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Photo Credit: Vancouver Canucks/Twitter

What We Talk About When We Talk About Tanking

In hockey, as in life, it’s exceedingly rare to receive a gift from a stranger. But, in what may be the only case of true generosity from a billionaire in recent memory, that’s exactly what Francesco Aquilini gave me during Wednesday night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes:

That’s right folks, we’re talking about tanking.

It’s a topic I’ve been meaning to broach for a while now, and with the trade deadline looming, he couldn’t have possibly picked a better time to Make Tanking Relevant Again.

There are basically two types of people who are opposed to tanking. The first group consists of people like Frankie. Their argument against tanking is essentially a moral one: it’s wrong to ask athletes or anyone adjacent to them to lose on purpose, and that’s that. The second group consists of people who oppose tanking for slightly more practical reasons, voicing concerns about the difficulties returning from the abyss that is the bottom of the NHL standings or failing to insulate youth with a supporting cast of sturdy, reliable veterans; and citing examples of teams that failed to properly execute a proper tear-it-all down rebuild.

With all due respect, I’m going to basically ignore the first group because they’re likely to be unpersuadable and, to be frank, rarely make their arguments in good faith. No one who wants to be taken seriously is asking athletes to throw games. This isn’t the Black Sox scandal. It’s a disagreement in management tactics.

No, my interest is in Group 2, and in explaining why their outlook on roster construction is, to but it gently, flawed.

But before I get to that, I think it’s important to get to the heart of what we’re actually talking about when we talk about tanking. Team tank generally takes a big tent approach to recruiting new members. Anyone who wants the team sell off assets and focus on the future is welcome; but there’s a myriad of opinions on what putting that into practice would look like.

There’s a tendency among people who oppose tanking to assume those that support it want the Canucks to the crudest possible approach, strip everything down to the foundation, ship out everyone over the age of 25, and essentially ice a team designed to lose. While I’m sure there are many folks on team tank who would advocate going that route, the truth is it’s not particularly realistic. In the past 30 years, there are really only two examples of teams whose front offices constructed a roster explicitly designed to lose: the 1983-84 Penguins and the 2014-15 Sabres. In both cases, the return on the investment of a historically terrible season was a generational player in the most literal sense of the term.

The vast majority of rebuilding teams take a more nuanced approach. Even the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are generally considered the prime example of how to execute a strip-it-all-down rebuild, retained Tyler Bozak and James Van Riemsdyk through the entirety of their rebuild before the numbers game forced them off the roster this summer.

In most instances, what team tank is really advocating for is a change in the organization’s philosophy.  They aren’t by any means required to trade Alex Edler, and his NTC and the current state of the team’s defence are going to give the team more than enough reasons not to; but they do need to trade someone,because their inexplicable loyalty to a bad roster has yet to pay dividends and you can only use the injury excuse so many times, especially after the team lays an egg at the end of a long home stand with a completely healthy roster.

The Canucks don’t have to trade every veteran on the roster right this second, but if moving Alex Edler is off the table, then getting a the best possible return for Chris Tanev and/or Erik Gudbranson needs to be atop the to-do list, as does moving on from Brandon Sutter and Loui Eriksson after July 1st when their contracts become more easily tradable. In return, they should be looking for draft picks, not projects in their early-to-mid twenties who they hope can make the jump next fall.

They can sign free agents, but should be looking in the bargain bin and only throw significant money and term at players who can be a significant piece of the team’s future. (Some would argue this is the approach they’ve taken, but a look their payroll suggests otherwise.)

And if the Canucks do all this and still manage to make the playoffs? No one on team tank is going to complain.

With that out of the way, I’d like to turn everyone’s attention back to the good-faith anti-tankers of Group 2.

One of the biggest arguments against tanking is that it fosters a losing culture. I hate to break it to you, folks; but the Canucks already have a losing culture. They haven’t made the playoffs in three seasons, and from the start of the 2015-16 season to the end of the 2017-18 season, no team had a worse record. If the rationale behind holding on to depreciating assets was to build a winning culture, it hasn’t worked.

