After last nights' win against the Arizona Coyotes one thing is clear: Arizona and Chicago are better teams than Columbus this season. Before the season started it was a runaway in terms of whom everyone thought would finish as the worst two teams in the NHL. No one had Columbus, everyone said it was the Coyotes and Blackhawks.
As of February 11th the Blue Jackets have 34 points in 52 games. The Hawks have 37 in 50, while the Coyotes have 41 in 52 (Ducks have 40 in 53). Those are 4 awful records, but none of which are as shocking as the Jackets season long malaise.
After signing the prized free agent on the market, getting a haul for Seth Jones, and bringing up all their star prospects (Sillinger, Johnson, Marchenko, Chinakhov, and Foudy) in recent years you'd think they'd be ready to be a contender? They have a solid core of "in their prime" veterans too like Gaudreau, Laine, Roslovic, and Werenski too.
So what happened here? Why aren't the Coyotes and Blackhawks battling it out for last and Columbius seems to pulling away? Two key things happened early on: elite defenseman Zach Werenski went down November 10th and they didn't have a safety net of defenseman to replace him. Secondly Cole Sillinger took a major step back in his sophmore campaign. He was a surprise 18 year old rookie to make the team (orginally the Hawks pick by the way) and had a tremendous year with 16 goals and 31 points. This season however he has looked more like a rookie just trying to find his place.
Without that progression the team has suffered to fill in his space. Longtime Blue Jacket Oliver Bjorkstrand was traded to Seattle to make room for Gaudreau with the thought that his points could be filled easily by the talent coming up... It didn't go to plan.
So will the Blackhawks' finish last and guarantee themselves a top 3 pick? It seems unlikely at this point given Columbus (lost 4 in a row, while the Hawks have won 3 out of 4 points last 2 games) has games in hand and zero motivation to get better.
Chicago will likely trade a few pieces in the next 20 days, however keep in mind that it's likely so will Columbus, Arizona, Anaheim, and San Jose. It's a race afterall, a race to the bottom.