By: Will Burchfield
With their current seven-game losing streak, the Red Wings have torpedoed their postseason hopes. They’re 15 points out of the playoffs with 13 games to go.
For many fans, this skid has likely been a shot in the arm.
As the Wings have tumbled down the standings, they’ve gained ground in the sweepstakes for Rasmus Dahlin. Nothing would accelerate the team’s fledgling rebuild like winning this year’s draft lottery and snaring the Swedish defenseman who has all the makings of a franchise cornerstone.
The Wings have a promising core of young forwards, from Dylan Larkin to Anthony Mantha to Michael Rasmussen, but the pipeline is relatively dry on the blueline. Dennis Cholowski, Filip Hronek and Vili Saarijarvi, while solid prospects, don’t scream first-pair potential. And that’s a problem.
The two most critical building blocks in today’s NHL are a No. 1 center and a No. 1 defenseman. For Detroit, Larkin has the potential to fill the former need. Dahlin, by most accounts, would immediately fill the latter. The more the Wings lose down the stretch, the more they might win in the future.
The NHL won’t release its draft lottery odds for another month or two, but Detroit has helped itself out of late. Prior to its current skid, which has yielded one point in seven games, the team ranked 23rd overall. Last year, that would have earned the Red Wings a 5.4 percent chance of landing the first overall pick.
As things stand today, the Wings rank 27th overall. That came with a 8.5 percent chance of picking first last year. It was the Devils who owned those odds in 2017, and they won the lottery and wound up with center Nico Hischier, whose 43 points have been a major force behind the team’s sudden resurgence.
The NHL changed its lottery format ahead of the 2016 draft to dissuade teams from tanking. Where the last-place team used to be guaranteed at least the second overall pick, that club can now fall as low as fourth. That exact nightmare struck the Avalanche last year, who watched three teams jump ahead of them despite finishing dead last in the standings. The league also lowered the odds of winning for the last-place team.
Still, the lottery favors the frail. In the interest of securing the best pick possible in this summer’s draft, it behooves the Red Wings to lose, lose, lose down the stretch. When they look up on April 7 after their season finale, they just might see Dahlin before them. Just how high can they “climb” in the weeks ahead?
Entering play Wednesday night, the Wings are two points ahead of Ottawa, four points ahead of Vancouver, six points ahead of Arizona and seven points ahead of last-place Buffalo. Notably, they still have one game each against the Senators and the Sabres. They also have two games versus Montreal, who’s one point ahead. Losing those games would certainly aid Detroit’s cause.
Players and coaches don’t tank, of course — nor, for that matter, does the Red Wings’ GM — but with the right “breaks” Detroit could reasonably finish as low as 29th overall. Per Tankathon.com, that would yield a 10.5 percent chance of winning the lottery. It would also guarantee, at worst, the sixth overall pick.
Buffalo and Arizona are probably out of Detroit’s reach, mostly because they won’t win much themselves. Then again, both teams have played better hockey of late (leaving their respective fan bases shrieking in horror). Should the Wings manage to finish last overall, they would have somewhere around an 18 percent chance of picking first. Should they finish second to last, those odds would fall to about 12.5 percent.
They’re trending in the right direction at the moment, and each loss should grow easier to swallow.