Need For Tanking – Debunked!

By JD Lagrange – Sometimes, we as human being have a pre-conceived idea about something and we’re so sure that we don’t fact check because it’s too obvious in our mind. Further, sometimes what was true a while ago simple isn’t anymore, but we remain stuck with the concept that we’ve had in the past.

They are many who feel like the Montreal Canadiens absolutely must tank and get at least one more high pick in order to compete and become a Stanley Cup contender. Failing to do so this season, according to them, would be returning to mediocrity and they are cemented in that mindset.

So I’ve decided to do some research and see the trend for the past five years of Stanley Cup finalists. I looked at their own picks, which helps determine where they selected (as few get traded) and which ones actually went to the Stanley Cup finals, and how long it took them to do so. Without further ado, here are my findings.

2021-2022

Colorado defeats runner-up Tampa Bay

NAMEYEAROVERALLNAMEYEAROVERALL
Gabriel Landeskog2011#2Alexander Killorn2007#77
Nathan MacKinnon2013#1Steven Stamkos2008#1
Mikko Rantanen2015#10Victor Hedman2009#2
Cale Makar2017#4Nikita Kucherov2011#58
Martin Kaut2018#16Ondrej Palat2011#208
Bowen Byram2019#4Andrei Vasilevskiy2012#19
Alex Newhook2019#16Brayden Point2014#79
Anthony Cirelli2015#72
Mathieu Joseph2015#120
Boris Katchouk2016#44
Taylor Raddysh2016#58
Ross Colton2016#118
Cal Foote2017#14
4TOP-52

ANALYSIS: The Avalanche won the Stanley Cup. They “tanked” 11 years prior to winning the Cup, drafting Gabriel Landeskog at number two, then MacKinnon first overall the following year. The following season (2013-14), they won their division. They suffered a couple of hiccups a couple of years apart after that. Let’s touch on the Lightning below.

2020-2021

Tampa Bay defeats runner-up Montreal

NAMEYEAROVERALLNAMEYEAROVERALL
Alexander Killorn2007#77Carey Price2005#5
Steven Stamkos2008#1Brendan Gallagher2010#147
Victor Hedman2009#2Artturi Lehkonen2013#55
Nikita Kucherov2011#58Jake Evans2014#207
Ondrej Palat2011#208Jesperi Kotkaniemi2018#3
Andrei Vasilevskiy2012#19Alexander Romanov2018#38
Brayden Point2014#79Cole Caufield2019#15
Anthony Cirelli2015#72
Mathieu Joseph2015#120
Ross Colton2016#118
2TOP-52

ANALYSIS: They only had two top-5 picks and it took Stamkos 13 long years, and Hedman 12 before winning the Cup. They came nowhere close to a top-5 pick since then. The Canadiens selected Price at number five 16 years prior to reaching the finals for the first time since then.

2019-2020

Tampa Bay defeats runner-up Dallas

NAMEYEAROVERALLNAMEYEAROVERALL
Alexander Killorn2007#77Jamie Benn2007#129
Steven Stamkos2008#1John Klingberg2010#131
Victor Hedman2009#2Jamie Oleksiak2011#14
Nikita Kucherov2011#58Radek Faksa2012#13
Ondrej Palat2011#208Esa Lindell2012#74
Andrei Vasilevskiy2012#19Jason Dickinson2013#29
Cedric Paquette2012#101Denis Gurianov2015#12
Brayden Point2014#79Roope Hintz2015#49
Anthony Cirelli2015#72Miro Heiskanen2017#3
2TOP-51

ANALYSIS: Again, only Stamkos and Hedman were top-5 picks. For the Stars, they got one top-5 pick two years earlier, selecting Heiskanen at number three, and were in the finals.

