Skip to main content

Canada's Connor McDavid celebrates his goal against Denmark during second period quarter-final action at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Toronto on Friday January 2, 2015.The Canadian Press

A veteran of six playoff runs and a Stanley Cup winner, Vincent Lecavalier doesn't buy the tanking philosophy.

"I don't think it comes to mind in this business, in this game," the Philadelphia Flyers forward said. "You don't try to lose games. I don't think anybody's trying to do that, any GM's trying to do that, any organization's trying to do that."

One thing's for sure: Flyers general manager Ron Hextall isn't trying to do that. It may be a lost season in Philadelphia, but getting into the derby for projected No. 1 pick Connor McDavid or No. 2 Jack Eichel isn't in the organization's plans.

"We're not going that direction," Hextall said on the weekend in Buffalo. "You can't sit and say, 'Okay, we'll not win any games and we'll get McDavid or Eichel.' It's not the way it works. ... You don't dictate necessarily where you finish because you owe it to your fans, you owe it to hockey, to try to win every game."

Hextall talked about the organizational "credibility" and that the Flyers don't stand for bottoming out. They've finished with the fewest points in the NHL only once in the past 19 seasons and made the playoffs 17 other times.

Through Sunday's games, the Flyers found themselves 11 points out of the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

"It is a lot, but it's been done before," all-star Jakub Voracek said Saturday when the deficit was 13 points. "We've just got to find that consistency and be patient with it."

Consistency has been hard to find this season, the first in a long time without No. 1 defenceman Kimmo Timonen, whose career may be over because of blood clots. Voracek leads the league in scoring and linemate Claude Giroux is fifth, but injuries to goaltender Steve Mason and others have stunted the team's progress.

But as the Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers lead the race for the top pick in June's draft, the Flyers also aren't bad enough to give themselves a good chance at landing McDavid. If they remain the seventh-worst team, they'd have a 6.5 per cent chance of drafting first.

If the standings hold as they are, the Sabres would have a 20 per cent chance, the Oilers 13.5, the Carolina Hurricanes 11.5, Arizona Coyotes 9.5, New Jersey Devils 8.5 and Columbus Blue Jackets 7.5.

"I think it's a better system," Hextall said. "I don't think teams should be directly paid for ineptness. If we finish last, should we have the first pick in the draft? No, I don't think we should. I think we should have a chance at it.

"If Carolina or Buffalo or (Arizona) or any other team ... that's towards the bottom right now finishes last, they shouldn't have a direct line to the first pick."

The NHL adjusted the odds this season to make it less of a direct line. In previous seasons the team with the fewest points had a 25 per cent chance of picking first, though the 2006-07 Flyers lost that lottery — and Patrick Kane — to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Beginning next season, the first three spots will be up for grabs in the lottery. But for now, whoever is last knows it will wind up with either McDavid or Eichel.

That's an intriguing idea for the teams at the very bottom of the standings like the Sabres, Oilers, Hurricanes and Coyotes. If nothing else, it's a silver lining for a lot of losing.

Buffalo goes into the all-star break having lost 11 in a row in regulation, a franchise record. Sunday night the Sabres blew a 3-0 lead at the Detroit Red Wings to lose 6-4.

"There are going to be certain nights when world-class athletes are going to out-skill us and we believe that's what happened tonight," coach Ted Nolan told reporters at Joe Louis Arena.

The Sabres have little in the way of world-class talent, and that's by design. They weren't supposed to contend this year and the hope was to land a franchise-changing player with a top draft pick.

That's the direction the Coyotes seem to be heading, too, after trading their best (but backup) goaltender this season, Devan Dubnyk, to the Minnesota Wild. Arizona will likely ride it out with Mike Smith and his .887 save percentage after calling up Mike Lee from the ECHL to fill Dubnyk's spot.

"Our problem is we haven't played the game, the players that we've assembled, we expected to get out of them," president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc said during a recent radio appearance.

LeBlanc cautioned that the Coyotes weren't going to make any knee-jerk decisions, even after Andrew Barroway purchased 51 per cent of the team. Steady as she goes still means Arizona is in the hunt for McDavid.

The same goes for the Hurricanes, who visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night with a 5-2-1 record in 2015. Carolina has a rookie GM in Ron Francis and a rookie coach in Bill Peters and some winning will do more to build the confidence of young players than it will hurt the long-term future.

"I think it's a healthier lineup than we had," captain Eric Staal said. "You never want to use that as an excuse, but we had a tough time getting healthy at the beginning of the year. You get in a hole, you go on a tough West trip, it's tough to get going. Now we're feeling confident in our roles and where everybody fits in our lineup and we're starting to see some better play."

The Flyers, given their recent track record, entered the season with higher expectations than the Hurricanes, who are headed toward their sixth straight year out of the playoffs. Each team, though, could be selling at the March 2 trade deadline.

"We have to be cognizant of the future," Hextall said. "We're not going to give up a draft pick to make us a playoff team. If we can't do it with the guys we've got, we're not mortgaging our future to try and sneak into the playoffs."

And not mortgaging the credibility of the present for McDavid.