It’s not the only place it hasn’t worked, either. If we use the Oilers as an example for a moment, we can see that whatever the problem was, it had nothing to do with an absence of veterans. The guidance of Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Smyth, Andrew Ference, or Milan Lucic was not enough to steer the ship away from the rocks. That’s a group of culture carriers if I ever saw one. Those players are to culture what the Edmonton media is to water. Even if you believe that the problem in Edmonton was purely “cultural” (and it never is) that means that most generous possible interpretation of the situation in Edmonton would be that the Oilers did their best to surround their young core with veteran pieces, and the young players weren’t having it. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that the Canucks don’t have that problem. The real “culture carriers” are not the veterans anymore. A thousand Loui Erikssons do not equal the leadership of one Bo Horvat, regardless of who’s spent more time in the league.

Now, you might say that the fact that the team is currently a stone’s throw away from a playoff spot makes any discussion of moving out veterans irrelevant. Conventional wisdom dictates that you can’t trade a big piece if your team is in a playoff spot because it sends the wrong message, but recent history shows us this isn’t true. Getting value in return for a piece that won’t be part of the future and making the playoffs don’t have to be mutually exclusive. The New York Rangers traded Marion Gaborik in 2013 in a deal that brought Derick Brassard, John Moore, and Derek Dorsett in return and still made the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Calgary Flames traded Curtis Glencross for a second and a third round pick in 2015 and still made the playoffs, even defeating the hometown Vancouver Canucks in the first round. Glencross would be out of the league less than a year later. The Saint Louis Blues traded Kevin Shattenkirk in 2017 for a return that included a first-round pick. Once again, the team in question won their matchup and advanced to the second round. In all of these cases, somehow, against all odds, a group of professionals were not so crushed by their team making a business decision that they stopped trying.

Do you know what does send a bad message to your players? When the highest-paid forward on the team has 20 points at the time of the all-star break and is frequently the first guy off the ice at every practice; or when your third-highest-paid forward has 5 points in 21 games and plays 17 minutes a night, or when your recently extended four-million-dollar defenseman has been quite literally the worst in the league at helping his team outscore the opposition, and not one of these players has sat out for a game in favour of a younger player.

With veterans like these, who needs entitled rookies?

It’s been clear to anyone who’s watched the Canucks face off against the best teams the league has to offer that they don’t have the horses yet to be a contender in the near future. Quinn Hughes is definitely going to help, and Olli Juolevi probably has an NHL future if he can swiftly recover from his injury woes, but after that they have limited help coming. I like Jonathan Dahlen, Kole Lind, Jett Woo, and Jalen Chatfield as much as anybody else, but the rest of the Canucks’ prospect pool doesn’t real stand out from the rest of the league. The only way to change that is to make some trades and hope you hit a couple of dingers at the draft table.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

“But what about the Oilers?”

“Oilers” is second only to “Venezuela” in the list of words I am tired of hearing in poorly-formed arguments, but here we are. The only way out is through.

The theory about why the Oilers can’t ever seem to get it together goes something like this: if you’re bad for too long, your core begins to accept losing, and your team develops a toxic culture that’s impossible to escape.

What I’m here to offer is a better, alternate theory: what if the Oilers just suck at everything, including tanking?

Think about it. What have the Oilers done well over the past decade? They can’t even fire their general manager before he commits 3 years and 13.5 million dollars to a 30-year-old goalie with a career .905 save percentage. You really expect them to execute a tank properly?

  • Killer Marmot

    I’m okay with talking about the merits of tanking or not tanking. I’m also okay with talking about whether the Eriksson or Gudbranson contracts were sound ones. Mixing the two together into this hodgepodge serves little purpose. I recommend McDonald pick ONE topic to discuss, and doesn’t allow himself to get sidetracked by mostly irrelevant side issues. What you don’t say is as important as what you do.

  • LACANUCK

    Off to the old social justice tinged commentary hey Jack.
    First of all envy is very unappealing. The Gates Foundation has given away tens of millions of dollars to charity or I guess you have never heard of a children’s hospital in Utah built by a billionaire named Huntsman. Takes in kids with cancer and their families for no charge.
    I certainly am tired of hearing the word “socialism” in poorly formed arguments. Again politics of envy are tiresome petty and childish. Teacher it’s not fair he has more than I stick.
    Stick to hockey, something you seem to have a half an idea about or it’s time for this reader to go to another Canucks site

      • LACANUCK

        You come here for social opinions or hockey.

