Why Tanking in Sports Needs to Stop
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Why Tanking in Sports Needs to Stop

I shouldn't be happy my team is in last place.

Why Tanking in Sports Needs to Stop

I shouldn’t be happy that my team just clinched last place. But I am. Seeing a little Maple Leaf at the bottom of the NHL standings means one thing - that Toronto finally has a 20 percent chance at the #1 overall pick, nearly unanimously agreed to be Auston Matthews, who’s drawing comparisons to legendary players like Joe Sakic, which is all well and good. But, something still doesn't sit right with me.

The notion of ‘tanking’ isn't a foreign concept for any sports fan. Frequently, whole seasons are devoted to amassing the highest draft pick possible for a chance to select a franchise player. This is where we get campaigns like #SuckForLuck (Indianapolis Colts, 2012), and #TrustTheProcess (Philadelphia 76er’s, 2013-??). But watching teams field weakened teams does not for good competition make.

Why do teams tank, then? Generally, because weak teams have been handicapped by circumstance. A team that doesn’t win, especially a small market team that doesn't win, is in a poor position to sign marquee free agents (the obvious exception being Cleveland and LeBron James, but that situation is an entirely different kettle of fish). Without the ability to attract a big name in free agency, a team’s best shot at exciting fans and recruiting new talent is by drafting a star young player. However, drafting talent is no guarantee of success - and history has shown that the higher a team can draft, the better.

For example, TSN calculates that the average rating (out of ten) for a player drafted first overall in the NHL is 7.9, and that that player has a nearly guaranteed chance of playing in 100 games. By the third pick, the average rating has declined to 6.9. At pick # 6, the average rating is only 5.24, and the likelihood that that prospect plays in 100 games is down to 81 percent. Drafts of these extremely young players are often crapshoots - that’s why so many relatively high draft picks are described as ‘projects’ - they might pan out, but often they don’t.

The solution to tanking, in my mind, has already been discovered. Shane Doan, a veteran with over 20 years of NHL experience, has proposed that NHL teams who are eliminated from the playoffs begin accumulating points after they are mathematically eliminated. The team that accumulates the most points after being eliminated would then be awarded the first overall pick. As of April 5th, 2016, the team that would win the first pick under this proposed system would be the Buffalo Sabres, with 5 games played and 7 points won. In second place, the Toronto Maple Leafs, with eight games games played and six points won.

This would (hopefully) mitigate situations like what’s actually happened in the NHL - in four of the last six drafts, the Edmonton Oilers have held the first overall pick. They have drafted Taylor Hall (2010), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011), Nail Yakupov (2012), and Connor McDavid (2015). Logically, if TSN is to be believed, the Oilers should be phenomenal right now. Granted, McDavid did have his collarbone broken this year, but with so many #1 overall picks, the Oilers should not be continuously picking first overall.

The crux of the problem is this: after a team is mathematically eliminated, they can become entirely unwatchable, as has been the case for my Toronto Maple Leafs this year. This season can be best summed up by one statistic: 47 players (as of April 12) are on the roster of the Toronto Marlies, the minor league affiliate of the Leafs. NHL roster sizes are capped at 23 players. The best young talents the Leafs have, including William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, and Connor Carrick, are playing in the AHL, because calling them up to the NHL means more wins, and less likelihood of picking #1. I hope that we go to Doan’s system, because watching meaningless hockey kind of sucks.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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