Tanking the Season?
Around this time of year, you hear the term “tanking the season” quite a bit.
What is tanking the season? It’s the theory that losing eventually begets winning through a plethora of high draft picks. The team that is ultimately pointed to for this theory is the Pittsburgh Penguins. With draft picks of Marc-Andre Fleury (1st Overall in ’03), Evgeni Malkin (2nd Overall in ’04), Sidney Crosby (1st Overall in ’05) and Jordan Staal (2nd Overall in ’06), the team has built a winner through the draft. Great in theory; however, the team struggled through four losing seasons to get to this point.
This path will make you good for a few years; but once you have to pay all of these players, it makes it much more difficult to ice a winning team. Just look at the top-heavy Ottawa Senators. With a considerable amount of coin locked up in Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson (approximately $19M this season and $20M next), the Sens have about 36% of their cap room allocated to three players and that’s if the cap stays where it is right now. To stay with our example team, in Pittsburgh, they currently have their core of Crosby, Malkin, Staal and Fleury locked up for a total cap hit of approximately $26.65M until the ’12/’13 season at the earliest, not to mention another additional $3.75M for Brooks Orpik. That’s a total of $30.4M on five players. If the cap stays where it is, the Pens would have approximately 54% of their cap hit allocated to five players. A number that I would not be happy with if I were a Pens fan, especially with the impending drop in the cap ceiling.
Conversely, take a look at the Detroit Red Wings. 9 seasons with 100+ points. They have not missed the playoffs since the ’89-’90 season and have won four Stanley Cups since this 17 season stretch began. The Red Wings currently have fifteen players that have dressed for them this season that were drafted by the organization. Of these fifteen, only one (Niklas Kronwall) was drafted in the first round.
So…How have the Red Wings achieved this sort of dominance? Shrewd late round draft picks (Datsyuk, Zetterberg etc.) combined with shrewd free agent signings (Stuart, Hossa). In fact, the Red Wings are proof that you do not need to lose to be good. They are proof that, in fact, a winning tradition and solid management from the top down are a better strategy than “tanking it.”
Why? The reason is simple. For a free agent player, or any player for that matter, are you going to give your all for a team that packed it in and stopped trying just a few months earlier? Are you going to want to come play for a team that just packs it in when the going gets tough? Are your young players going to benefit from just coasting through games, playing for an early first round draft pick?
For teams on the outside with no hopes of making the playoffs, there is much to play for still. There is pride. These late season games are some of the most important for young players, because a late season winning streak can be the difference between a positive off season and an off season spent dwelling on what could have been.
As a fan, I never want to see my team pack it in or tank the season or whatever you want to call it. I want to see my team fight to the bitter end. There is nothing that brings a team closer together than adversity and winning in the midst of adversity. This is what I want from my team. Not a team that just gives up so that they can get a good draft pick.
And if there’s a single NHL player out there thinking that way, he’s got no place on the roster of this fan’s team.