Growing up in the Buffalo area exposes one to every opinion on tanking for the best draft odds. The local media shares contrasting views as the Sabres were in last place, for two consecutive years. As Buffalo is close to last in the NHL again, the debate is ongoing.
The 2015 race for 30th achieved the desired result: a franchise center. Before you comment; yes, Jack Eichel is a franchise center despite the suckfest that is the Buffalo Sabres. Lacking significant improvement since then, certain media claims that tanking leads to a losing culture. Just look at Twitter and notice the heated discussions about the topic. But is there more to losing that simply losing on purpose for top prospects?
Tanking vs. Losing Culture
Jeremy White of WGR 550 published an article about what the “tank” in Buffalo did not do. White lists many team decisions, including hiring and firing Dan Byslma, extending Ryan O’Reilly, trading Mark Pysyk, trade a first for Robin Lehner, etc. The tank achieved the desired result (Eichel) but did not force the Sabres’ decisions afterward.
Tim Murray had not ruined an already good team, as White cited, and there was no point in striving for 26th. Top teams have top talent, which comes when you have a top-two pick. The aftermath is what prevented them from earning more than 81 points the next two seasons.
Truthfully, the Sabres lose because Murray had not acquired the proper personnel and depleted the prospect pool. The Edmonton Oilers are bad because they trade players like Taylor Hall away for low returns. Being in the mix for Connor McDavid has nothing to do with that. The Ottawa Senators suck because they have few impact centers and a franchise defenseman without half an ankle. Do not forget that the Senators were in the Conference Finals the year before.
Were the Pittsburgh Penguins hurt because they decided to be much worse than mediocre in the Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin draft run? Did Chicago Blackhawks’ management push to be better than 5th in the Central Division in 2007? And did their runs for high picks lead them to being in last place in their division? No, they are separate phenomena. Chicago loses because they trade Artemi Panarin, extends Brent Seabrook, and trade Nick Leddy.
Turning the Page
Once key pieces are acquired through a year or two of crap hockey, it is time to move on. Fans of tanking teams endure the awfulness, often by wanting the opponent to win. In the end, most realize that a run to 25th is not in their team’s best interest. Unfortunately, the NHL thought tanking was killing the league so they changed the lottery but it is still better to stay in 31st if already there.
If you are an NHL General Manager and just tanked for a top pick, you are on the clock. Tim Murray proved that doing dumb things, or nothing, will do more than end your career with a franchise. Peter Chiarelli will face this end if he does not stop signing Milan Lucic for his size and trading for Adam Larsson‘s 8 points. If you have the same people around you that yield the same poor results, then it is time for new staff members. A robot can draft with the first pick.
Getting to the top pick takes work. Without franchise players, it is damn near impossible to compete for a Stanley Cup. Unless amateur scouting is outstanding, it is tougher to find them outside the top three. Does a team have a losing culture because they decide it was better to have the best odds in the draft? Or should they focus on building properly around their cornerstone players? Once a bad trade, draft pick, or signing is done, good luck hitting reset. In repetition, failures will cause the losing culture.
Is there a connection between losing cultures and tanking? Comment below or follow me on twitter and let me know what you think!