Dying Hard: NHL Reverse Standings Update for 1/4

Checking in on the worst teams in the NHL this season.

In every major sport league there’s always going to a worst team. A doormat. A patsy. Some team that just can’t seem to compete with all the other teams, no matter how hard they do — or do not — try. Sometimes they’re unlucky. Sometimes they’re regular bad. And sometimes they might even be historically bad (cough cough).

The good news about being one of the worst teams in the NHL this season is you get your shot at picking near the top of an incredibly loaded draft where players like Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Matvei Michkov and Leo Carlsson could help change the fortune of your entire franchise in an instant.

Going into this season, it’s safe to say we all expected The Chicago Blackhawks to be near the bottom of the standings: but I don’t think any of us thought that they’d be this particular shade of putrid where they may have already run away with finishing dead last before the season is halfway over.

But just in case there’s a dead cat bounce (spoiler alert: there won’t be), let’s check in on the other teams that make up the bottom five and will also be hoping that their logo is in that final envelope when the lottery is revealed sometime this spring.

Arizona Coyotes

  • Current Record: 13-18-5, 31 points
  • Last 10 games: A quite respectable 4-5-1
  • Odds at wining the draft lottery: 8.5%/

Heading into the season, a lot of us thought that Arizona would be the true challenger to supplant Chicago as the worst team in the league, but the Coyotes have been something of a pleasant surprise so far. The main reason for their mini-resurgence is the play of No. 1 goaltender Karel Vejmelka — who has essentially been a Top-15 goalie so far.

The big thing to watch for in Arizona — which would definitely impact their record the rest of the way — is what they end up doing with young defensive star Jakob Chycrun. He was out for the first 16 games of the season but hasn’t missed a step since he’s come back, and the Coyotes are 7-8-4 with him in the lineup. GM Bill Armstrong says he has no timetable whatsoever to move Chycrun — but there’s a strong chance he’s dealt to a contender at the deadline.

They have a few other notable UFAs that could be on the move in Shayne Gostisbehere and Nick Bjugstad, but no one player would affect the team quite as much as the loss of Chycrun.

San Jose Sharks

  • Current Record: 12-20-7, 31 points
  • Last 10 games: 4-4-2
  • Odds at wining the draft lottery: 9.5%/

San Jose stumbled hard out of the gate by losing their first 5 games of the season and 12 of their first 15 overall.

The Sharks are in a similar boat as the Blackhawks were a few years back, where giving big, expensive contracts to aging stars has pushed them up against the salary cap and left them with a team of unmovable players that simply isn’t able to contend with the best teams in the league anymore.

The most interesting thing happening in San Jose this season has been the return of an offensively dominant Erik Karlsson, who is one of the most fun players in the entire league to watch when he’s on. Karlsson already has 53 points (13 G, 40A) in 39 games and, if he keeps producing at this pace, he’ll smash his previous career high of 82 points.

There’s some slight chatter about a Karlsson move — with Ottawa being the most intriguing option — but he’s still owed a hefty $11.5 million per year for the next four seasons after this one, so that’s going to make it difficult. The more likely trade scenario is that they would listen on power forward Timo Meier, who becomes an RFA this summer.

Columbus Blue Jackets

  • Current Record: 11-23-2, 24 points
  • Last 10 games: 2-8-0
  • Odds at wining the draft lottery: 11.5%/

Of all the teams on this list Columbus probably stands out the most as the team who shouldn’t be on it and also has the best chance of leaving it.

The Blue Jackets surprised the entire league last summer by swooping in and signing prized free agent Johnny Gaudreau to a massive 7-year, $68.25 million contract. The thought was that adding Gaudreau to their young and improving core would push them into playoff contention immediately. Johnny Hockey has been as advertised so far, with 37 points in 35 games, but the rest of the star power on Columbus has crumbled all around him.

At one point, the Blue Jackets had upwards of $50 million in contracts sitting on the IR. They’ve lost defenseman Zach Werenski for the season. Jakob Voracek is out with a concussion that may just end his career. Patrik Laine is currently in COVID protocol (after already missing a few weeks due to injuries earlier this season). And Boone Jenner is still recovering from a broken thumb.

The good news for Columbus is that both Jenner and Laine will be back eventually. The even better news is that if you had to pick a season in which to suffer catastrophic injuries, you couldn’t do much better than this one, when it might just land you a generational talent in return.

Anaheim Ducks

  • Current Record: 10-24-4, 24 points
  • Last 10 games: 3-6-1
  • Odds at wining the draft lottery: 13.5%/

A true bottom-feeding contender and the team the Blackhawks have been trading last place with for most of the season.

Anaheim was supposed to take a big developmental step forward this season after making positive strides last season on the backs of young stars Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras. They added forwards Ryan Strome and Frank Vatrano in free agency to help strengthen their top six and gave defenseman John Klingberg a one-year deal to bolster their back end and help Klingberg improve his stock before he hops back into free agency next summer. So far, that hasn’t worked out for either party.

The bad news for the Hawks is that for as awful as Anaheim has been so far, they could still get significantly worse after the trade deadline. Klingberg will almost certainly be dealt. Kevin Shattenkirk and Dmitry Kulikov are both UFAs and feel like the kind of depth acquisitions contenders will be looking to add before the playoffs. Ditto for Adam Henrique, who is somehow only 32 years old, and could fill a similar role for any team that’s interested in Jonathan Toews.

Chicago Blackhawks

  • Current Record: 8-24-4, 20 points
  • Last 10 games: 1-9-0
  • Odds at wining the draft lottery: 18.5%/

You know them. We all have feelings about them. There’s a good chance that a significant portion of them may never be on an NHL roster again after this season. Truly, what a time to be a fan.

This season was meant to be horrible, by design. That’s the plan. And we all know what we hope is at the end of the rainbow. There’s genuinely no use in hand-wringing or feelings of consternation anymore. Bask in the numbness. Join me.

The only interesting thing left to talk about for the Blackhawks now — which was really the only interesting thing about them at all this season anyway — is what happens with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The company line has been that their agent, Pat Brisson, would check in with them both about this time and then let GM Kyle Davidson know what they’re thinking in regard to their futures. After being thrashed by both Columbus and San Jose last past weekend — teams you may recognize as fellow residents on this here list of worst teams in the entire league — there’s simply no pretending or denying anymore: this is how bad it’s going to be from here on out. I hope for both of their sakes now that they decide to move on and play some meaningful games somewhere else this spring.