Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Anti-Tank Sportsfare

        Tanking is still the topic du jour in the hockey world? Not the remarkable season the Calgary Flames have been having, not the LA Kings being in true danger of missing the playoffs, not the Hart candidacy of Devan Dubnyk, tanking? Again? Now, the discussion is how to eliminate blatant tanking from occurring ever again. The answer is complicated yet simple at the same time: to stop tanking the concept of an entry draft has to be eliminated. And good luck with that. 

      There are many different ideas of how to "fix" the lottery to prevent tanking. Sean McIndoe, better known as Down Goes Brown, gives several ideas that are worth considering. But, all of them in the end will be futile. No matter how the lottery is weighted to prevent tanking, whether the lottery is scrapped entirely, or whether the lottery is handed over to a wheel that decides the 30 year order of number 1 overall picks, the root of tanking is the concept of the entry draft altogether, and unless that goes, the possibility of tanking stays. 

     However fascinating the idea of "the Wheel" might be, it certainly would remove tanking from the equation, but equally gone is parity, and the American sports league loves it some parity. It's so random... too random in fact, and could lead a Stanley Cup Champion to get Connor McDavid when the next year the basement dweller gets Alexander Daigle part deux. Or maybe another great team gets Patrik Stefan part deux, but the leagues dregs would still not get a legitimate chance to improve. The bad teams may well stay bad and the good teams could easily load up and stay that way even with a salary cap, with only luck pushing the pendulum back and forth. And kiss parity goodbye too. 

Side Note: If there is ever a wheel to decide the next 30 years of the draft, I'd like Pat Sajak to host and when the 30th pick is spun the 'Bankrupt' slide whistle to play. Vanna, can we pick 4th in 2018?

    The "Gold Plan", which would weight the draft order based on how many points you earn after you are officially eliminated from the playoffs, is an intriguing idea in its own right, but as McIndoe points out, "Gold's idea wouldn't eliminate tanking, but rather shift it earlier in the season." Sure it would make games like the recent Coyotes/Sabres "tussles" interesting, but that plan too would incentivize bad teams at the beginning of the year to be as bad as possible and then try to win when it wouldn't matter (for the playoffs that is). The more opportunities to get points post elimination, the better off you'd be. It still wouldn't fix the problem of tanking, it would just slide it to October instead of March. The Sabres would still be as terrible as they have been this season. 

   No matter how many "groundbreaking" presentations the internet infatuates itself with every time the tanking discussion is brought up, there is only way to eliminate the practice for good: Eliminate the draft. Most sports leagues around the world don't have a draft, in fact in the EU it's illegal. Imagine the scramble for the would be draft-eligible players on the day they become free agents, it would be a sight to behold. The NHL could still impose entry-level contracts on these players to mitigate the amount of money teams could throw at them, but then again, if you were Connor McDavid in this situation this season, would you go to Buffalo? Arizona? Edmonton? Probably not. Even with monetary limits, the rich would get richer, and that flies in the face of parity: what every American sports league strives for. 

   Anything that diminishes parity would never make it pass the concept stage at a Board of Governors meeting, and small market teams have every reason to be completely against the idea of the draft going away. The NHL had to be dragged by their fingernails to making slight lottery tweaks, so World War III might break out if someone even thinks about eliminating the draft. If sports teams don't make money (and they don't), then why get in to tread water knowing your team never has a chance to get the big fish in the pond that could alter your franchise's history for good? 

   But the main issue with tanking isn't the draft, or incentivizing losing. It's Connor McDavid. McDavid and Jack Eichel are franchise altering players that come around once in a generation. Nobody was talking about tanking for Taylor Hall, or Nail Yakupov, or even any of the celebrated 2003 draft class. No one will talk about tanking (unless its in jest) for Auston Matthews next season, or whoever is the gleaming star in 2020 (unless he's Connor McDavid light). Very few times does anyone know whether a player is a surefire superstar, and this is one of them. Next year? 

   Tanking is a problem that comes and goes when the almost certain superstars come and go. No matter what anyone wants to do the draft, tanking will not go away unless the draft goes away, and there's a better chance of it snowing in hell tomorrow than that ever crossing the mind of Gary Bettman, or Adam Silver, or anyone else. 

   Whether Joe Fan wants parity or the reincarnation of the Canadiens dynasty of the 50's, it doesn't matter. The leagues want parity, and as long as they do, the possibility of tanking to get the next superstar stays. Whether there are options or not is besides the point. To eliminate tanking the fundamental essence of American sports culture would have to change.

   To those who loathe European super soccer clubs for splashing oil bucks like sugar high kids on the Nickelodeon Super-Toy Run because they can and making league play almost irrelevant: The draft is here to prevent that. 

   Unless you want the rich to get richer, let the bad teams decide their own fate if they want to stay bad in order to get a chance at the next Sidney Crosby. It's their problem, not the league's. 

No comments:

Post a Comment