This season for the Vancouver Canucks has been filled with ups, downs, injuries, and cold streaks. This results in a plethora of debate and scrutiny on what the Canucks should do going forward. Quite simply it’s broken into two separate thought processes: ‘Team Tank’ and ‘Team Playoffs’.
Team Tank is the idea of selling off your moveable assets, while subtly losing as many games as possible with hopes of acquiring the highest draft pick possible. The ideology of Team Playoffs is that no matter what, you should try to win as many games possible, regardless of the draft implications.
Both sides have their advantages, and both have flaws.
The oft-criticized thought process of tanking to get the best possible draft position has some major validity on its side. Many teams, like the Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, and Pittsburgh Penguins, had multiple years of high draft picks which has resulted in sustained success.
Led by players like Jonathan Toews, Drew Doughty, Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin, these aforementioned teams have turned a few rough years into continued success built around superstars selected early in the draft. At the same time, these teams purged themselves of their veterans, acquiring as many draft picks and young players as possible. The combination of acquiring as many assets as possible and selecting early in the draft was a recipe of success for them.
However there is another side to this coin and look no further than the Edmonton Oilers, a team with multiple 1st overall picks but are still stuck in the basement.
So it isn’t as cut and dry as trade all veterans, draft early, and win cup. It requires a management team to be able to make swift decisions.
This year’s draft is headlined by American Auston Matthews and Finns Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine. All three would do wonders for the Canucks organization. That type of impact is not likely to come from players available later in the draft.
The other mindset is that as a team you should try to make the playoffs, regardless of the impact to your draft position. The reasoning behind this is that there is no experience like making the NHL playoffs and that is irreplaceable in a young player’s development.
That is a fair argument, and you don’t need to look far to see those benefits. Bo Horvat had a fantastic second half last year and appeared to take the next step in the first round against Calgary. Although not the NHL, Sven Baertschi and Jacob Markstrom played huge roles in the Utica Comets run to the Calder Cup Finals last spring. All three have looked great this year and look to be building blocks for the Canucks going forward.
However, like Team Tank, there are some flaws in the mindset. By making the playoffs, the earliest pick that you can have is 15th overall. Thus, all that scraping and clawing to make the playoffs would significantly impact the quality of player that would be available for the Canucks to select. As we can see from watching the Canucks this season, they lack a young game-breaker, and those are not typically available in the second half of the first round.
There is also the temptation to make trades to improve the lineup with eyes on a playoff spot. At this point, the Canucks are not in a position to do so. They need to continue to hoard assets and ensure to draft and develop their young players.
Are they the same?
Team Tank and Team Playoffs are polarizing viewpoints that often clash due to the difference in how people think this team can get better. What each side has in common: they both want to see the Canucks succeed.
Although people aren’t lining up to buy tickets anymore, hockey fans in Vancouver care about the local team considerably and want to see this team get back to a level of a success that we can all get behind.
The next couple of months with determine whether that is led by players with some recent playoff success, or led by a player like Auston Matthews. Given the play of the Canucks recently, it’s looking more likely that the Canucks will select early in the first round, rather than handing out playoff towels.