One month to go.
With four weeks left in the season, the picture is becoming more and more clear.
For the Columbus Blue Jackets, that picture is both hideous and beautiful.
Here's where things stand as of Monday:
With the Arizona Coyotes' come-from-behind win last night, they move 11 points ahead of the #CBJ.— CBJ Stats (@BlueJacketStats) March 13, 2023
It seems very likely that when it comes to who gets the best crack at Connor Bedard, we're down to the to steal from another sport final four. pic.twitter.com/a13Cj3RLao
And here are the key takeaways:
Let's just acknowledge this first: this is both fun and miserable. The Blue Jackets weren't expected to compete for a championship this year, but to be the worst team in the league through three-quarters of the season and on pace for potentially the worst season in club history? Those are the miserable parts. The fun part, of course, is the potential prize: the best odds at the next NHL superstar: Connor Bedard. While the team with the worst record has just a 25.5% at winning the top pick, they would still have nearly twice as good of a chance as any other team and would be locked in to a top three spot. There are four players in this draft class that, in an average year, would make a reasonable case to be #1. At this point, one must simply embrace the suck. It'll be worth it.
There has certainly been a degree of separation over the last week. Last Monday, the Blue Jackets owned the worst record by one point, with the third, fourth, and fifth-worst marks at two, four, and six points ahead of Columbus. Now, they own the worst record by three points, and are bottom-three by seven points as opposed to four.
The Arizona Coyotes, who were just six points ahead of Columbus a week ago, are now 11 points ahead. With just 15 games left in the season, it would take a monumental effort from the Blue Jackets and monumentally bad effort from the Yotes for the two teams to finish within even a few points of each other. In fact, the Montreal Canadiens are on pace for the same amount of points (72) as Arizona. The race for #32 (and thus, #1) is down to four teams.
The Blue Jackets begin a five-game road trip Tuesday in San Jose. The team will certainly give 100% effort — the players on the ice are, in some cases, competing for an NHL career. But make no mistake about it: the two teams with the fewest points in the league are playing each other in southern California, and the loser of that game will have the inside track to double their odds to draft Bedard. Simply put: Rooting for the Blue Jackets means rooting against them.
The other four games on the road trip include three tough teams (Los Angeles, Vegas, and Washington) and one other bottom-four team: Anaheim. A winless road trip wouldn't cement the worst record in the league, but the drums would be turning as the truck backs up.
A look at the other three teams in Columbus' burst bubble and how their last month will help (or hurt) the Blue Jackets:
The Blackhawks host Boston on Tuesday before beginning a five-game road trip of their own Thursday in Nashville. Three of the five games are against teams 5+ points out of a playoff spot. Chicago is just 1-6-1 in their last eight games but most of those games have been competitive. Four games at home to end March (and start April) are important, and two of those opponents are St. Louis and Vancouver — a good chance at four points.
Home games Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday await the Sharks — but no game is bigger than the aforementioned game against Columbus, which kicks off the week. Whoever wins the game is going to have two things: (1) a happy locker room and (2) a sad front office. San Jose has just two points in March and a 1-6-0 record in their last seven overall.
The Ducks are 5-1-3 since February 23rd and are seven points ahead of the Blue Jackets. If Anaheim defeats Columbus in their battle against each other later this week, this could become a three-team race. Anaheim has seven games remaining on a season long eight-game homestand, with four of the seven opponents on the outside looking in at a playoff spot.