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There comes a point for any losing hockey team when the fan base stops looking up the standings at what it will take to make the playoffs.

And starts looking down.

These are the sort of dark thoughts percolating in Toronto these days.

As has been well documented, the Maple Leafs can't buy a win. Or even a goal. After getting only six of a possible 32 points out of their last 16 games, they have fallen from the NHL's top 10 into the bottom 10 in five weeks.

In a year when not one but two generational talents are available in the draft, that invites questions.

Questions like "Can the Toronto Maple Leafs really enter the Connor McDavid sweepstakes in a serious fashion?"

The answer is yes.

The NHL changed its draft lottery system recently. In the past, non-playoff teams could only move up four spots, meaning only the worst five finishers had a chance at the first overall pick.

Now, any team that misses the postseason does – and their odds have been improved from last season.

Where that puts the Leafs in the race for top prospect McDavid – or American wunderkind Jack Eichel – is a moving target as they continue to lose games.

Entering Tuesday night's action, Toronto sat in 21st in the NHL, which would equate to the 10th best position in the lottery at season's end. The Leafs, however, are also on pace for only 82 points, which put them into a tie with Minnesota and Ottawa, who they face Wednesday.

Columbus and Philadelphia aren't far behind either.

If the tailspin continues another week or two, the Leafs could have the sixth or seventh worst record in the league with another 30-some games to "improve" their standing.

As has been the case since the lottery was introduced, the worst teams have the best chance of picking at the top. Finish dead last and there's a 20-per-cent shot you'll get the No. 1 pick and 80-per-cent one you'll be No. 2.

If you're 29th, those odds are much worse at 13.5 per cent for No. 1 and 20 per cent for No. 2.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Leafs had only a 3.5-per-cent chance of winning the lottery and getting McDavid, but that can still theoretically increase into the 10-per-cent range.

Odds of a top five pick in the NHL's draft lottery


Two things are working against the Leafs getting higher than that, even in a worst-case scenario.

No. 1, the bad teams this season are really, really bad. Buffalo and Edmonton are on pace for 54 and 55 points respectively, two of the three worst seasons in the last decade.

They are overwhelming favourites to finish in the bottom two.

The 28th and 27th place teams aren’t a lot better. Carolina and Arizona are on pace for 66 and 67 points, which would be two of the very worst finishes at those spots in recent memory.

You have to be really bad this year to get into the top four and improve your odds.

No. 2, the Leafs have a big lead on those teams, and there’s only 40 per cent of the season left. In order to finish with 65 points and be the third worst team, for example, they would potentially have to go something like 9-26-0 the rest of the way.

Combined with their recent losses, that would mean they won only 12 of their final 51 games, one of the worst stretches in league history.

Whatever your thoughts on the Leafs and their talent level, they’re not that bad. Their goal scoring problems appear temporary – based on all the underlying numbers like shooting percentage and scoring chances – and there’s no indication a huge scale selloff is coming from the front office before the trade deadline.

The Leafs most realistic hope in terms of McDavid will be to finish a little under 80 points and for teams like the Flyers and Devils to pick up their pace the rest of the way. That could put Toronto 26th come mid-April, which would mean an 8.5-per-cent chance at the first pick and 55-per-cent chance at the fifth pick.

It’s a long shot at McDavid, but one worth keeping in mind the rest of the way.

The NHL's ugly bottom 10

RankTeamOn pace Avg pace*Diff
26New Jersey7378-4.9