It’s taboo in the NHL to willingly tank a season for a higher draft pick. Fans and pundits find it unsportsmanlike to do so. It’s a question just about every year for bottom-dwelling teams that are in the mix for a lottery pick. One that could nab a potential future franchise player.
As the NHL season progresses, there are always going to be fans in every city who will go out of their way to shell out cash to watch a team fold against a better opponent. And ultimately, lose out on the hope of a postseason.
For the teams who don’t stand a chance at playoff success, I don’t see why tanking is such a big deal. It behooves the worst teams to perform poorly to acquire a higher draft pick. This isn’t to say that every player selected in the top-10, top-five, or top-three became a stud at their position. However, the chances they reach their potential is far greater than anyone selected in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft. Drafts are held specifically for the bad teams in the league to get a chance to turn the franchise around.
Take the Pittsburgh Penguins, for example. Pittsburgh missed the playoffs every year from 2001-02 to 2005-06. During that time they were able to draft Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Jordan Staal. All were key pieces to their eventual resurgence in their Stanley Cup victories in 2009 and 2016.
The Chicago Blackhawks are another example, selecting Jonathon Toews in the 2006 draft and Patrick Kane in 2007. They were also able to nab Brandon Saad in the second round of the 2011 draft. And ultimately, help themselves secure three Stanley Cups since 2010.
The newest club that seems to be on the upswing is the Edmonton Oilers. Having missed the playoffs the last 10 seasons has allowed Edmonton to hoard tons of promising young talent. Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Darnell Nurse, Leon Draisaitl, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Connor McDavid have all factored into the turnaround of the Oilers. The team currently sits second in the Pacific division and, barring an epic collapse, look poised to make it to the postseason.
Granted, fans may turn to the Toronto Maple Leafs as an example of how tanking might not always work. While I agree tanking doesn’t work every time and you need a competent set of general managers and higher-ups to steer a team in the right direction, make no mistake that the Leafs are on the mend. They have flooded their prospect pool with top tier prospects like Matthews, Nylander, Marner—among others. It’s taken some time for the Leafs to be somewhat relevant. Be that as it may, the Leafs certainly show promise and excitement after so many years of dismal performances.
All thanks to the NHL draft.
Although some will say it’s in poor taste to lose on purpose or put out a lineup on the ice that has no chance of winning, tanking is always the best option for the lowly teams who need their fortunes changed. While I don’t think any team actually tanks on purpose or players half-ass their game to rack up the losses, if you aren’t going to make the playoffs, you may as well get the next best thing—a high draft pick.