        I am done Truth.. good luck C.A employing writers that cross the line of their job. As a business owner, I NEVER let my opinions cross into my business. Before I started my own business, I taught writing in LAUSD.
        1st! Know who you are writing for, because if you are writing for yourself. Dear diary!
        2nd- never let one personal opinion leak across, because that’s not my job.
        Too bad because I througt this site was about a new generation of bloggers that put fancy stats vs eye test…
        Guess I was wrong or when you get in the third gen of employees the “mission” doesn’t matter anymore.
        Again too bad. Good luck Jackson, you seem like a good writer, but!

        If I was your leader or instructor, I would say, stick to what the purpose is for your piece, don’t get off track. What you consider a a joke never comes across in print so don’t try- unless it is satire.

  • Killer Marmot

    McDonald says he going to explain what he means by tanking, but then never clearly states it.

    So let me attempt a definition: Tanking is when the manager makes moves to improve the long-term prospects of the club knowing it will likely hurt the club’s chances of doing well in the current season. Tanking is not something the players or coaches do, as they are expected to do their best to win games at all times.

    • Heffy

      If it was up to me, the term “tanking” should only refer to deliberately trying to lose, either by players and coaches “fixing” games by not trying, or by management through deliberately building a roster with the PRIMARY purpose of losing games. That seems to be the definition Aquilini advocates in his tweet. To me, that is a “tank.” The draft lottery was implemented to eliminate this practice, and I believe that it pretty much has.

      A roster and player development strategy based on maximizing long success (2-5 years out) rather than short term results (winning games this season) should NOT, in my view, be called “tanking.” Tactics of this strategy include (a) trading vets and upcoming UFAs for draft picks, (b) playing a roster heavy with younger players, (c) avoiding signing high priced vets to long term contacts (to keep positions open for younger players), and (d) maintaining a few quality veterans to mentor the youngsters and keep the team competitive. Under this strategy, there is a greater risk (maybe even a probability) of losing more games and a missing the playoffs in the current season. There are two possible BYPRODUCTS of this strategy. One is negative – that a “losing culture” could develop or be perpetuated. The other positive – that a lower position in the standings results in a higher draft spot and better odds in the lottery.

      Supporters of the “Long Term Development over Short Term Results,” aka “Draft and Develop” strategy believe in pursuing the strategy hard because the “losing culture” argument is a myth — or at least a low risk — and that the potentially improved drafting position, better lottery odds and player development benefits outweigh that risk. Living with young players’ mistakes in the NHL pays greater dividends over the long term than using low-risk veterans instead. The draft is a crapshoot, so the more picks you have and the higher those draft positions, the better your chances of getting good players. Unless a team is a legit contender, success in the playoffs is so unlikely that making the playoffs should not be a consideration right now. When this strategy is pursued aggressively it is often called “tanking,” which is wrong in my view because losing more games is a potential (and, if the strategy is successful, a short term) byproduct, not the main objective. I support the aggressive application of the Draft and Develop strategy when the circumstances call for it, and I used to say that meant I was on Team Tank, but I don’t any more.

      People who oppose aggressively pursuing this “Long Term Development over Short Term Results,” aka “Draft and Develop” strategy believe that “win-now messaging” has meaningful advantages, any time you make the playoffs is a chance to win the cup, the risk of getting a losing culture is real and hard to overcome once it exists, and drafting is such a crapshoot that there are no meaningful benefits to improving draft position by a few spots or adding a pick or two. For these reasons, teams should always focus on optimizing the current roster and wins, since the chances of success now are higher than hoping for prospects or draft picks to pan out. Some of them accuse the Draft and Develop crowd as wanting to lose.

      Both sides can point to examples that support their positions. I would argue that the failures of the aggressive Draft and Develop strategy have been caused by tactical errors. Failing to properly execute a strategy does not invalidate the strategy.

      • Heffy

        In the second last paragraph, rather than “any time you make the playoffs is a chance to win the cup” it would be more accurate to say “any time you make the playoffs it is a time to enjoy playoff hockey, make the owner some money, and possibly to win the cup”

  • Kanucked

    I think a team at any stage of development has to manage its assets effectively. That includes players, prospects, picks and cap.

    I think the thing that is different between competitive teams and rebuilding teams is the time horizons. I team on the cusp of a cup like the 2011 Canucks might maximize their assets for the short term vs the 2019 Canucks.

