Race to the Bottom: A look at the worst teams in the NHL

March 14, 2023 01:10 PM

Race to the Bottom: A look at the worst teams in the NHL

Back in 2014-15, teams like the Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres were accused of tanking to secure a high draft pick. Buffalo's general manager at the time, Tim Murray, said what a lot of other general managers were probably thinking and admitted that the Sabres were "embracing the tank" and actively trying to lose games.

I mean, six of the bottom-eight teams saw their win percentage drop by at least 9 percentage points post trade deadline that season, which is not the norm. Typically, we’d expect to see around half of the teams drop off following the trade deadline, but that season teams were willing to sacrifice their season for a chance at drafting Connor McDavid.

This season, another Connor (Bedard) leads a talented another draft class. Bedard will almost certainly be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and his presence has created a similar buzz to the year McDavid was draft eligible. Naturally, several teams (more teams than usual) have been accused of throwing in the towel, and the early evidence seems support that.

Of course, things like strength of schedule matters, and some of the league’s worst teams have had it especially tough lately, but regardless, we’re dealing with some historically bad teams, most of which have seen their win rate’s drop.

Teams like Chicago, Arizona, Buffalo, Montreal, Columbus, San Jose, and Anaheim rank as the worst in expected goals percentage since the beginning of March and they are the most likely culprits when it comes to tanking.

32. Columbus Blue Jackets

Remaining Schedule: @SJS, @LAK, @ANA, @VGK, @WSH, vs NYI, @MTL, @NYR, @BOS, vs FLA, vs OTT, @ TOR, @NJD, vs NYR, @PHI, vs PIT, vs BUF

The worst team in the NHL is set to play 11 of their final 17 games on the road, including eight of the next nine. There are winnable games on the schedule, though, and after a season in which their starting goaltender (Elvis Merzlikins) ranked as the worst in the NHL, it’s worth wondering whether a new tandem can pull off some upsets down the stretch.

Merzlikins is on personal leave (temporary) and it’s unclear when he will return to the team. In the meantime, rookie Daniil Tarasov and veteran Michael Hutchinson will play goal. Hutchinson is washed, but Tarasov has potential and could provide the team with a boost while he’s out.

No team has spent more time trailing than the Blue Jackets this season, but they might have an opportunity to play in some closer games down the stretch if their goaltending somehow ends up being better. The odds are stacked against both goaltenders, though, as the blue line is in rough shape.  

31. San Jose Sharks

Remaining Schedule: vs CBJ, vs SEA, vs NYI, @EDM, @VAN, @CGY, vs WPG, vs VGK, @ARI, vs COL, vs COL, vs EDM, @WPG, @CGY, @EDM

San Jose has the second-worst save percentage in the league since the start of February and there’s little chance that they’ll be able to outscore their problems in goal. The Sharks are 2-9 straight up since forward Timo Meier was taken out of the lineup and only one team has scored fewer goals per 60 minutes during that time and only two teams trailed as much as the Sharks did so bettors should expect to see this team playing from behind on most nights, which isn’t a good recipe for a team that hardly has any incentive to win games as it is.

30. Chicago Blackhawks

Remaining Schedule: vs BOS, @NSH, @ARI, @COL, @WSH, @MIN, vs VAN, vs DAL, vs STL, vs NJD, @CGY, @VAN, @SEA, vs MIN, @PIT, vs PHI

As you can see, the Blackhawks play just over half of their remaining games on the road, and overall, the team will face off against a balanced mix of opponents, but if one team has set themselves up to tank the rest of the way, it’s Chicago, who’s forward group is easily the worst in recent memory. The Blackhawks have been registering approximately 22 shots per game since the beginning of March and I wouldn’t be surprised if they scored fewer than two goals per 60 minutes the rest of the way.

29. Anaheim Ducks

Remaining Schedule: vs NSH, vs NYI, vs CBJ, vs VAN, vs CGY, vs WPG, vs STL, vs COL, @SEA, @EDM, @CGY, vs EDM, @ARI, vs COL, vs VAN, vs LAK

The good news for Anaheim is that they only have four road games left. The bad news is that most of the teams they are scheduled to play will have incentive to beat them. The Ducks went 4-16 to close out last season’s final 20 games, and they’re objectively softer this season and they remain one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL.

28. Montreal Canadiens

Remaining Schedule: @PIT, @FLA, @TBL, vs TBL, @BOS, vs CBJ, @BUF, @PHI, vs FLA, vs CAR, vs DET, vs WSH, @TOR, @NYI, vs BOS

Montreal has had a tough schedule (they’ve lost nine of their last 12, including seven in a row) and it’s not getting any easier as 12 of their final 15 games are against the top 11 teams in the Eastern Conference.

The Canadiens roster has been decimated by injuries and it’s unclear when players like Brendan Gallagher, Kirby Dach, Joel Armia and Paul Byron will return to the lineup, if at all. Their goaltending has been good relative to other “bad” teams, but the Habs have generated just 25 shots a game over their last 10 and that’s not going to cut it down the stretch.

27. Arizona Coyotes

Remaining Schedule: vs CGY, vs VAN, vs CHI, @WPG, @EDM, @COL, vs EDM, vs DAL, vs SJS, @SEA, @SEA, vs ANA, vs SEA, vs VAN

Mullet Arena should be rocking for the rest of the season as the Coyotes will play all but five of their remaining games at home. There are some tough games left to play, but overall, the Coyotes schedule provides them with a chance to win games down the stretch, even if that is bad for their draft position.

Arizona is one of the teams that you’d expect to be tanking, but they’ve been bucking that trend lately and it’s going to be hard to lose some of these remaining games. I would not be shocked to see the Coyotes ended up improving their place in the standings by the end of the season.  

26. Philadelphia Flyers

Remaining Schedule: vs VGK, vs BUF, vs CAR, vs FLA, vs MIN, vs DET, vs MTL, @OTT, vs BUF, @PIT, @STL, @DAL, @NYI, vs BOS, vs CBJ, @CHI

With just three wins in their last 15 games, the Flyers have settled into their place among the NHL’s worst teams, but if the team gets Sean Couturier and Travis Konecny back in the lineup for a stretch of games, it might throw off any plans of tanking.

Philadelphia has a relatively easy schedule, with nine games against non-playoff teams, so I’m not going to slap the tanking label on them just yet due to the possibility that we could see a boost in their offensive production. Pair that with the good goaltending performances from Carter Hart and losing games will be easier said than done.


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