2018-2019

St. Louis defeats runner-up Boston

NAMEYEAROVERALLNAMEYEAROVERALL
David Perron2007#26Patrice Bergeron2003#45
Alex Pietrangelo2008#4David Krejci2004#63
Jake Allen2008#34Brad Marchand2006#71
Jaden Schwartz2010#14Matt Grzelcyk2012#85
Vladimir Tarasenko2010#16David Pastrkak2014#25
Joel Edmundson2011#46Danton Heinen2014#116
Jordan Binnington2011#88Jake DeBrusk2015#14
Colton Parayko2012#86Brandon Carlo2015#37
Robby Fabbri2014#21Charlie McAvoy2016#14
Ivan Barbashev2014#33
Sammy Blais2014#176
Vince Dunn2015#56
Robert Thomas2017#20
1TOP-50

ANALYSIS: It took Pietrangelo, a fourth overall pick, 11 years after being drafted before winning his first Stanley Cup. That was the only time St. Louis picked in the top-5. The Bruins’ best overall pick was in the middle of the pack at number 14, twice.

2017-2018

Washington defeats runner-up Las Vegas

NAMEYEAROVERALLNAMEYEAROVERALL
Alex Ovechkin2004#1
Nicklas Backstrom2006#4
John Carlson2008#27
Braden Holtby2008#93
Dmitri Orlov2009#55
Evgeny Kuznetsov2010#26
Philipp Grubauer2010#112
Tom Wilson2012#16
Chandler Stephenson2012#77
Christian Djoos2012#195
Andre Burakovsky2013#23
Jakub Vrana2014#13
2TOP-50

ANALYSIS: It took 14 years to Ovechkin and 12 to Backstrom to reach the Stanley Cup finals. They never came close to a top-5 after them. I don’t think I need to explain Vegas, right?

Current Canadiens

Here is the draft selection on the current Canadiens, trades included:

NAMEYEAROVERALLTEAM
Evgenii Dadonov200771FLA
Jake Allen200834STL
David Savard200994CBJ
Chris Wideman2009100OTT
Mike Hoffman2009130OTT
Brendan Gallagher2010147MTL
Joel Armia201116BUF
Joel Edmundson201146STL
Mike Matheson201223FLA
Josh Anderson201295CBJ
Jonathan Drouin20133TBL
Sean Monahan20136CGY
Christian Dvorak201458ARI
Jake Evans2014207MTL
Sam Montembeault201577FLA
Michael Pezzetta2016160MTL
Nick Suzuki201713VEG
Johnathan Kovacevic201774WIN
Jesse Ylönen201835MTL
Jordan Harris201871MTL
Kirby Dach20193CHI
Cole Caufield201915MTL
Kaiden Guhle202016MTL
Justin Barron202025COL
Juraj Slafkovsky20221MTL
Arber XhekajN/AN/AN/A
TOP-5: 3

Conclusion

People in favour of tanking keep bringing up Tampa (which we’ve debunked here), Pittsburgh, Chicago as examples to try to support their claim that a team MUST tank for several years in order to win a Stanley Cup. The NHL is not the same as it was before. Teams can turn things around in a hurry today, unlike the past trends.

Of course, I won’t come here telling you that adding another top-5 pick would hurt the Canadiens. But there’s a fine balance between instating a winning culture and tanking. Further, the clear conclusion here is that those claiming that the Canadiens absolutely MUST tank and get another top-5 pick are clearly out of touch with the latest trend in the NHL. Even those selected in the top-5 take years before reaching their goals, as proven above.

Dahlin, Svechnikov, Kotkaniemi, Tkachuk, Hischier, Patrick, Pettersson, Matthews, Laine, Dubois, Puljujarvi, McDavid, Eichel, Strome, Marner, Ekblad, Reinhart, Draisaitl, Bennett, Barkov, Jones, Yakupov, Murray, Galchenyuk, Reinhart, Rielly, Nugent-Hopkins, Huberdeau, Larsson, Hall, Seguin, Johansen… they were all top-5 picks in recent years and never have they raised the Stanley Cup over their head as winners. 

So let’s stop with the narrative. It would be nice if the Canadiens get another high pick. But to claim that it’s a MUST is a smoke screen at best. If our beloved Habs don’t select in the top-5 this year, it’s not the end of the world folks. They are on the right track regardless of the “tank nation” is falsely claiming.

More reading…

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 tankathon.com. 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.

Culture

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.

More reading…