Okay, we’re calling it. As of this writing, the Vancouver Canucks are holding down last place in the North Division, ten points back of the Montreal Canadiens for the fourth and final playoff spot. The Canucks do have five games in hand still, but after going 1-3 against the Ottawa Senators in their latest four-game series, it’s just not going to be enough.
The Canucks are not going to make the playoffs in 2021. Such is life.
All of which goes to say, of course, that it’s time to stop watching those teams ahead of the Canucks in the standings, and start paying attention to those few teams behind them.
It’s limbo season in Vancouver: how low can they go?
The lower the Canucks finish, the better chance they have of landing a high pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. That’s true in any season, but it’s even more of a factor this year, as we’ll explain in a moment.
Currently, the Canucks have the fourth-worst record in the NHL, giving them the fifth-best odds of winning the first overall pick (Seattle is automatically given the third-best odds, shunting everyone else back.) But the Canucks have also played the fewest games in the league, and their point percentage is only 11th-worst.
Given their performance of late and the logic-defying schedule they’ll be playing through from here on out, most expect them to drop down into the bottom ten at the very least. And that’s actually something worth rooting for.
Few in Canuck-land noticed that the NHL quietly announced some changes to the Draft Lottery back on March 23 — probably because the Canucks had just completed a month in which they went 8-4-1, temporarily reigniting their postseason hopes. All of a sudden, those changes have become relevant again in Vancouver, and potentially quite beneficial.
Whereas in years past there have been three draft lotteries, now there will be just two. Previously, a team could theoretically be bumped back three slots from their standings-based draft position if three teams above them in the standings won lotteries. For a team like Vancouver, who has moved back the full three spots a number of times in recent memory, this is undoubtedly welcome news.
What this means is that the Canucks will draft no lower than two spots below where they naturally finish, and potentially a fair bit higher — so let the race to the basement commence!
There’s also a new caveat that teams cannot win a lottery more than twice in a five-year period, although the league won’t start officially counting wins toward this until after the 2021 lottery.
Another lottery alteration that would prove quite beneficial to the Canucks is that teams will be limited to moving up a total of ten spots upon winning a lottery, which essentially restricts the first overall pick to teams in the bottom ten. Unfortunately, that one doesn’t kick in until the 2022 Entry Draft — and we really hope it’s not still relevant to the Canucks by then.
So, where will the Canucks finish?
That’s impossible to know, soothsaying aside, but we can at least make some estimations.
Most of the teams around or below the Canucks in the standings have already played 50 games or close to it, and are thus fairly close to locked into their point percentages.
If the Canucks were to lose seven of their remaining 12 games — which might be a generous guess — they’d finish with 51 points and a point percentage of .455. Right now, that would slot them into the eighth spot in the draft, and ensure that they are guaranteed to pick in the top-ten, with a 3.5% shot at first overall and then an even better shot at second.
If they do even worse than that, they’ll only move up.
A top-ten draft pick is definitely a good thing, and a nice consolation to a 2021 season defined by disappointment. The timing, however, could be better.
There are those who contend that the 2021 draft class is weaker than the last few, and that may very well be true, but it’s probably more accurate to say that its quality is unquantifiable.
Pandemic-related restrictions and shutdowns hit virtually every developmental league this season and last, leaving scouts drastically shorthanded on on-ice viewings. A good chunk of the top prospects have played fewer than 50 games in the last calendar year, and some have played a whole lot fewer than that.
Drafts are always a guessing game, but this one is going to be a lot guessing-gamier than any that has come before.
There’s no clear-cut number one, but a roughly defined top-ten has started to emerge. That list includes the gigantic and dynamic Owen Power, right-handed defence stud Brandt Clarke, two-way center Matthew Beniers, local product Kent Johnson, and, of course, Luke Hughes, brother of Quinn and Jack.
The Vancouver scouting staff — minus Judd Brackett, to boot — will have far less of an idea who they want to draft in 2021 than they have in previous years. But if they do end up with a top-ten pick, as now looks quite likely, they should still be going home with a valuable prospect ready to help the team in the near future, and that’s worth getting at least a little excited about.
So, let’s get the rest of the regular season over with, and hope the lottery gods take a page from Alex Burrows’ book and give those balls a tug in the Canucks’ favour.