The Columbus Blue Jackets season has mercifully entered its final week.
With just four games remaining in the pandemic-shortened season, all eyes in the Blue Jackets ownership box are now focused on just how far down in the standings the team will finish.
And while the players on the ice, some competing for their NHL careers, will give maximum effort in the final stretch, you can bank on the fact that the team brass will have to mask their smiles with any missed points against the Nashville Predators and, more notably, against the Detroit Red Wings.
Yes, draft jockeying is upon us, and for the first time in a half decade, the Blue Jackets have plenty to keep an eye on to see just how high they may pick in this summer's NHL Entry Draft.
Here's a primer on what the 5th Line needs to know.
Is there an Alexander Ovechkin or Connor McDavid to tank for?
Nope. The pandemic didn't make things easier - players didn't get a chance to showcase themselves as much as they would have in a typical season, and scouting what sample size did exist was a tall order.
But even if those barriers didn't exist, this draft does not have a clear-cut, absolute top pick in this year's draft. This is a class in which the team that picks first can make a needs-based selection and walk away feeling like they got their guy. Need a play-making center who has no glaring weaknesses? Go for a kid like Matthew Beniers, who had 10 goals and 14 assists in 24 games at the University of Michigan this season. Need a defenseman that can become a staple of your top pairing? Get his 6'5", 18-year-old Wolverine teammate, Owen Power. A flashy scorer? Dylan Guenther has 12 goals in 12 games with the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL as they enter their final week of the season, and last season, he had 26 goals and 33 assists in 58 games with the club. Even a goalie, Jesper Wallstedt, could become the first netminder to go in the top ten since Carey Price went 5th overall in 2005 to the Montreal Canadiens.
Despite no can't-miss top guy, there is a dip in the talent outside of the these (and a couple other) names, so the difference between picking, say, 4th and 8th, could be huge.
What exactly does finishing in a certain spot mean?
This season, the answer to that question is: quite a bit. Here are the potential draft slots for the ten worst teams in the league, plus the incoming Seattle Kraken, who will automatically receive the 3rd best odds at the top pick.
Where do the Blue Jackets stand, and why does it matter?
Buffalo is yet to clinch the worst record in the league, but unless a team that has won consecutive games just twice all season (and even then, it was only two in a row) finds a way to win their last four, the Sabres will be locked into the top odds for the top pick. The Anaheim Ducks have the inside track to the second worst record, and have their final games of the season against the St. Louis Blues, who are fighting for a playoff spot, and the Minnesota Wild, who are fighting for home-ice advantage. The Devils have two each against the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins, both who have clinched a postseason spot but are fighting for home-ice.
So, while it's not impossible that the Blue Jackets climb into a spot potential draft spot than their current positioning (4th worst team, 5th best odds due to Seattle), it would take a combination of the Blue Jackets playing poorly (likely) and teams worse than them getting hot (unlikely).
If the Blue Jackets win out, they could get as high as 23rd or 24th, which would send their likely draft position from 5th all the way down to 10th or 11th.
The Bottom Line
What does it all mean?
While the above scenarios are all possible, what seems most likely is that the Blue Jackets battle it out with the Red Wings and the Ottawa Senators for what ends up being the 5th, 6th, and 7th best odds for the top pick in the draft. The odds of landing the top pick aren't too much different here: 6.5% at worst, 8.5% at best. But there is value in picking 5th over picking 7th, which are mathematically the most likely outcomes of these spots.
Detroit has just two games left this season: Friday and Saturday at Nationwide Arena. The Red Wings are two points ahead in the standings, so if the Blue Jackets do win their last two games of the year (against Detroit), doing it in overtime would be quite beneficial, as it would give Detroit an extra point or two. Ottawa and Columbus are tied at 43 points each, but the Senators have an extra game to play in the all-Canadian North Division. Their five games are against four different teams, two of which come after the Blue Jackets wrap up play Saturday night.
All of that, to say this: it may feel a little weird to smile should the Blue Jackets lose games this week, but it well could lead to an even bigger smile this summer when Columbus is on the clock.