Why tanking still matters and what the Canucks need to do to finish last

Mar 13 2018, 10:11 pm

It’s a weird time to be a Vancouver Canucks fan.

With the team realistically out of playoff contention for many weeks, there hasn’t been a lot to look forward to. Now that the trade deadline has passed and Brock Boeser likely out for the season, everyone has their eyes on a now-annual tradition around these parts.

The draft lottery.

This year’s draft prize is Rasmus Dahlin, a 17-year-old Swedish defenceman with Norris Trophy potential. He’s precisely what the Canucks need in their organization, and would give the franchise the type of blueliner they have never had since entering the league in 1970.

With 12 games left, the name of the game is sinking to the bottom of the standings. The Canucks, to their credit, have done a terrific job of it the last few months (years?).

The Canucks have been the worst team in the NHL since November 1st. They’re 2-6-2 in their last 10 games.

If you’re a member of Team Tank, you certainly got your wish on Tuesday night, as the stars aligned for the Arizona Coyotes, Ottawa Senators, and Montreal Canadiens to all win on the same night.

The Canucks are now just three points from last place, which would give them the best chance to draft Dahlin.

The odds

The NHL hasn’t made this year’s lottery odds public yet, so we’ll have to take an educated guess in this regard.

They will be different from last year, in which the expansion Vegas Golden Knights were given the same odds as the third-last placed team. But they shouldn’t be too different from the previous year.

Tankathon.com estimates that the odds of picking first overall for the worst team (31st overall) will be 18% this season. The maximum number of spots you can move down is three, so finishing 31st guarantees a top-four finish.

Lost in all the tanking hoopla is the reality of the above odds. The most likely position the 31st team will pick is fourth (51.9%), which is exactly what happened to the Colorado Avalanche last year.

No matter where you finish, the odds are stacked against you.

Canucks luck

If you’re a Canucks fan, you already know what I’m going to say.

If Vancouver didn’t have bad luck, they’d never have any luck at all.

Tanking still matters

The fallacy that many people make is concluding that tanking doesn’t work. While finishing last doesn’t guarantee a top-three pick, there are still benefits beyond increasing your odds in the lottery.

While a team like Philadelphia moved all the way from 13th to second overall last year, you can’t bank on luck. No team can plan on winning the lottery, but that’s not the only thing that matters. It’s better to pick fourth than fifth, sixth, or seventh.

The Canucks finished second-last a year ago, which guaranteed no worse than fifth pick. They wound up with Elias Pettersson because of it.

The other benefit of tanking is getting a higher pick in rounds 2-7, as the draft lottery only affects the first round.

How many losses do they need?

The analytics website SportsClubStats.com estimates that if the Canucks go 0-12-0, they’ll have close to a 100% chance at finishing 31st overall. That’s not surprising.

If they go 1-10-1, their odds are reduced to 93%, while a 3-8-1 record puts them at 46%. Should they go 3-5-4, they’d only have a 9% chance at last place.

So the Canucks will need to be bad.


The Canucks have 12 games left, with most of the teams surrounding them holding a game in hand.

Half of their final games are at home, though that likely won’t matter because their home and away records are nearly identical. The Canucks have just one back-to-back game scheduled, coming against Chicago and St Louis next week.

  • Mar 14 @ Anaheim
  • Mar 17 vs San Jose
  • Mar 20 @ Vegas
  • Mar 22 @ Chicago
  • Mar 23 @ St Louis
  • Mar 25 @ Dallas
  • Mar 27 vs Anaheim
  • Mar 29 vs Edmonton
  • Mar 31 vs Columbus
  • Apr 3 vs Vegas
  • Apr 5 vs Arizona
  • Apr 7 @ Edmonton

The Canucks have a reasonably difficult schedule ahead of them, with just four games against teams that are virtually guaranteed to miss the playoffs.

Crunch time

With three and a half weeks to go in the season, it’s crunch time. Here’s how the worst of the worst stack up:

Buffalo Sabres (56 points, 13 games left)

  • The NHL’s worst team, the Sabres are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games.
  • With 11 games to go, they’ve got a relatively easy schedule with six games against teams that will definitely miss the playoffs.

Arizona Coyotes (57 points, 13 games left)

  • After starting the season 2-15-3, the Coyotes have miraculously dug themselves out of last place.
  • Arizona has played pretty well in the last month, going 11-3-2, so they’re trending upwards.

Vancouver Canucks (59 points, 12 games left)

  • The Canucks are 4-12-3 in their last 19 games and haven’t scored a single goal in their last two games.
  • They were brutal in March and April the last two seasons, and this year looks to be going the same way.

Ottawa Senators (61 points, 13 games left)

  • The Sens stink, but they’ve actually been half decent since the trade deadline, going 4-2-1, including wins over top teams like Vegas and Tampa Bay.
  • Ottawa is a wild card. With so much disappointment and controversy surrounding the team, it’ll be interesting to see how they handle the final stretch of games mentally.

Detroit Red Wings (63 points, 13 games left)

  • The Red Wings are four points ahead of Vancouver, but they’re falling fast. They’ve lost seven in a row and have a reasonably tough schedule ahead of them.

Montreal Canadiens (64 points, 12 games left)

  • Five points clear of the Canucks, the Habs are in tough to finish dead-last, but they do have a tough schedule ahead of them with games against Pittsburgh (x2), Toronto (x2), Washington, and Winnipeg.

Edmonton Oilers (64 points, 13 games left)

  • We all know the Oilers will win the draft lottery (it’s science), so maybe I should stop right there. Tied with Montreal in points, they’re 7-5-0 in their last 12, and don’t look like a team ready to tank.
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