Tank Schmank!

Greatest Tank Battles

The season is over. Next up for Leafs, Jets, Flames and Oilers fans is the draft lottery. There’s been a lot of griping over the last month of the season about how the way the NHL draft is set up encourages teams to “tank” that is, to purposely try to lose games. I am not sure that tanking is actually a thing, however. In this blog, I will look at whether teams are really tanking, and if so, how to fix it so there are more meaningful games down the stretch. Follow me over le jump.

Are teams really tanking? This simple chart seems to say, no, not really. The chart below takes season-long point percentage, and from that determines the expected number of points a team would get in the final 20 games of the season. I took teams that had a points percentage of below .500. I’m not sure what number below expected should be considered the threshold for tanking, but it doesn’t really matter much. Check this out:

 tank or no tank?

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Columbus, the team who finished last by far, actually did better than season average in the final quarter. Edmonton was better by 2 points and Montreal and the NY Islanders finished just as expected. So clearly none of these teams, in the thick of the lottery, actually tanked.

Toronto, Anaheim and Minnesota did finish worse than their season averages. Anaheim only by 2 points, or one win, so it’s hard to call that a tank. Considering how much Toronto and Minnesota plummeted in the standings, perhaps their early season success inflated their overall point percentage, and the 2 to 2.5 games they lost over expected average can be accounted for there. It’s true these teams were on the cusp of being in the running for 1st overall, so they had more incentive to tank, but I am not sure this counts as tanking. Anyway, Leafs fans, you can at least be satisfied that your team did better than any other in the ignominious contest known as #greatesttankbattles.

Either way, I come to two conclusions. First, there is no tanking. Second, of course there is no tanking, have you ever met a professional athlete? Sure, management can do things like use call-ups; coaches can over-load certain 3rd and 4th line players with more ice-time than they would normally get; injuries that would not mean missed time during the thick of the regular season (or in the playoffs for that matter) result in the player sitting out for a game or two. But there does not seem to be any effect to these decsions.

Given this conclusion, what do we need to do to fix things? Well, nothing really. There is no tanking. There is another question entirely, however, of whether it makes sense to reward bad teams with high draft picks. I actually have some ideas about how to fix that issue, but I’ll save it for another post. It’s not like there’s a rush. Gotta save some content for the off-season.

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  • Time Travelling Sean

    A season long tank? :S

    Isn’t that awful for Minnie though, they were absolutely dreadful for such a long time then they won 5 straight at the end of the season to take them out of the top 5 lol, just awful.

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    I still believe the teams in the draft lottery should be teams 17-21.
    I hate rewarding failure.

    Excluding Columbus, there were 16 points separating 17 from 29.
    As much as I don’t like the Flames, their reward for continually icing a better team than the Oilers is perpetual mediocrity. They are in a spot they cannot escape from.

    The way the system is now, any team from about 20 downwards is better served by losing than trying to win. It sucks when I have to cheer for Montreal to win, so I can also cheer for the Oilers. Otherwise, Oiler wins down the stretch were actually losses.

    The whole system stinks.

  • Reality Check to the head

    There was an article that suggested that once teams were eliminated from the playoffs then their record from that point should dictate their draft position. THis would be based on their winning percentage. Each team that didn’t make the playoffs would be compared and the one with the best record would be given the first pick.

    I think this would eliminate tanking. It was an interesting article.

    • Matty Franchise Jr

      But the article and data above indicate that tanking doesn’t occur.

      Crappy teams get higher picks to try and improve their team so that they aren’t so crappy in the future.

      Crappiness, particularly extended periods of crappiness, are bad for business, fans, and the league.


      Top picks to bad teams isn’t rewarding failure, it’s an attempt to correct the failure.

      • stevezie

        If the League’s mandate is to “correct failure” then it must also “correct success.” Although this DOES seem to be in effect. (See: Black Hawks, Chicago)

        The responsibility to ice a competitive, winning team rests with team’s management, not the League. (See: Red Wings, Detroit)

        The League should only be providing an environment that gives each team an equal opportunity to succeed. Not to guarantee success. The League should NOT be attempting to correct management failures. Under any circumstances. This is not how business should run.

        The desired end result to your thinking is a League of Grey. Each team wins 41 games, and each team loses 41 games. I have never been so bored of the NHL as I have the last 4 or 5 years. Anaheim looks like Buffalo looks like Tampa Bay looks like Winnipeg looks like San Jose . . .
        Grey, grey, grey, grey, grey and grey. They’ve even changed the home/away uniforms so that every team coming into Edmonton is wearing their whites. Every team, every game is grey!

        There is no longer any excitement going to see a “powerhouse” team, because the League and NHLPA has seen to it that there are no “powerhouse” teams.

        • Matty Franchise Jr

          Once a team starts to suck, it is very difficult to unsuck. If a team sucks for long enough, they fail financially. That is not good for that team, or your team, or the NHL as a whole. Therefore the NHL attempts to fairly distribute future talent so that bad teams can eventually become good teams. It’s called Parity.

