by PuckStopsHere on 03/22/09 at 05:26 AM ET
As the NHL regular season draws to a close, some teams find themselves outside the playoff picture. There are a few malcontents around these teams who suggest that their team should now try to lose as much as possible to increase their chances at a top draft pick: While it is true that a top draft pick might improve the team’s chances in the future - especially given the potential of John Tavares who should be the first pick in the draft - this is a stupid idea for the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs are eight points up from last pace with ten games left in the season. If they followed Dater’s advice and tanked, most likely they would wind up with a worse record and no first overall pick. The most likely long-term result is a hit to the Avalanche public relations.
Tanking is not an easy thing to do. If anyone is doing it this season, it would be the New York Islanders. The Islanders do not have a very good team. They knew that coming into the season. They knew they didn’t have the veteran stars to compete and they didn’t have the deepest group of prospects either. I picked them to finish last in the conference at the beginning of the season and wasn’t alone in that prediction.
The Islanders played the season and found they were a poor team - to the surprise of no one. Management makes no effort to go out and find new players to improve the team this season. Is that tanking? Possibly not. Why throw away assets to make a clearly lost season marginally better?
As the trade deadline approaches the Islanders traded Mike Comrie and Chris Campoli to the Ottawa Senators. The only roster player coming back is Dean McAmmond. Is this tanking? Possibly not. The prize in the trade is San Jose’s first round draft pick that the Islanders are getting back.
The trade deadline comes and the major Islanders move is to trade captain Bill Guerin to Pittsburgh for a conditional draft pick that could be as poor as a fifth round pick and as high as a third rounder. It isn’t much of a return for a useful veteran player. Is that tanking? Possibly not. It’s not as though the Islanders had a fire sale getting rid of all their veteran talent.
If a team wants to tank, they want to get as much of their AHL lineup into the NHL. The Islanders are doing that. James Mirtle reports their roster from the March 15th 4—2 win against Chicago was the following:
Joshua Bailey - Blake Comeau - Mike Iggulden
Andy Hilbert - Tim Jackman - Nate Thompson
Frans Nielsen - Kyle Okposo - Jeff Tambellini
Dean McAmmond - Richard Park - Joel Rechlicz
Bruno Gervais - Mark Streit
Radek Martinek - Brendan Witt
Jack Hillen - Thomas Pock
Is icing a line—up like that tanking? Possibly not. The Islanders are the NHL’s most injured team so it is probably a necessity. If there is any quibble with that statement, it’s that injuries are optional to a degree. A player can chose to have surgery now or wait until the end of the season to do it. On a contender they may wait until the end of the season. On the Islanders they might as well do it now. At any rate, the Islanders currently have nine players on TSN’s injury list. Andy Sutton, Mike Sillinger, Freddy Meyer, Rick DiPietro, Doug Weight, Trent Hunter, Kurtis McLean, Sean Bergenheim and Joey MacDonald are all injured.
The Islanders have their largely AHL roster in place. So it is time to tank right? Not quite. They have a bunch of players who are hungry to win NHL jobs. They know this may be their only chance to do so. They have a rookie coach in Scott Gordon who knows that if he fails in this Islanders job he may never get back into the NHL again. The Islanders are motivated to play well—if not overly talented. The Islanders have won five of their last ten. If they could have done that all season, they would be a bad team but not a last place team. They have a hungry group of young players battling for NHL careers. It is hard to tank with a team like that.
Once in a while when you turn the team over to your AHL players, you find people who belong in the NHL. The Islanders seem to have done that in goal. With DiPietro and MacDonald injured, the Islanders have relied upon goalie Yann Danis. Danis was a former Montreal Canadien prospect who showed some talent, but got lost in the shuffle behind Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak. The Islanders signed him as a free agent. Danis is probably on his last chance to get an NHL job. If he fails now, it will never happen. He has played very well. He sports a .921 saves percentage this season. He is giving it everything he has to have an NHL career. That makes it awfully hard to tank.
Tanking isn’t an easy thing to do. Even if management decides to be as bad as possible to try for the top picks in the draft, the players and coaching staff will have other agendas. If they play badly (which is necessary to tank) it could adversely affect (and even end) their NHL careers, Turning a team over to young AHL talent is hardly a recipe to be an NHL contender, but it is a recipe to have a young motivated team. A motivated team will get some wins and that is not the goal for a tanking team.
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