Points won and lost will eventually turn to NHL draft lottery percentages, and one lucky team will win the chance to select the 18-year-old phenom. McDavid has seen the simulator that mimics next month's lottery but hasn't run it himself and doesn't wonder too much about where he'll go.
"If you're doing that, then you're going to get kind of caught up in everything," the Erie Otters star said after a recent practice. "You have no control over it, and so why worry about it. There's nothing you can do."
McDavid can only rack up the points and wait. With less than a month left in the regular season, there's an established hierarchy of teams most likely to get the No. 1 pick.
Chief among them are the Buffalo Sabres, last in the league with 47 points. Ravaged by injuries and trades, they're on goalies three and five of the season and using Johan Larsson as the No. 1 centre.
That's not an excuse coach Ted Nolan accepts.
"One of the coaches that I've studied from is Fred Shero and he wrote a quote: 'You have to learn to win with what you've got,'" Nolan said recently in Toronto. "It doesn't matter what kind of players I have. I'm going to be the best I can and try to win some games."
Forward Cody Hodgson said it's "not a fluke" that the Sabres have beaten some of the NHL's best teams. Buffalo has just 12 victories in regulation or overtime, but two came against Montreal and San Jose and one each against Vancouver and defending Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles.
"If we play well, we can do well in this league," Hodgson said. "I know as a group of guys here we're committed to winning and doing what it takes to help each other out. ... We're working for each other."
The Sabres strategically timed their rebuild to bottom out this season and take advantage of some of the best talent available at the top of a draft in a decade. If Buffalo finishes last, it has a 20 per cent chance of getting McDavid but a 100 per cent chance of getting either him or Boston University centre Jack Eichel.
The Toronto Maple Leafs didn't set out to be this bad, but if they remain where they're at — fourth from the bottom behind the Sabres, Arizona Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers — they'll have 9.5 per cent chance of winning the lottery. So-called "tanking" is all the rage among the fan base but not intentional organizationally.
"We've talked to (general manager) Dave Nonis and his staff, and our mandate is to win as many games as we can," assistant coach Steve Spott said on a conference call last week. "They demand we play our best 20 (players) every night."
In spite of that, the Leafs are 2-7-1 in their past 10 games and have pieced together a blue-line to finish the season with Roman Polak (hernia) and Stephane Robidas (shoulder) shut down after surgeries. Beyond this spring, as president Brendan Shanahan put it in a letter to season-ticket holders, building this team back up "will require patience and a long-term view."
The Coyotes, 1-8-1 in their past 10 to fall below the Oilers in the standings, share that view. With 50 points, they're in striking distance of the Sabres and will have a good chance of landing McDavid or Eichel.
"The one benefit of having such a miserable season is that there's a pretty big reward being a bad team this year coming in the draft and we know that," GM Don Maloney said at the trade deadline. "There are a couple of those players at the top of the draft I believe will be playing in the NHL next year."
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