Detroit — The Red Wings find themselves in quite a race — just not the one that probably hoped for when the season began in October.
That race would be the chase for the playoffs, which is essentially done except for the mathematics involved.
But, if you go the other direction, the Red Wings are suddenly very much in it.
That would be the chase for the worst record in the NHL, where the Red Wings Thursday — thanks to a 7-game winless streak — have put themselves within striking distance of getting a good chance of grabbing the No. 1 overall pick.
Entering Wednesday’s games Buffalo owned the worst record with 56 points – but its 5-4-1 record in the past 10 games has pushed them closer to the rest of the dregs.
Arizona (57 points) is next but the Coyotes, also, are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and are, theoretically, hurting their chances of gaining the top pick.
Vancouver (59 points), Ottawa (61 points), Detroit (63 points), Montreal and Edmonton (both with 64 points) follow in the lower part of the overall standings — seven teams within seven points of each other, with a good number of games between themselves, too.
The Red Wings have two games with Montreal, and one each with Ottawa and Buffalo in the last two weeks of the regular season.
Now, the worst record doesn’t guarantee a team the first pick. But it does give that team the best chance of winning the draft lottery — and even as finishing or low as possible in the standings, obviously, increases the chances.
The NHL revamped its draft format for the 2016 Entry Draft, going away from awarding the top pick to the team with the worst record to a lottery format.
The team with the worst record can now pick no worse than fourth in the lottery format, which is exactly what happened to Colorado last year.
What makes this particular draft somewhat unique is the fact there’s one clear-cut, consensus best player in the litter — Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.
A 6-foot-2 183-pounder, who has dominated at both ends of the ice at the junior level — he also made the Swedish Olympic team but had limited playing time — Dahlin, in the opinion of many scouts, can step right into the NHL next season.
After Dahlin there are certainly players who project to be impactful, but just not as quickly or maybe to the extent, that Dahlin is expected to help.
The NHL doesn’t release its draft lottery odds until the end of March. The Red Wings ranked 27th Wednesday of the 31 first-round picks, which would have given them an 8.5 percent chance of selecting first.
Incidentally, it was the New Jersey Devils who were in that 27th position in the draft, with an 8.5 percent chance of selecting first last year — and sure enough, the Devils did win the lottery, and selected forward Nico Hischier (43 points) with the first selection.
The Red Wings actually dropped two spots in the 2017 lottery, picking 9th overall, where they selected Michael Rasmussen, who could make next season’s opening night roster.
While some fans would rather see the Red Wings lose, to get the best draft pick possible, the players themselves aren’t thinking that way.
Before leaving on the West Coast trip they’re presently on, players talked about the need to win, getting out of this losing streak, and having a winning focus.
“It’s a mindset right now,” defenseman Mike Green said. “This time of season, a big chunk of it is mental. We have to make sure we’re going into these games with the right mind frame.
“With that mentality, we’ll get our wins.”
The Red Wings open a rugged stretch of three games in four nights against teams (Los Angeles, Anaheim, Colorado) competing for the playoffs beginning tomorrow at Staples Center against the Kings.
“We have real good leadership in here and good young guys who want to get better and keep working,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “It’s great that we’re going to play against some teams that are in a mode where there’s a high level of urgency. They need to get points, we need to get points, so let’s make sure to go out there and make sure our urgency level is high and they’ll be highly competitive games against good teams.”
Red Wings at Kings
Faceoff: 10 p.m. Thursday, Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
Outlook: The Kings (38-26-6, 82 points) are clinging to the final automatic playoff spot in the Pacific Division..They’re coming off a shootout loss to Arizona, and are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games…C Anze Kopitar (48 assists, 76 points) is having an MVP-caliber year.