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THN.com Blog: Don’t give Tavares to the Isles just yet

John Tavares of the London Knights is the concensus top prospect in the upcoming NHL draft. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

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John Tavares of the London Knights is the concensus top prospect in the upcoming NHL draft. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

It’s one of hockey’s great contradictions that gives the 30th place team in the NHL the best chance at winning the draft lottery, yet the odds are stacked against that team winning that same lottery.

The decision desk at The Hockey News draft central is declaring the New York Islanders hockey’s worst team this season, thereby putting them in position to draft John Tavares from the Ontario League’s London Knights.

While it’s still mathematically possible for the Islanders to win out the remaining nine games and pass six teams, it’s realistically impossible for them to pass even one. The Isles trail Colorado by six points and Tampa Bay by seven down the home stretch.

In finishing 30th, the Islanders have a 48.2 percent chance of securing the top pick in the draft through the lottery, which usually takes place in early April. That means the rest of the field has a greater chance (51.8 percent) of stealing Tavares from his destined new home.

In the 13-year history of the draft lottery, the team finishing last overall retained the first pick just four times, barely 30 percent of the time. So don’t get the Isles seamstress to work just yet.

The team finishing 29th has an 18.8 percent chance of winning the lottery, followed by 14.2 percent for the 28th-place team, 10.7 for the 27th-place team and 8.1 percent for the 26th-place team.

All other non-playoff teams are also involved in the lottery with diminishing odds, but can only move up four slots in the draft. So if you add up the odds for those nine other teams, it comes to 23.2 percent. That’s the portion that gets kicked back to the Islanders.

QUEST FOR SECOND WORST
It’ll be interesting to see how the other also-rans finish out the season. With just five points separating 29th-place Colorado from 26th-place Phoenix, these bottom feeders (Tampa Bay and Atlanta are 28th and 27th) should be interested in the lure of Victor Hedman, the consensus No. 2 pick in the draft.

Is there such a notion as purposely tanking games?

I believe it’s impossible to tell a group of professional athletes in today’s world to go out and (wink, wink) try to lose the game. A coach would never resort to that and players would never go along with it en masse.

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But would it be wrong if a team such as Phoenix called up a few prospects and unproven players from the farm team and played them hard in the final few weeks with the quiet intention of losing games and falling to 29th? Could they not say they’re auditioning those fringe players for next season? What better way for a team to assess its resources than putting them to the true test – in NHL action.

Last year I wrote about how the Toronto Maple Leafs missed a golden opportunity to do such a thing. A dark horse to make the playoffs, the Leafs played a hot Vesa Toskala exclusively during a March win streak moving from third-last place to seventh last. The difference between the third overall pick in the draft and the seventh is always huge.

Obviously coach Paul Maurice wanted to keep winning to secure his job and obviously the players went all out. But GM Cliff Fletcher should have managed his roster better, calling up goalie Justin Pogge to get his first taste of NHL action, as well as an unproven, but promising blueliner and forward.

Instead, the Leafs moved up the NHL standings, then made a draft day trade to jump from seventh pick to fifth (giving away a second and third round pick in the process.) It’s no wonder this franchise has been struggling to rebuild for so long. With a dearth of quality prospects in its system, Toronto traded away two assets just to move up in a draft order it should have been near the top of anyway.

How important are those piddly second- or third-round picks? Current Leafs GM Brian Burke went to great lengths on trade deadline day getting rid of proven player Nik Antropov and Dominic Moore just to get a couple second-rounders. It’s those resources that go towards rebuilding the Maple Leafs.

Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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