As we hit the home stretch of the 2022-23 NHL season, some fan bases are looking forward to the postseason, and others are looking ahead to the draft lottery.
Connor Bedard, the presumptive No. 1 prospect in the 2023 NHL Draft, is a tantalizing prize for whichever team winds up with the top pick. That makes the battle for the best odds in the draft lottery even more fascinating than usual this season.
As has been the case for much of the season, the Columbus Blue Jackets are in the driver's seat to land the No. 1 pick. However, some of the other teams in the NHL's basement sold off key pieces ahead of the trade deadline, and that will give Columbus some serious competition over the next six weeks.
Let's take a look at what the Battle for Bedard looks like after the NHL trade deadline.
Columbus Blue Jackets | 20-37-7 | 47 points
The Blue Jackets have been the favorites to land the No. 1 pick for some time now, and I wouldn't necessarily expect that to change between now and the end of the regular season. Columbus traded away its only consistent goaltender, Joonas Korpisalo, and one of its top-four defensemen, Vladislav Gavrikov. Scoring goals against the Blue Jackets wasn't exactly a tall task before the trade deadline, but they should be even more porous on the back end moving forward.
The only issue the Jackets might have when it comes to finishing with the best draft lottery odds is that other teams near the bottom of the standings sold off more important pieces. Korpisalo and Gavrikov played significant roles, but the team won't be all that much worse without them. In fact, on Tuesday night, Columbus jumped out to a 4-0 lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins before imploding and losing in overtime, 5-4. Crisis averted.
San Jose Sharks | 19-34-12 | 50 points
The Sharks were major sellers at the trade deadline, and they are making a push to finish the 2022-23 season in last place. San Jose has won two of its last 11 games, and eight of the nine losses have come in regulation. They are avoiding points like the plague right now.
Things should only get worse (or better) for the Sharks without Timo Meier, Nick Bonino, and Jaycob Megna, all of whom were traded ahead of the deadline. San Jose didn't manage to move defenseman Erik Karlsson though, and he is playing at a Norris Trophy level this season. Karlsson might be a thorn in the side of the Sharks' tank if he continues to pile up points and keep them in games.
Chicago Blackhawks | 22-36-5 | 49 points
If you're looking for a team that might just completely crater between now and the end of the regular season, it might be the Blackhawks. After trading away Patrick Kane, Max Domi, Sam Lafferty, and Jake McCabe, they have the most barren roster in the NHL.
Caleb Jones, Jarred Tinordi, and Connor Murphy are all playing top-four roles on the blue line. Taylor Raddysh, Cole Guttman, and Tyler Johnson make up the second forward line. Chicago should have a lot of trouble finding wins in its final 19 games, but a couple of things could get in the way of a full-on tank.
First-year head coach Luke Richardson seems to have done a decent job at getting what he can out of the roster. On top of that, Alex Stalock has played surprisingly well in goal. Still, even with Richardson and Stalock trying to keep the Blackhawks afloat, that No. 1 pick is definitely on the table in Chicago.
Anaheim Ducks | 21-35-8 | 50 points
Anaheim traded John Klingberg and Dmitry Kulikov before the trade deadline, but I'm not sure how much damage that could possibly do to a club that was already one of the worst defensive teams in recent memory.
The Ducks did win a game over the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night, which hurt their chances, and their talented young forwards give them a higher ceiling than some of the other teams on this list. That might make it more difficult for Anaheim to win this race to bottom in the last 20% of the season.
Don't get me wrong. When the Ducks lose, they lose big. Their minus-99 goal differential is the worst in the league by 17 goals, but having the worst goal differential doesn't get you an extra ping pong ball in the draft lottery.
Arizona Coyotes | 22-32-10 | 54 points
Coming into the season, the Coyotes seemed like a safe bet to finish with the worst record in the league, but the magic of Mullett Arena has given them a few more wins than expected.
Arizona finally traded Jakob Chychrun, but he hadn't played for the team in a while anyway. Nick Bjugstad and Shayne Gostisbehere were also on the move, but Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz, Lawson Crouse, and Karel Vejmelka make the Coyotes a competitive team every now and then. While that hurts their chances at drafting Connor Bedard, it is good for the franchise to see progress from all those players.
It's also hard to see the Yotes falling apart down the home stretch when they have players like Shea Weber and Jakub Voracek in the organization. We'll see if those two can get Arizona back in the playoff race.
Montreal Canadiens | 26-33-5 | 57 points
The Canadiens are another team that I could easily see sinking to the bottom of the standings by the time the regular season is over. Nick Suzuki is a lonely man in the top six because there isn't much help around him. Mike Hoffman, Jonathan Drouin, Raphael Harvey-Pinard, and Jesse Ylonen are some of the players around Suzuki up front.
Montreal might have some trouble scoring goals down the stretch, and the goaltending duo of Jake Allen and Sam Montembeault has had its share of struggles as well. With games against the Rangers, Devils, Avalanche, Penguins, Panthers, Lightning, and Bruins coming up, the Canadiens could take an expeditious dive in the standings.
They already have a head start in that regard with four consecutive losses.
Vancouver Canucks | 26-32-5 | 57 points
In terms of the Canucks' pursuit of the No. 1 overall pick, the trade deadline wasn't terribly successful. Neither Brock Boeser nor J.T. Miller got traded, and Vancouver even made a win-now move by acquiring former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Filip Hronek.
Even if the Canucks did move those players, there's no denying that there is some talent on this roster. Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Andrei Kuzmenko are all quality players, and Vancouver can be tough out when it gets adequate goaltending.
Ultimately, the Canucks are in a good position here. They already have some foundational pieces, and it's plausible that they end up with the No. 1 overall pick too.
Philadelphia Flyers | 24-29-11 | 59 points
Much to the dismay of their fans, the Flyers weren't terribly active at the trade deadline, and James van Riemsdyk will remain on the team until he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer.
As a result, Philadelphia may not be bad enough to maximize its chances of landing the No. 1 overall pick, but something tells me John Tortorella wouldn't have interest in that anyway. Add in strong seasons from Travis Konecny and Carter Hart, and the Flyers have been more competitive than anticipated in 2022-23.
For those hoping to see the Flyers slip a few spots in the standings before the end of the regular season, the good news is that they play a tough schedule over the next few weeks.