          Also, see Rex’s comment immediately above yours.

  • bumblebpete

    Its a tricky situation trying to determine who drafts first. While the NHL will never want to ‘reward’ teams for losing if the first pick isn’t given to the worst team how do the bottom 5 ever become better?

    With the new CBA money is becoming less of a factor in UFA negotiations. There seems to be more of a common ground on where a player will end up, salary wise. Hence UFAs are signing in places they feel they will win more often that in the past.

    If a team is unable to draft high or sign free agents how would they ever leave the basement?

    I honestly don’t know what the answer is other than that not matter what kind of a format the NHL uses there is going to be inequality.

  • stevezie

    I look forward to your next article arguing against the current lottery system. I would like to see more movement, more chance. Still bad teams getting higher picks in general. but there is no reason we should be able to look back at 30th, 30th an 29th and describe it as any kind of a success.

  • RexLibris

    “Top picks to bad teams isn’t rewarding failure, it’s an attempt to correct the failure.”

    I agree with this. The draft ranking is a method to give teams the ability to improve their standing, and in many locations, preserve their financial stability. It isn’t a complete handout by the league, though, as it takes a lot more than a lottery pick or two to create a winning team. And there are some few teams that have created winning rosters without having to be bad enough to earn their own lottery pick (Of course, if Brian Burke wants to give them one, well, who would say no to that).

    I think, like the artcle says, tanking is largely a myth perpetuated by fans and reinforced by just enough anecdotal evidence to give the theory credence (Ottawa in the 90s – pre-lottery, Chicago in the last game of ’04, etc). I can’t see a coach or a player, the ones who actually have a tangible impact on the game deliberately throwing any number of games for anything other than a financial incentive. Certainly not for a draft position that could, in the end, threaten the sustainability of their own career.

    With regards to the Flames and the lottery and their being stuck in perpetual mediocrity, how is giving them a lottery pick (top five) any less of a reward for poor management than giving it to a team whose management group has made the long-term decisions to rebuild the core of a franchise? These picks can’t be handed out on executive merit, there is no objective way to measure that in this league, and so it must be based on performance.

    Were a team to be in the top five draft positions for five years in a row then perhaps a rule could be instated that dictates that they automatically fall back one draft position for a year while the 6th place team moves up to take that 5th spot. However, were that team to trade that pick based on that probability, ought the team receiving the pick be penalized should the same result occur? It would open up an entirely new chapter of “exceptions to the draft” in the rule book.

    For those fans of teams who aren’t in the so-called lottery pick area (bottom five) I can understand the frustration with missing the playoffs by a dozen or so points and feeling as though the entire season was a futile effort. However, one cannot project that disappointment and frustration onto the teams that are legitimately bad and have no choice but to acquire talent through the draft.

    The argument that the draft lottery rewards poor management and allows unfit GMs to retain their positions in spite of poor performance is also a non-starter. As Flames fans love to point out, the list of failed rebuilding attempts is long, so the lottery isn’t a get-out-of-jail free card for executives either.

    I won’t say that the lottery system is perfect, but I would much rather have the system in place for the NHL today than any of the amateur talent procurement systems in the NFL, MLB, or EPL.

  • Matty Franchise Jr


    “Parity” sounds so nice, so fair, so feelgood.

    But is it really a good thing for sports? I know a lot of people who have really cooled down on the NHL over the last few years because the excitement is just not there. I gave up my seasons tickets after 10+ years.
    I would argue that having powerhouses/underdogs (good guys/bad guys) makes things a whole lot more interesting.

    What does Tiger Woods do for golf viewership? (Latest performance excepted!)
    How about the New York Yankees?
    Mike Tyson at his peak?
    Eight CFL cities hated the Eskimos for decades. But sold out every time they came to town.

    If you take Woods & the Yankees out of the game and mandate parity is the sport better off or worse off?

    Back before the lockout, when the Oilers played Dallas, or the Rangers, or Detroit there was a buzz for days. Now, not so much. Good discussion.

    • Matty Franchise Jr

      So you gave up Oilers season tickets because you weren’t excited by the NHL games they were participating in. Is that a fair assessment of the situation you described? That and no playoff rivalries to add to the titilation?

      Perhaps if they didn’t suck so much you would have been able to get excited about them. Of course, now that they’ve had a few lotto picks they might not suck quite so bad in the coming seasons, so…

  • Matty Franchise Jr

    If there is a solution to tanking, perhaps one consideration is firing the GM after three consecutive lottery positions. Three strikes and you are out! Fired. Management, after all, determines the success and failure of NHL teams in the cap world. Unfortunately for the league and fans, player agents eat the breakfast, lunch and supper of some GMs. Take Edmonton for instance. Get these dunces out of the game.