    I think it’s incumbent on the GM to know where they’re at.

    That’s why I think they should trade Edler. They will never be in a position with more leverage. He’s a UFA who wants to stay. That can be used to trade and resign him.

    The nonsense from people who argue that a late first round pick is not worth it because of the probability that they make the NHL or the time they take to develop is myopic. The Leafs drafted Sandin 29th overall. He may not play in the NHL in the next three years if at all. But he’s an asset they can use to help them now.

    • Killer Marmot

      Edler has an NTC, and has every right not to waive it. Thus the entire question of trading Edler may be moot. Also, a first-round draft pick for a few months of Edler’s services is optimistic. If Edler agreed to be traded and that were on offer, Benning should grab it with both hands. But a late second-round pick or a decent prospect seems more likely.

      • Kanucked

        The point is that his desire to stay beyond this year should be leveraged so that he waives his NTC. I don’t know what the market for Edler is. Insiders have said a late first is reasonable. Elliott Friedman said it is at least that. I agree with your conclusion that Benning should grab the trade with both hands.

        • Killer Marmot

          I’m not convinced of your argument about “leverage.”

          Suppose Edler would like to renew his contract with Vancouver, and prefers to do it as soon as possible. His best tactic is to refuse to be traded. Why? Because Vancouver may not have a binding agreement or even negotiate with him while he’s playing for another club. That’s a violation of the CBA.

          • Kanucked

            I don’t agree with your perspective. If Edler believes the only way he gets a deal is to accept a trade and he wants to stay long-term, then he’s more likely to accept a trade than not. The premise is critical. If management doesn’t present it this way, then yes, we thinks he has more leverage and will not waive because he may get a deal with Vancouver anyway.

            At the very least, a good manager would provide three options:

            1. Accept a trade and we will sign you to a market competitive contract in the off season with limited not trade.
            2. Resign right now on a very team friendly deal with no NTC protection.
            3. Don’t waive or resign and take your chances in free agency.

            I don’t think Benning will do this. Given his track record, he will resign him now to contract that would be similar to free agency. In my view the worst thing to do.

          • Killer Marmot

            Deals where a team agrees to trade a player and then re-sign him in the summer can not be enforced, and are shady to boot. It means a player feels allegiance to two teams simultaneously, an unworkable situation.

          • Kanucked

            KM, while rare these situations do happen. I’m not sure what’s shady about it. Edler would recognize that he has some security after the season, but isn’t obligated to sign here once he’s a free agent.

          • Beer Can Boyd

            The most important consideration is that we get a good return for Edler before the draft next month. If he chooses not to re-sign with the Canucks in the off season, c’est la vie. Going forward, the Canucks need to be looking at a left side of Hughes, Hutton, and Julolevi, not an aging Swede who has upped his ante dramatically in his UFA season. Sentimentality is what kept this team anchored to the Sedins for at least one season too many.

          • DogBreath

            Beer Can, the problem is that Edler is their best D-man this season and its not really that close. Move him or lose him and its a significant step back for an already weak D. Yes, a perfect world is he accepts a trade and resigns in the summer, but that’s a stretch. If they can get him at a team friendly-ish deal, sign him and move Hutton and a prospect for a right hand D that’s part of the future.

        • Bud Poile

          Edler is 33 in April.
          Any team giving up a late first for a 33 year old would want assurances that he will be retained for a few years.
          Edler waiving and happily coming back to Vancouver in July is unlikely.

          • Kanucked

            I’m relaying what the hockey insiders said the market for Edler as a rental would be. None of them suggested any assurances.

            Where are you getting your information?

          • Bud Poile

            Contenders don’t give out first round picks so a player can be rented for a few weeks.
            Edler waiving/leaving and happily coming back to Vancouver is a fanatic’s fantasy.

          • Kanucked

            What are you talking about? What did Winnipeg do last year with Paul Statsny?

            I know there a few trolls who go on this site to bash you specifically. For that, I have some sympathy for you.

            However, many of your posts are inane and can be disproved very easily. You act as if your opinions are facts.

            At least make a reasonable argument instead of this pure nonsense.

          • petey 40

            You don’t get it Kanucked. This lonely old troll spews his laugnable nonsense on purpose just to garner attention and get his kicks.

