The season is over. Next up for Leafs, Jets, Flames and Oilers fans is the draft lottery. There’s been a lot of griping over the last month of the season about how the way the NHL draft is set up encourages teams to “tank” that is, to purposely try to lose games. I am not sure that tanking is actually a thing, however. In this blog, I will look at whether teams are really tanking, and if so, how to fix it so there are more meaningful games down the stretch. Follow me over le jump.
Are teams really tanking? This simple chart seems to say, no, not really. The chart below takes season-long point percentage, and from that determines the expected number of points a team would get in the final 20 games of the season. I took teams that had a points percentage of below .500. I’m not sure what number below expected should be considered the threshold for tanking, but it doesn’t really matter much. Check this out:
Columbus, the team who finished last by far, actually did better than season average in the final quarter. Edmonton was better by 2 points and Montreal and the NY Islanders finished just as expected. So clearly none of these teams, in the thick of the lottery, actually tanked.
Toronto, Anaheim and Minnesota did finish worse than their season averages. Anaheim only by 2 points, or one win, so it’s hard to call that a tank. Considering how much Toronto and Minnesota plummeted in the standings, perhaps their early season success inflated their overall point percentage, and the 2 to 2.5 games they lost over expected average can be accounted for there. It’s true these teams were on the cusp of being in the running for 1st overall, so they had more incentive to tank, but I am not sure this counts as tanking. Anyway, Leafs fans, you can at least be satisfied that your team did better than any other in the ignominious contest known as #greatesttankbattles.
Either way, I come to two conclusions. First, there is no tanking. Second, of course there is no tanking, have you ever met a professional athlete? Sure, management can do things like use call-ups; coaches can over-load certain 3rd and 4th line players with more ice-time than they would normally get; injuries that would not mean missed time during the thick of the regular season (or in the playoffs for that matter) result in the player sitting out for a game or two. But there does not seem to be any effect to these decsions.
Given this conclusion, what do we need to do to fix things? Well, nothing really. There is no tanking. There is another question entirely, however, of whether it makes sense to reward bad teams with high draft picks. I actually have some ideas about how to fix that issue, but I’ll save it for another post. It’s not like there’s a rush. Gotta save some content for the off-season.