Over their last 10 games, the Chicago Blackhawks are 6-4-0, accumulating 12 points out of a possible 20. For most sides in the NHL, that would be a good thing. But for the Blackhawks, it could be downright catastrophic.
You’re probably already aware that the Blackhawks are not only well out of the Stanley Cup picture but they’re also unofficially tanking this season.
To facilitate the tank, last season Chicago traded away Brandon Hagel, Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach. They also let Dylan Strome walk in free agency by choosing not to give him a qualifying offer. That’s four players under the age of 25 who combined for 43 percent of the Blackhawks’ goals in 2021-22.
The goal of shipping off those players was to be as bad as humanly possible and sink like an anchor to the bottom of the NHL standings, improving their odds of earning the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. At the time of writing, they’re three points off the bottom of the league. Not getting the tank right because they’re playing well would, again, be disastrous.
You might be saying the Hawks are still bad so a little winning streak can’t be that catastrophic, can it?
Currently, the Hawks sit with a .398 points percentage. The Columbus Blue Jackets and Anaheim Ducks are below them at .367 and .385 respectively. San Jose and Arizona aren’t far off with points percentages of .400 and .415. Here’s what those numbers represent in terms of a full-season pace:
|Point Pace Over 82 Games
|Columbus Blue Jackets
|San Jose Sharks
The Blackhawks have some catching up to do, so to speak, with Columbus and Anaheim, while San Jose is narrowing the gap quickly.
“OK, but they’ll finish near the bottom of the league and will still have a good chance at drafting Connor Bedard.”
That’s true, but the odds of winning the first overall selection drop significantly from the team that finishes 32nd overall to the team that finishes 31st.
Contrary to commissioner Gary Bettman’s statements, the NHL’s draft lottery does not de-incentivize tanking. If anything, it encourages teams to tank harder than we’ve ever seen them tank before, as we’re seeing this season.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on tanking: Nobody tanks.— Arpon Basu (@ArponBasu) January 24, 2023
He said it with a straight face.
Full comment: pic.twitter.com/Ss6rm0G5Rh
Look at how drastically the odds change for teams finishing between 32nd and 28th by the end of the season:
|Odds To Win 1st Overall
|% Pt. Change
The odds to select first overall drop by 12 percentage points if you finish 31st in the league instead of dead last. That’s basically cutting your chances in half if you aren’t the absolute worst team in the league.
Teams are actually incentivized to perform this sort of race to the bottom we’re seeing this year to secure that first overall selection.
For the Blackhawks, who dealt away some solid and young assets to facilitate this tank in order to draft first overall, finishing anything but 32nd overall could be disastrous.
Remember the 2022 draft? The Arizona Coyotes finished 31st in 2021-22. They didn’t draft first. Montreal, the 32nd-ranked team, won the first overall pick. Arizona didn’t draft second either. New Jersey at 8.8 percent (compared to Arizona’s 14.4 percent) won that pick and the Coyotes ended up drafting third.
And while drafting second or even third overall will still net the Blackhawks a solid prospect, it won’t get them Connor Bedard, the prize of the 2023 draft.
Connor Bedard with a goal and 2 assists tonight.— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) February 26, 2023
He has 24 points over his current 8-game streak, and 54 goals and 114 points in 45 WHL games.
Strength Of Schedule
Now you might be looking ahead at the Blackhawks’ schedule. Maybe they have an easier run than some of the teams at the bottom of the league.
Unfortunately for them, the Blue Jackets have a worse schedule according to Tankathon:
|Columbus Blue Jackets
|San Jose Sharks
*Note: A higher SOS is good for tanking.
The Hawks have to start dropping points as fast as possible. But as we all know, coaches and players don’t tank. So how can GM Kyle Davidson help out his tank?
Trade Patrick Kane
With seven goals and 10 points over his last four games, Patrick Kane metaphorically stuck a stick in the Hawks’ spokes. Moving him was absolutely necessary. But with a $10.5-million cap hit, trading the three-time Stanley Cup champion – who decided he really only wanted to go to the Rangers – would take some time.
That time was today.
We have traded Patrick Kane for a conditional 2023 second round pick, a 2025 fourth round pick and defenseman Andy Welinski from the New York Rangers.— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) March 1, 2023
We’ve also acquired defenseman Vili Saarijarvi from Arizona as part of the trade. pic.twitter.com/5px44LHOvE
With the trade finally complete, the Hawks have moved one of the biggest (at least recently) thorns in their side with regard to their tank. Now that Kane is gone, the Blackhawks have removed yet another piece from the roster that might help the team accumulate unwanted points.
Since February 17, Kane has averaged a 2.46 game score, nearly a half-point better than anyone else on the Hawks roster.
His departure should help them get their tank back on track.
And maybe Chicago isn’t done either.
Max Domi is having a renaissance season. In his last five games, Domi has four goals and 11 points. Maybe the Hawks should consider moving him too? The 27-year-old is on a $3-million contract that expires at the end of the season. With the numbers he’s putting up lately and over the season, I would imagine there’s a market for him on the trade front.