When the season started, a high draft pick likely was the farthest thing from Barry Trotz’s mind.
Then shootout losses to the Columbus Blue Jackets and St. Louis Blues, teams with three combined playoff appearances in the seven seasons between the NHL’s last two lockouts, prompted the Nashville Predators coach to remark on the number of top prospects each opponent had and the potential for them to get better.
In other words, it took all of two games before he considered the good that comes from being bad, the kind of bad the Predators suddenly have become.
His remarks following that first loss to the Blues spoke of a certain envy for those teams that — unlike Nashville — had not reached the playoffs seven of the last eight seasons and had not won at least 40 games in seven straight seasons. Those were the teams that got to draft some of the most exciting 18-year-olds in the world while the Predators waited through the first 10 picks or more in eight of the last nine years before they finally made a selection.
Following another loss to the Blues this Tuesday, Trotz said “everybody has to be realistic.”
The reality is that with seven games remaining, including three at home in four days beginning Friday against Dallas, the Predators won’t have to wonder much longer what it might be like to get one of those top draft picks. They might even — thanks to a change in the format — get the first overall pick. Such is the benefit of a late-season fade that drops a team out of the playoff chase and toward the bottom of the conference standings.
Four straight defeats and 10 in their last 13 games have all but guaranteed that Nashville will be one of the 14 teams in the NHL’s new draft lottery, in which every one has a chance to get the first overall choice. The odds are weighted in favor of the worst teams but based on the current standings the Predators’ chances figure to be somewhere in the range of 6 percent to 11 percent. Two clubs will have less than a one percent chance.
Previously, only five teams had the opportunity to land the top pick and never has Nashville done poorly enough to be included in that group. The only time it had a spot in the top five was as an expansion team in 1998, before it ever played a game.
No one wants to be bad. Everyone understands, however, that you can get good in a hurry when you pick at or near the top of the draft every now and then.
The fact that the Pittsburgh Penguins are among this year’s leading Stanley Cup contenders has a lot to do with the fact that they picked first or second overall four years in a row (2003-06) That stretch brought centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (each has been the league’s MVP) and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury among others. The reigning champion Los Angeles Kings picked in the top five three years in a row (2007-09).
Nothing will ease the sting of what is now one of Nashville’s worst seasons in recent memory like the opportunity to pick early on June 30 and get a really, really good player.
Of course the new lottery format does not simply determine the first overall pick, it sets the order for each of the first 14. So it’s possible that Nashville again could end up outside of the top 10. Given the way this season has gone and given how much they’ve wondered what a high draft pick could mean, that is unthinkable.