Does the NHL reward tanking too much?

Dec 19 2017, 11:08 am

With one week until the NHL’s annual trade deadline, the topic of “tanking” is once again at the forefront for fans of struggling NHL franchises.

In Calgary, the feeling among many fans is that the Flames do what they can to sink as low as possible in the standings. They have problems in goal, but why fix it now? With the playoffs a bit of a pipe-dream and the Flames sitting in 6th-last spot in the league, why not tank?


The Toronto Maple Leafs, currently tied for last place in the NHL have been celebrated recently. Not only have they successfully lost a lot of games this year, which was clearly the plan, but they have offloaded some useful NHL players in exchange for mostly future assets.

Toronto traded Dion Phaneuf in a multi-player on February 9th to make their team worse. Yesterday, they traded Shawn Matthias away for a prospect and a 4th round pick. Today, they dealt Roman Polak to the Sharks as part of a deal that saw two 2nd round picks go to Leafland.

Tanking was never more prevalent than last season, where multiple teams (Buffalo, Arizona, Edmonton) were making a mockery of the system in their efforts to secure Connor McDavid.

And how can you blame them? In a salary cap world, if you’re not a playoff team, then tanking is usually the way to go. Cup winners are usually built through the draft and getting the best pick possible increases your odds of finding franchise players.

Sure, the Oilers are doing all they can to debunk this theory, but that’s got more to do with the total incompetence of management in the last ten years. They are still much better off choosing #1 than #8.

All across Canada this year, there are diehard fans that are actually cheering against their own team. That can’t be good for business.

This begs the question: should the NHL reward teams as much as they do for tanking?

The draft lottery was brought in to fix part of that, and it has to some extent. This year the top-three spots will be decided through a weighted lottery, up from just the top pick in years previous.

Still, a look at the current state of the standings versus the draft odds is an indication that tanking can be very lucrative.

Here are the current odds of obtaining the number one pick:

The Oilers and Leafs are tied in points at the moment, but Edmonton’s odds of getting the first pick is 6.5% higher than Toronto. Shouldn’t it be closer to 1 or 2 percent?

Expanding the number of picks awarded by this weighted lottery is a good start, but the NHL could and should do more. Why stop at top-three? I would like to see the top-14 spots up for grabs.

The NHL should strive for a system that encourages teams to win, while subtly rewarding bad teams in the interest of fairness. Tanking shouldn’t be a precursor for teams to win a Stanley Cup.

If NHL teams are going to continue actively trying to tank, it is going to punish the bad teams that are actually trying to improve. Really, aren’t those are the teams that should be helped the most?


DH Calgary StaffDH Calgary Staff

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