We see it every year. There is always one fan-base screaming TANK… TANK…TANK…
All NHL programs have had their weak moments. Times when fans question management and coaches; times when players request trades or refuse to renew contracts; times when teams literally couldn’t buy a win if they wanted to. So what is the response to these moments? General managers have one of two decisions to make: Get to work and fix the problem now, or sit back and warm your hands over the dumpster fire that will continue.
Serious problems within organizations don’t simply go way. Sure every team faces a slump every now and again, but I’m talking about real, legitimate issues. Maybe it’s a coach that doesn’t fit, a lack of roster depth, or internal conflicts among players. These are the types of concerns that management must deal with if they expect to be contenders, or just have a winning season for that matter.
So what is the solution? In order to answer that, take a look at how the Edmonton Oilers and the New York Rangers attempted to right their ship. Both methods can be classified as tanking, but there is definitely a right way to do it.
So tanking… It should never be the goal to lose a hockey game, plain and simple. Even if a team is in the toilet, they should respect the sport of hockey enough to go out and give their best effort. Even from a management perspective, don’t think that they are trying to lose games intentionally. It is more so the fact that by making the decision to do nothing, they are prolonging their problems, which leads to tank mode. The best example of this is the historically bad run of the Edmonton Oilers.
Most people may not realize this, but from 2009-’10 to ’15-’16, this organization did not have a winning season. Yes, their drought really was that long. Seven season’s worth of pain and agony for their fan-base, which unfortunately has picked right back up this year. First-overall pick after first-overall pick and they could not do anything right.
Their “saviors” include Taylor Hall (gone, New Jersey Devils), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov (gone, Colorado Avalanche), and Connor McDavid. Two of those four were completely useless for them and really only McDavid plays like a true first-overall draft pick. Their method of tanking was so extreme because they solely depended on lottery draft picks to revive their club. In the 2012-’13 season, they didn’t make a single trade to receive additional draft picks in return. The last time they traded for a first-rounder? The ’14-’15 season when they shipped David Perron to the Penguins. During the 15-16 season, the Oilers made two terrible deals for poor the situation that they were in. They sent three draft picks (2nd, 3rd, and 5th) to the Rangers for Cam Talbot. Granted, he’s had a couple good seasons for them, but he’s now 30 years old and his GAA has crept over 3.00 this season. The worst deal though? They sent a first-round and second-round pick to the Islanders for… *Drum Roll*… Griffin Reinhart. That 16th-overall pick turned into rookie sensation Mathew Barzal, who is currently leading the Calder Trophy race. If I haven’t caused Edmonton fans enough pain, Reinhart isn’t even on their roster anymore.
Big deals involving big names need to happen. Key players need to go when the time is right and when their stock is at its highest. You obviously want to keep the guys with franchise tags, but others need to be put on the trading block. It may hurt in the short-run, but you can quickly build a pile of prospects and picks to assure that the future is bright. Growing pains are something that all organizations will inevitably go through, but sitting around and waiting for your first-overall pick to come should never be the answer.
The New York Rangers are not the type of organization to watch problems and twiddle their thumbs. Although typically a playoff team, this season they found themselves in an interesting situation. They have had a roller coaster of a year, with moments of promise, but during the second half of the season, they have been in a state of decline. An aging goaltender and a lack of scoring has them searching for answers. Their management decided it was time for a rebuild and I believe they are in the process of doing it the right way.
They could have chosen to simply tank and pick up a lottery draft pick, but instead, management went into fire sale mode. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that a team currently sitting seventh from the bottom of the NHL couldn’t creep down into a lottery pick, but why wait to make necessary changes? Over the course of the year, the Rangers have completed nine trades. They have racked up a total of seven draft picks, including three first-round selections (Arizona – 2017, Boston – 2018, and Tampa Bay – 2018). Their recent transactions show they may be pulling out of the playoff race for this season, but plan to reload for the immediate future.
Some people are scratching their heads as to why Jeff Gorton decided to give up both Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh at the trade deadline. Mixing in Michael Grabner and J.T. Miller, those are some heavy names to throw around in trade deals, especially considering McDonagh was taking care of captain duties for the Rangers. The casual fan must realize that these types of deals are necessary and, honestly, if it all pans out for them, the Rangers will have won their deadline deals. The goal for the Bruins and the Lightning is to win a Stanley Cup. Anything short of this, they just gave up coveted draft picks for players that may or may not help them in the future. Particularly, if Nash, a soon-to-be free agent, leaves Boston, the Rangers will have received three players and two draft picks for a guy that was likely to walk on them.
The New York Rangers took a chance, a shot in the dark you may call it. They did give away quality players, but their “tank” will be nothing close to the miserable years the Edmonton Oilers experienced. If their scouting and recruiting staff can pick the right guys, they could be a contender once again in two or three years. With some space in their salary cap, they could pick up another player or two in free agency that will help turn things around. Even just next season, with the additions of prospects like Ryan Lindgren, Libor Hajek, and Yegor Rykov, they could see big improvements.
This is the moral of the story and the lesson that fans must learn. If rosters get blown up the right way, things do work themselves out in the end. By keeping players around to “stay competitive,” you’re left with a mediocre team that has no shot at winning the Stanley Cup. When it comes to this business, that should be the only goal. Playing for a playoff spot or to finish above 0.500 isn’t going to help an organization in the long run. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but with that in mind, management must do whatever it takes to have a chance at a championship, even if that opportunity is down the road.