Connor Bedard reminds NHL teams what they're losing for
Connor Bedard, the likely No. 1 draft pick this spring, is reminding the weakest NHL teams of the potential light at the end of the tunnel. Photo by Darren Calabrese/CP.

 No one is explicitly using the ‘T’ word.

You know, the one that rhymes with “sank.”

But it may not be a complete coincidence that three teams at the bottom of the NHL standings are currently pacing towards some of the lowest point totals we’ve seen recorded in the last two decades.

Not with a highly promising 2023 draft crop on the horizon.

Not with a shot to land Connor Bedard, the well-grounded North Vancouver wunderkind who has sent the expectations for his pro career into orbit while rewriting the record book during the world junior championship.

As Bedard and Team Canada play for gold in that tournament against Czechia on Thursday night, there will be NHL fans and franchises dreaming of something even more glimmering: the possibility of seeing the 17-year-old forward pull on their sweater for at least the next seven years starting in the fall.

Hockey may be a team game, but the best NHL teams are all powered by stars. They are, by and large, homegrown stars mined from the top end of the draft and tasked with turning around flailing programs.

Colorado wouldn’t have lifted the Stanley Cup last year without Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar, who was ironically selected fourth overall following a last-place season where the Avalanche lost the draft lottery three times and dropped back three spots.

Tampa won its two recent championships with two top picks — Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos — plus monster contributions from Andrei Vasilevskiy, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point. The Lightning are a potential dynasty in the making because all of those players would be taken in the first few selections in a redraft of their respective classes. 

Run through all of the best teams since the NHL introduced the only hard salary cap found in North American sports and you’ll find a common theme.

Pittsburgh was and is still powered by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

High-flying Washington had Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

Chicago won the Cup three times in six years on the backs of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

It’s little wonder why the Blackhawks are arguably leaning hardest into losing hard for Bedard. They’ve got nothing left to squeeze out of their former core beyond whatever draft picks and prospects they might get back for Kane and/or Toews at the trade deadline.

Plus the organization trusts the path.

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There’s been no attempt to disguise a scorched-earth rebuild in Chicago that’s already seen Brandon Hagel and Alex DeBrincat shipped out of town at ages 23 and 24, respectively. After Luke Richardson was hired to be the head coach last summer he addressed the tank question head-on: “I told (general manager Kyle Davidson) right off the hop that we’re going to make his job the toughest possible, and try to win as much as possible.”

It hasn’t come to fruition.

They entered the new year with just eight wins on the season and are currently playing at a 44-point pace. That's a level of futility not reached over an 82-game campaign since the 1997-98 Lightning (in the pre-loser point era).

Worst performers in 82-game season since '02Point total (✅ if drafted No. 1)
2016-17 Avalanche48
2013-14 Sabres52
2014-15 Sabres54
2021-22 Canadiens55 ✅
2014-15 Coyotes56
2006-07 Flyers56
2021-22 Coyotes57
2005-06 Blues57 ✅
2003-04 Penguins58
2005-06 Penguins58
2003-04 Blackhawks59
2003-04 Capitals59 ✅
2021-22 Kraken60
Worst performers of current seasonProjected point total
Chicago Blackhawks44
Anaheim Ducks55
Columbus Blue Jackets55
San Jose Sharks65
Arizona Coyotes71
Montreal Canadiens71

Chicago has company in the basement with the banged-up Columbus Blue Jackets and talent-thin Anaheim Ducks on pace for 55-point seasons. San Jose is playing at a sub-70-point pace, while Arizona and Montreal are just a hair above that line.

There wasn’t a whole lot of debate about Bedard’s standing in this draft class entering the world junior tournament, but he put an exclamation point on his top-dog status while setting multiple Canadian records. His 23 points entering the gold-medal game were 11 more than the next best skater in the event — Team USA’s Logan Cooley, last year’s No. 3 pick by Arizona — and it blew the previous best total by an underage player completely out of the water.

Bedard's performance was dominant enough to give teams already well out of playoff contention pause about the best way forward — even if the odds aren’t exactly favourable.

The NHL introduced a draft lottery in 1995 to discourage the kind of outright tanking that saw the Pittsburgh Penguins land Mario Lemieux and the Ottawa Senators snare Alexandre Daigle. The odds and rules have been tweaked in the years since, with the last-place finisher only winning the lottery for the No. 1 pick in 10 of 27 tries (37%).

The “prize” for 32nd overall this season will be an 18.5% chance of landing the pick needed to select Bedard, with an assurance that you’ll fall no lower than third overall in a draft that also includes Adam Fantilli, Leo Carlsson and Matvei Michkov.

Even if that math doesn’t completely justify a full-on tank, the second-half wins won’t feel too good for front offices near the bottom of the NHL standings after watching Bedard completely own his moment in Halifax this holiday season.

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