            Trouble is, his trolling is getting more and more absurd with so many posters now realising this and tending to ignore or just thumbs down his insane drivel.

            I mean “Eriksson is a hockey God”, “Benning brought the cup to Boston” and “contenders don’t give up 1st rounders for rentals” tell you everything you need to know about this sad little troll who Jackson McDonald TOLD to leave… yet here he is, STILL on Jackson’s threads over a year later… Sad and pathetic.

      • Dirty30

        And a second for renting Edler may seem an undervalued return but it’s still better than no return. And while a second may only get you Vey, it could also get you Baertschi. It might also get you a shot a Stone out of Ottawa.

        No guarantees, but doing nothing gets you nothing as well.

    • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

      Excellent point about Edler and how the TEAM actually controls leverage over the player despite his NTC due to the well known fact that he loves the city and is firmly dedicated to living here long term. Such a shame that the likes of Bob McKenzie, and other ‘analysts’ have been spouting the exact opposite rhetoric the past few months failing to acknowledge that business decisions are often made taking in all relevant factors, including a players love of the city.

    • truthseeker

      “The nonsense from people who argue that a late first round pick is not worth it because of the probability that they make the NHL or the time they take to develop is myopic. The Leafs drafted Sandin 29th overall. He may not play in the NHL in the next three years if at all. But he’s an asset they can use to help them now.”

      Quite possibly one of the most illogical things I’ve ever seen posted on this site. And that’s saying a lot.

  • NastyNate

    To pull all of whatever that was out of a Francesco Aqualini tweet is an impressive feat. All the guy said was pretty much that he doesn’t support taking and players aren’t wired to tank. So would any owner in the entire NHL.

    Major issues with your argument, if that’s want you want to call it.

    1- citing the Penguins and Oilers tanking examples (old draft format- not a draft lottery system like we have in today’s reality)

    2- your examples of teams who traded away pieces for big returns and still made the playoffs -the Canucks don’t have Shatenkirk or even anyone as useful as Curtis Glencross to deal. So I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

    3- using Ryan Smith and Milan Lucic in the same sentence topic of “culture carriers” is very confusing. Are you being scarcasric ? If so Ryan Smith epidimizies culture, while Lucic is the anti culture.

    Any opportunity to take a shot at canucks ownership or management I guess though hey?

    • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

      He used the Penguins and the Sabres actually. The Sabres is very much applicable to the argument of tanking as their ‘tank’ season was only a few years ago (during the current lottery format, with only minor changes to the weighting of the lottery balls)

      • DJ_44

        Minor changes? The Sabres had a 100% chance of picking no lower than 2nd. That effectively gaurenteed them McDavid or Eichel. That probability sits less than 50% now…and 1in5 if only a single “generational” player is in the class (Eichel is not generational, by the way). There was no lottery in 83-84.

        Tell us how either example is relevant….or how it is pure luck where you pick.

        A team wins when it is ready to win. Period.

  • Dan the Fan

    All the Stanley Cup winners in the last 10 years have picked first, second, or both, in the 15 years before winning. If Toronto, or Tampa, or Winnepeg wins, that’s 11.

    All the recent cup winners except Boston were led primarily by players the team picked high in the draft. They all acquired extra picks in the first/second rounds in the decade or so before winning.

    This Vancouver team is several pieces short of being a contender. (Another LHD, a couple RHD, and another first line winger.) The best place, by far, to get those pieces is at the top of the draft. And the best way to get more good picks is by losing and trading away veterans with value.

    We might end up like Edmonton… .or we might end up like Pittsburgh, LA, or Chicago. I’ll take that chance.

    • B_Rad77

      Agree, we still need pieces, and would hate to see us hang onto valuable trade pieces that wont be here when this team is in their window to push for a cup. Too many times, we have hung onto players too long until their value has been diminshed to the point of no return either through player loyalty or unrealistic team expectations. Too many times, this team has made a push over the last 6 weeks or so, sqeeked into the playoffs and been creamed in the first round. Im not a Benning basher, and can appreciate the better moves/drafts that have occurred since he was hired. But I have continually been confused on what the plan is and what direction this team is going in. Is it too much to hope that this team makes some roster moves to improve the developement of the kids and relieve this team of its many anchors?

