at the playoff races in both the Western and Eastern Conferences — the NHL’s version of March Madness. Because of the 2015 draft likely being the best class of rookies in over a decade, the race to the bottom has become just as interesting as the battles for playoff positions for many fans. 

With a couple weeks left to go in the season, we have four teams who have truly stood out as the best tankers in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. Something to note, the league is changing the draft lottery format this year, and again next year to deter teams from trying to lose games. This year, they’ve lowered the odds for the worst teams in the league to have their magic ball drawn, and next year they’re drawing balls to determine the first three draft slots. 

Anyways, teams are just trying to be as bad as possible so even if they don’t get McDavid, they can still get the best consolation prize possible. 

Standings

There are four teams who have truly immersed themselves in the tank this season. I don’t care what Phil Kessel says, the Leafs have completely mailed it in, and so have the Keith Yandle-less Coyotes, and well, obviously the Oilers and Sabres. While it’s fairly unlikely anyone catches Buffalo at this point, the other three spots in the toilet bowl — and the increased McDavid odds — are up for grabs.

30. Buffalo Sabres – 48 points and eight games remaining

Remaining games: on the road against Colorado and Arizona, at home against Toronto and Chicago, on the road against New York Islanders, at home against Carolina, on the road against Columbus, at home against Pittsburgh.

The Sabres are the worst team in the league, there isn’t any doubt about it. They allow more even strength shots against per 60 minutes than anybody else with 34.4, and conversely, they have the fewest even strength shots on goal per 60 minutes with 22.4. They also have by far the worst even strength Corsi For and Fenwick For percentages in the league with 37.0 and 38.3 respectively. 

It’s pretty unlikely Buffalo passes Arizona or Edmonton, because to do so, they would have to get seven more points than the Coyotes, and eight more than the Oilers in the next eight games. I doubt the Sabres are going to put up seven more points this season, let alone get seven more points than another team, even if that other team is trying to lose. 

I think Buffalo has top odds locked up. 

29. Arizona Coyotes – 54 points and seven games remaining 

Remaining games: on the road against Pittsburgh, at home against Buffalo, on the road against San Jose, at home against San Jose, on the road against Calgary and Vancouver, at home against Anaheim.

Arizona pretty much threw away their chances at last overall in the standings with a 4-3 against Buffalo on Thursday. Their only real chance of “catching” the Sabres tank effort was losing that game, and then losing their other game to Buffalo on Monday. But still, that would have required the Coyotes out-losing the Sabres in their remaining games, which is still pretty tough to do.

The Coyotes lost 10 straight games leading up to the Trade Deadline to bring themselves into the discussion for last place, but trading away Keith Yandle to the New York Rangers and having injuries to two key players, Martin Hanzal and Mikkel Boedker, allowed them to lose another eight consecutive games and surpass the Oilers in the tank standings and come within striking distance of Buffalo. 

Unfortunately, back-to-back wins over Detroit and Buffalo has pretty much sealed their chances at top odds in the NHL Draft Lottery. The real battle is with their Pacific Rivals for the consolation prize. 

28. Edmonton Oilers – 55 points and eight games remaining

Remaining games: at home against Dallas, on the road against Colorado, Anaheim and Los Angeles, at home against Calgary, Los Angeles, and San Jose, on the road against Vancouver. 

The Oilers are by far the most unpredictable of the four major tankers. Since firing Dallas Eakins, they’ve actually been pretty good, aside from a seven game losing streak that helped keep them in contention with the Coyotes. The Oilers will go ahead and beat a team like Montreal 4-3, but then go and lose to the Senators 7-2. They could easily go on another slide and lose six or seven of their last eight games, but they could just as easily win like four or five of them, because nobody really knows what team is going to show up any given night. 

They have one more point and one game in hand against the Coyotes, meaning the Oilers are facing an uphill battle to finish in second last and increase their odds of getting one of Connor-Jack McEichel. 

Leafs

27. Toronto Maple Leafs – 60 points and seven games remaining

Remaining games: at home against Ottawa and Tampa Bay, on the road against Buffalo and Boston, at home against Ottawa, on the road against Columbus, at home against Montreal.

We were just talking about how the Oilers have actually been kinda decent since firing their former coach, well, the Leafs are the exact opposite. Since firing Randy Carlyle on Jan. 6, the Leafs have gone 6-26-3, dropping them from a team looking to squeak into the playoffs into a new challenger in the McDavid sweepstakes. On top of that, the Leafs have only won twice since the Trade Deadline, with one of those wins coming in the shootout against Buffalo. 

The Leafs are currently on a seven game losing streak, and it appears that they could possibly stretch that to 14 straight by the end of the year with the way they’re playing. Although, of the three teams, them, Arizona, and Edmonton, they have by far the easiest schedule. The Leafs could very easily sign J-S Aubin and win like six straight games to totally pull themselves out of this funk, considering only two of their remaining games are against solidified playoff teams. 

While this does look like an easy schedule, the Leafs did just lose 4-1 to the Oilers a week ago, so it looks like they’ve fully immersed themselves in the tank effort. 

Prediction: 

There’s no way anybody is catching Buffalo now, they’ve completely ran away with this thing. Had Arizona blown their two games against the Sabres, they may have had a shot, but not anymore with their win on Thursday. It’s pretty likely the standings stay the same way because the Oilers have the highest likelihood of getting hot, but they won’t put up the six points necessary to catch the Leafs, but they also won’t out-lose to the Coyotes.

Buffalo Sabres 20%

Arizona Coyotes 13.5%

Edmonton Oilers 11.5%

Toronto Maple Leafs 9.5% 

Somebody else 45.5%

Buffalo is in the best position here, because even if they lose the lottery, which they probably will, they’ll still get the best consolation prize. The lowest Arizona can pick is third overall, Edmonton fourth, and Toronto fifth. 

Buffalo has a 20 per cent chance to pick first overall, and an 80 per cent chance to choose second.

Arizona has a 13.5 percent chance to choose first overall, a 66.5 percent chance to choose third, and a 20 per cent chance to stay at second. 

Edmonton has an 11.5 percent chance to choose first overall, a 55 per cent chance to choose fourth, and a 33.5 percent chance to choose third.

Toronto has a 9.5 percent chance to choose first overall, a 45.5 per cent chance to choose fifth, and a 45 per cent chance to choose fourth. 

I have this weird feeling Colorado is going to win the lottery, for some reason.


Thanks to Hockey Reference for the stats.