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The Bottom Five, aka, the Hunt for Jack Hughes

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“Mad Scientist” Rob Blake has positioned the Kings well come the 2019 Draft.

Avalanche v Kings Photo by Andrew D. Berstein/Getty Images/NHLI

Truth be told, this Perspectives column started off as a mailbag. I get a lot of email from anxious fans worried about their expensive season tickets and the future of the Kings. For others it’s therapy. My Jewels From The Crown recaps prompted one reader (Amy G., Los Angeles) to email me to say she “comes to see what happens in the game and stays for the Willie Desjardins hate.”

Apologies to the interim coach for all of my venom to his coaching style. I hear he’s a nice guy, and anyone who believes he’s a decent and coherent coach, please email me. Always remember, from the cheap seats it’s not personal, it’s hockey. Yet, I digress…

During the compilation of the mailbag questions, I came across this question and decided to run with it:

Q: What are the odds that the Kings finish their season on a 13-game losing streak? They’ve already lost 15 of 17 and two straight. They put one actual NHL line on the ice each night, and things are so bad that I just thought about whether or not Brendan Leipsic is an actual NHL player. Is there a chance for L13 and 27Ls in 29Gs? —Russ M., Pacific Palisades

ML: The very short answer is a definite yes. The longer answer is a little more involved. Well, a lot more.

Willie Desjardins cannot coach late season games. It’s simply not in his DNA. I know we have covered some of this ground before, but just in case, I’ll recap it for you. Think of it as an executive summary covering an extremely large SWOT analysis:

  • 2016-17 Vancouver Canucks – finished the season 5-20-3, including an eight-game losing streak.
  • 2015-16 Vancouver Canucks – finished the season 3-10-1.
  • 2014-15 Vancouver Canucks – in a breakout season, lost in the first round of the playoffs 4-2 to Calgary.

You know how Scotty Bowman was the greatest NHL coach ever? How he blended his innate hockey sense with incredible coaching to meld his players into beautiful broth of hockey stew? And then he relentlessly challenged his team during every practice and every game to hate him until it solidified them into an unstoppable force? Well my friends, that’s exactly what Willie Desjardins is…except the exact opposite.

Say what you want about Rob Blake, but he saw exactly what I saw from Willie Desjardins in Vancouver and scooped him up at the first opportunity. Why? Because Rob is the “Mad Scientist.” (Skeptical? Read this Perspectives column from October.)

Rob was all in on the tanking from the get go and now your 2018-19 Kings have a very tangible opportunity to go down as the ultimate NHL self-sabotagers in league history. If the Kings were in Nashville or Anaheim, they would hang a banner for this accomplishment.

The Kings haven’t been tanking games as much as obliterating any chance of winning them before they even hit the ice most nights. And, if things are going too well on a particular night Willie D. has all the tricks to alter the outcomes of tight games. You know, like slide your offensive players to the 4th line, forget to call a time out, overplay your key superstars, challenge a play that won’t possibly be overturned, play unproductive players game after game. They’re actually tanking because the NHL gives every team the same loophole:

If you want to dump an season, dishearten your fans, and tarnish the league for a 42 percent chance at the number 1 pick and a 100 percent chance at a top-four pick, then by all means, go for it!

The Kings knew they were better off bottom-feeding in the most ghastly way imaginable, so they owned it — they’ve done everything short of signing Wayne Gretzky and Howie Meeker to emergency contracts. And those moves still might be coming next week. Would anything surprise you at this point? Look at the self-sabotage asset that Willie Desjardins delivered to Vancouver: Elias Pettersson (2017 Draft). Now the Kings are poised for better.

The Kings are firmly entrenched in the bottom five and many of us are already slotting one of the big three (Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kakko, Vasili Podkolzin) into a black and white sweater for the 2019-20 season. After this display of tanking, anything less than drafting one of these three elite prospects won’t be acceptable. In Rob we trust, right?

The NHL just moved up the entry draft lottery to April 9th (which should be one day after the Kings announce they are not tendering a new contract to their current interim coach), so it’s time to assess the bottom five and why they deserve the right to draft Jack Hughes.

1. Colorado Avalanche (via Ottawa, 56 points)

Colorado Avalanche are the team to watch via Canada’s capital. The Avalanche hold the Ottawa Senators’ first-round pick and as it works out they may also be a lottery team themselves, which could land them two top-four picks in the 2019 draft.

Current Chance to Gain the Top Pick: 18.5%
2018 Draft Position: 16
Notable Draftee – Last Five Drafts: Mikko Rantanen, Complete List
Remaining 2018-19 Schedule (Colorado): @MIN, @DAL, CHI, VGK, ARI, @StL, EDM, WPG, @SJS
Remaining 2018-19 Schedule (Ottawa): @VAN, @CGY, @EDM, BUF, FLA, TOR, TBL, @NYR, CBJ

2. Los Angeles Kings (58 points)

The Kings have an aging roster in desperate need of turnover. Anze Kopitar is starting to slow down, their salary cap is a mess, and the best center prospect in the organization, Rasmus Kupari, is just 18. The Kings are the team most desperate for Jack Hughes given their clear and present future situation. Also, let’s face it, based on the ratings the number two US market brings, the NHL would really like the Kings to be playing in May and June.

