To Tank or Not to Tank

By Bob Trask – With apologies to William Shakespeare, the question that many Habs fans are asking is “to tank or not to tank”. It is easy to salivate over the skill set of Connor Bedard but the enthusiasm over the possibility of drafting him needs to be tempered with a little reality. There are two major drawbacks to adopting the tanking philosophy. The first is that even finishing in last place leaves the team with less than 20% odds of winning the lottery. The second is that even adding a generational player does not guarantee success.

First Overall Pick – Low Odds

At the moment the San Jose Sharks have the best odds of winning the first overall pick with an 18.5% chance as per Conversely that means they have a greater than 80% chance of NOT picking first overall. Does any NHL GM really want to adopt a strategy whereby the chances of that strategy not working out is 80%.

Yes, if you finish last you will get a top 3 pick but if your sites are set on Connor Bedard and you view him has generational player, then you are more likely than not to be disappointed with the results.

Generational Picks and Stanley Cup Wins

More than a few impatient fans could be disappointed if the immediate results after drafting a generational player do not result in a Stanley Cup. We can take a look at a few examples to illustrate how quickly adding a generational player results in a Stanley Cup:

  • Alex Ovechkin – Drafted in 2004, first Stanley Cup 2018, waiting period 14 years
  • Sidney Crosby – Drafted in 2005, first Stanley Cup 2008, waiting period 3 years
  • Nathan McKinnon – Drafted in 2013, first Stanley Cup 2022, waiting period 9 years
  • Connor McDavid – Drafted in 2015, no Stanley Cup, it has been 7 years and waiting
  • Auston Matthews – Drafted in 2016, no Stanley Cup, it has been 6 years and waiting

The point is that even adding a generational first overall pick in the draft provides no guarantee of immediate success. Yes, they are all exciting players and worth the ticket price but if you goal is to win the Stanley Cup in the near future, prepare to be disappointed.


The side effect of playing to lose is that a losing culture may develop within the organization. We have seen it time and again with teams struggling to regain that positive mindset after playing to lose. Buffalo and Ottawa are just beginning to climb out of the deep, dark hole they have dug for themselves.

Jeff Gorton, Martin St-Louis and Kent Hughes

The alternative is to build depth by spending the time and resources on drafting and developing talent. And while the depth building process is in progress, work on developing a positive, winning mindset. Drafting one exceptional player is not going to help if you have destroyed the confidence and ruined the development of the supporting cast.

The entire culture of the Montreal Canadiens has refreshingly changed since the hiring of Jeff Gorton. It is reflected in the patient, positive attitudes of Kent Hughes and Marty St-Louis. It is evident in the way the organization has restructured the off-ice personnel from media relations, to analytics to the scouting department and the coaching staff. The media is treated with more respect by the team and conversely, the organization is treated with more respect by the media.

All of these things add up to developing a winning a culture, a place where players want to play and are willing to play with extra effort when they are on the team. It is an approach that is far more likely to succeed than gutting your team in the off chance a generational player might fall into your lap.

If the team plays hard and remains positive but has a losing season that is one thing – and I would happily take the high draft pick that comes with it. But constantly undermining the young core of this team in the long shot pursuit of the first overall pick is a disastrous strategy.

For me, the answer to the question of whether to tank or not is crystal clear! It is, “do not make an overt attempt to lose games.” It is an approach based on negativity.

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7 thoughts on “To Tank or Not to Tank

  1. IMHO tanking is only a media concept. What really happens is that teams looking towards the future will trade assets that could be immediately helpful for future promise – hence poorer results in the present i.e. the look of “tanking”. And in that respect – shouldn’t the Habs trade players like Dadonov, Edmunson, Drouin, Hoffman, Byron? From what I gather – the general consensus is yes. Monahan is an interesting conundrum, but given his age and injury history – maybe not?

    1. Agreed Sam. Unfortunately, there is a number of Habs’ fans who strongly believe that the team MUST do everything to lose games to “ensure” getting Bedard. Bob did an outstanding job showing that there are no such guarantee. Would any of them bet their house on 80% odds of losing it? I certainly wouldn’t. Better to surround the young guys with quality veterans to help them develop properly. It will pay off in the long run.

      1. Absolutely. Young players usually need some protection and leadership to develop properly… although Suzuki may be the exception to that rule 🙂 Calculating odds is a funny thing in sports because in order for odds to be accurate, all other factors have to be equal which I don’t think is possible e.g. calculating the chance of a 1st rounder panning out also depends on the abilities of the scouting staff and the makeup of that draft class. That said – Bob is right. A quick look at all NHL 1st overalls show less Cup winners than one might expect. I still want Bedard tho lol

      2. Suzuki did have Danault ahead of him and he did start on the fourth line, on the wing, to the right of Nate Thompson if we recall. But much like the current young defensemen, he seizes his opportunity when it presented itself, when he was ready to step up.

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