There are no NHL teams that tank.
That’s what commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday while holding an impromptu media availability ahead of the Canadiens and Bruins game he was attending at the Bell Center in Montreal.
“No one tanks because we have a weighted lottery,” Bettman said when asked if teams were actively trying to lose games to increase their chances of landing a franchise switch talent in Connor Bedard in this year’s draft. “You’re not going to lose games to increase your odds by a few percentage points. That’s silly. And frankly, in my opinion, suggesting tanking is not compatible with the professionalism of our players and our coaches. Nobody fills up. Our players and our coaches do their best to win.
And again, just because you might end up with the worst record in the league, you have about a 75 percent chance of not getting first pick.
If you look at the teams at the bottom of the table, there’s a handful that really tried to get better during the offseason, but it didn’t work out. The Ottawa Senators switched to Alex DeBrincat and signed Claude Giroux, the Vancouver Canucks added Andrei Kuzmenko and Ilya Mikheyev and re-signed JT Miller, the Anaheim Ducks signed Ryan Strome and John Klingberg, and the Columbus Blue Jackets made a splash with Johnny Gaudreau.
The two teams that could definitely be argued to have stabbed the season to try and win the golden ticket with Bedard are the Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes, who sit 31st and 29th in the league standings.
The Coyotes blew it all up in the summer of 2021, trading away Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland while taking on every bad contract in the league to hoard picks. In the summer of 2022 they haven’t done anything to improve their squad, but neither have they ditched young players who actually make the team better, like Jakob Chychrun and Clayton Keller, so it’s more of a rebuild.
The Hawks are probably the most egregious example of team tanking. They traded two young forwards in DeBrincat and Kirby Dach for draft picks in the offseason, replacing them with one-year contract guys like Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou who could be flipped for more picks at the close of trade. They also traded for Petr Mrazek, who recorded a saving rate of 0.888 in 2021-22, which smacks of a team trying to lose games.
I don’t think fueling is that big of an issue in the league right now. More teams try to win than lose, but I don’t think Bettman is right either nobody fill up, because the last place in the league does not guarantee a top pick. If you’re bad, you might as well be really bad for that 25 percent chance of getting Bedard. Even if you miss, second or third overall isn’t bad either.
Speaking of bad teams…