Current Chance to Gain the Top Pick: 13.5%
2018 Draft Position: 20
Notable Draftees – Last Five Drafts: Rasmus Kupari, Akil Thomas, Gabe Vilardi, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Adrian Kempe, Complete List
Remaining 2018-19 Schedule: WPG, SJS, ANA, @CGY, @EDM, @VAN, CHI, CGY, @ARI, @ANA, VGK

3. Detroit Red Wings (60 points)

The Red Wings were surging at the beginning of the year when everyone was healthy. Detroit faithful who were expecting another high draft pick were cursing the early success. Injuries dropped the team back to the bottom and then they dealt Gustav Nyquist to the Sharks. Detroit would love to have Jack Hughes, but from what I read, Hughes wouldn’t love to be in Detroit.

Current Chance to Gain the Top Pick: 11.5%
2018 Draft Position: 6
Notable Draftee – Last Five Drafts: Dylan Larkin, Complete List
Remaining 2018-19 Schedule: @NYR, @StL @VGK, @SJS, @BUF, @NJD, BOS, PIT, @PIT, BUF

4. New Jersey Devils (63 points)

Once Taylor Hall got injured you knew that the Devils would be in play for Hughes. I mean, any team would surely miss a point per game player, right? They certainly need a game changer to help rebuild a team that was playing for a Stanley Cup in 2012. With Nico Hischier and a healthy Hall to go alongside a high draft pick, the Devils will be in the hunt sooner that should be expected.

Current Chance to Gain the Top Pick: 9.5%
2018 Draft Position: 17
Notable Draftee – Last Five Drafts: Nico Hischier, Complete List
Remaining 2018-19 Schedule: WSH, BOS, ARI, BUF, @DET, StL, NYR, @CAR, @FLA

5. Anaheim Ducks (69 points)

Since I am biased, I sent out for an independent assessment. During yesterday’s game, my son told me this:

“The Ducks getting him would actually be the worst. They are a small market team overshadowed by two other California markets. No player ever (other than Sergei Federov who had the worst years of his career in Anaheim and Teemu Selanne) said, ‘you know what I want? I want to play in Anaheim.’ If you’re a center and a first overall pick, who do you want to learn from? A two-time Stanley Cup Champion/Selke and Lady Byng winner Hart Finalist, or a bunch of guys who lose game sevens as a rite of passage?’

Yep, I think that sums up the perspectives from the cheap seats.

Current Chance to Gain the Top Pick: 8.5%
2018 Draft Position: 23
Notable Draftees – Last Five Drafts: Nick Ritchie, Brandon Montour, Complete List
Remaining 2018-19 Schedule: WPG, SJS, @LAK, @VAN, @CGY, @EDM, CGY, LAK

The Big Three

Jack Hughes, C, USA

Born: May 14, 2001
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 168 lbs.

“Hughes has tremendous first step which sets him apart; at times you don’t notice him cause he is small but when he gets the puck, watch out.” (ISS Hockey 2019)

“…electrifying and dynamic player … has ability to be a difference-maker … very elusive … attacks lanes … always a step ahead … plays smart …” (ISS Hockey 2017)

Kaapo Kakko, RW

Born: February 13, 2001
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 190 lbs.

“A quick-thinking winger, Kakko never seems to be in a rush. He reads the game exceptionally well and finds himself a step ahead while the play is still developing. He is confident with the puck and capable of handling it in small spaces. (Matias Strozyk, 2018)

“…quality hands ... able to keep the puck under control when physically challenged ... works in all areas to help his team get possession …” (Draftin Europe 2018)

Vasili Podkolzin, RW, Russia

Born: June 24, 2001
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 190 lbs.

“He’s a complete winger with all the qualities that you want in a player.” (Craig Button - TSN 2018)

“Very strong on the puck ... plays the hard way ... fierce but disciplined ... sound puck management ... possesses an effective move to his forehand.” (Draftin Europe 2018)

How is the NHL Draft order determined?

  1. All teams missing the playoffs are in the Lottery.
  2. Teams with the least points get more chances at winning the Lottery.
  3. The 1st overall pick is awarded by a drawing of ping pong balls.
  4. The 2nd overall pick is awarded by a drawing of ping pong balls.
  5. The 3rd overall pick is awarded by a drawing of ping pong balls.
  6. Remaining lottery teams, sorted by points, fill out picks 4-15.
  7. Ties are broken by teams’ total number of regulation and non-shootout overtime wins (ROW), and then head-to-head if still tied.
  8. Playoff teams that did not win their divisions and did not make the conference finals, sorted by points, are assigned the next picks.
  9. Playoff teams that won their divisions and did not make the conference finals, sorted by points, are assigned the next picks.
  10. Conference finals losers sorted by points are assigned picks 28 and 29.
  11. Stanley Cup runner-up is assigned pick 30.
  12. Stanley Cup champion is assigned pick 31.