    • truthseeker

      By your own logic of your first sentence, it doesn’t matter then does it? Vancouver will never win the cup. They won’t get either of the first two picks. So I guess they might as well not even try right?

      What should the canucks do? Just continue to miss the playoffs year after year until they eventually win the first or second lottery position because nobody in the last 15 years won a cup without it? lol. Who cares how well EP, Boeser, and Horvat and potentially Hughes, are doing? Just continuously dump everyone else around them. Screw them right? Who cares if they want to win at some point.

      might as well just fold the franchise. move them to Kansas City or something.

  • TheMoustacheofDaveBabych

    You state that people taking the moral/ethical stance against tanking are not making their arguments in good faith.
    What you fail to consider is that, for many people, sport is an activity that is based upon morals and ethics. Cheating is supposedly not allowed. Thus we have rules concerning doping, and throwing games, and penalties for delay of game and so on.
    Tanking is immoral and unethical. If undertaken, it would involve “gaming” of the system through a combination of deliberately poor business decisions and manipulation of player/employees.
    Tanking is also a risky proposition with almost no likelihood of success. High picks can make or break a franchise, but they can also ruin them. For every Sidney Crosby, there are multiple Yakupovs and Daigles. It is a gamble, and for tanking to work that gamble would have to pay off multiple times over multiple years. All the while an owner (it is a business, not a charity) would be losing money or, at the very least not receiving a reasonable return on investment.
    Everyone points to Pittsburgh as a positive example of multiple high picks, but they forget that the franchise was in very real danger of moving.
    It’s fine for fans to talk about it, but I don’t think teams actively pursue this line of thinking. It is a “fan” idea, and a bad one at that.

    • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

      You gloss over the financial reasons (and stadium and local tax) issues that were very much at the center of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the early 2000’s.

    • Dan the Fan

      “For every Sidney Crosby, there are multiple Yakupovs and Daigles. It is a gamble, and for tanking to work that gamble would have to pay off multiple times over multiple years”

      #1 picks going on to be top line players is a lot more common than getting a Diage or a Yak. Look at this generation of #1 picks…. Dahlin, Hischier, Matthews, McDavid, Ekblad, MacKinnon, Yakupov, Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, Tavares, Stamkos, Kane, Johnson, Crosby, Ovechkin, Fleury.

      Note that 4 of those players won cups with the team that drafted them. Players on that list have won 7 out of the last 10 Stanley cups, and LA picked 2nd in 2008. Stamkos and Matthews have very good chances over the next few years.

      Sure, getting #1 is no guarantee… but there’s a very good shot you’re going to get a very good player. A “gamble” is something that you’d expect to be a losing proposition in the long run. Picking high for several years would appear to give better odds than being perpetually mediocre.

    • Heffy

      TheMoustacheofDaveBabych – I agree that, as you say, “Tanking is immoral and unethical.”
      Trading away a top upcoming UFA for a first round draft pick at the deadline has a high probability of hurting the team’s record for the rest of the season, but it is not immoral or unethical. So it should not be called a “tank.” I know you don’t call it that, but many others do.

  • bobdaley44

    What a terrible article. Seems like it’s written by a guy who didn’t play and if he did it was street hockey and was the last guy picked. First you say losing culture isn’t a big deal and then you say the Oilers are what they are because of the toxic culture from years of losing. Horcroft, Smyth, Ferrence and Lucic? Thats your argument for veterans don’t matter? WTF! No real hockey player goes into games without wanting to win. The reason they get to the show is because of their compete level. You need a base of solid veterans who create a culture of expectations and mentorship. Nobody wins a cup without that intangible.

  • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

    “Do you know what does send a bad message to your players? When the highest-paid forward on the team has 20 points at the time of the all-star break and is frequently the first guy off the ice at every practice; or when your third-highest-paid forward has 5 points in 21 games and plays 17 minutes a night, or when your recently extended four-million-dollar defenseman has been quite literally the worst in the league at helping his team outscore the opposition, and not one of these players has sat out for a game in favour of a younger player.”

    One of the best paragraphs I have read in a long time on here. Well done sir.

    • Killer Marmot

      What young player should have played in Gudbranson’s place? Chatfield is injured. You could have Pouliot move over from the right side, but his stats when playing there (which he did for much of last year) are pretty awful.

    • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

      I do agree with a poster above that this gem of a paragraph is a tangential argument from the attempt at speaking to ‘tanking’ which should have been expanded upon to a larger degree.

    • bobdaley44

      He may only have twenty points but he plays PK, shutdown against top lines, second unit PP, can move up and down the lineup and is real solid defensively. Is is contract too high? Maybe but so what. They have cap space and young guys can learn a few things from him. A younger player? Like who?

  • Bendervîlle Tîgres

    Tanking *which is always on ownership/management and not players/coaches*, is a non issue for the Canucks. It’s never been on the table imo.

    However, what IS a hugely important factor is that ownership made the decision to blow it up post cup run and figured they actually needed to adopt the ‘Boston model’ of big and heavy after the Bruins beat us in the 2011 SCF.

    After the Boston/LA model ran its course, the cyclical nature of the league swung back to speed and skill after Pittsburgh won back-to-backs, so in reality it was totally unnecessary to blow it up like Vancouver did and bring in a Boston employee to implement a plan that never actually materialised.

    I believe the best teams adopt their own formula to be successful and stick to it – we have wavered since 2011 and are now a copycat franchise with no clear path to success of our own, and that’s why we are a perennial basement dwellar. Sucks, but here we are.

  • Freud

    The real issue is the owner’s tweet.

    He was handed the team by his father. He has meddled in the management of the team from day 1. The fact he can’t understand what people are advocating for when they use the word tank summarizes the owner’s lack of knowledge or intelligence.

    Firing Linden because he opposed the simple minded views of the owner is a huge red flag. We’re left with a yes man in Benning and his flunky Weisbrod who continue to make decisions based on myths, unproven archaic theories and reputations, while ignoring the evidence. You know, Oiler type decision making.

    They implement the owner’s simple minded vision only because it’s an avenue to keep their jobs. Add their philosophy and all questionable decision making over the past 5 years and the red flag is huge.

    If an owner who can’t verbalize a basic understanding of “tanking” is steering this team, the cheerleading and ignorant rationalizations from the fans will only make it worse.

    Edmonton fan has been cheerleading and rationalizing for a decade. As a result, the ownership’s philosophy doesn’t change.

    • Bud Poile

      The problem with your post is you don’t understand a billionaire business man has some intelligence.
      Frank told the truth.It’s just not all the truth.
      Linden didn’t have a clue.
      Weisbrod and Benning brought the Cup to Boston ,Chia pet was a clueless figurehead.
      Players don’t tank.Management does.
      What do you think transpired here for the last two seasons once the Nucks were eliminated from the playoffs?
      Troll on,Freud, but your fertilizer spreader needs work.

  • TimfromAnahim

    Let’s be realistic here. The objective is to win, and build toward winning more. What kind of message would be sent to the locker room and the fans, and how would ownership like it, if one or both of our best defensemen are traded, and for help that won’t arrive for 2 or 3 years? Who would replace them? Are you suggesting we should go back to scraping the bottom of the league in the interim? Just not happening.

    The team will continue to try and improve itself and make its way back into relevance. A scoring winger could be sought in free agency, the defense will improve from within. Gudbranson, Eriksson, Pouliot, and perhaps Goldobin and Sutter can be traded when there are realistic options to replace them. We will likely get a high to mid-first round pick this year which will yield a pretty decent player. Boeser, after all, was drafted 23rd overall. We’ve had our chances over the last few years to draft 1st or 2nd, the lottery balls didn’t favour us, and the team’s trajectory is starting to trend upward. Not a time to be talking “tank”.

    • Heffy

      “What kind of message would be sent to the locker room and the fans, and how would ownership like it, if one or both of our best defensemen are traded, and for help that won’t arrive for 2 or 3 years?”

      The message sent would be “We don’t think this team can win the Stanley Cup in 2019, so we are making moves that we believe will improve our chances in the future.” I think Pettersson, Horvat et al would understand that.

      • TimfromAnahim

        I don’t think we can win the Cup in 2019 either, but players would not buy tanking. This tanking as a strategy thing is a theoretical joke. Look at the team at this point – they’re not going to trade away valuable pieces without adequate replacements. Owners want to make the playoffs, Managers answer to owners, players want to win, fans want to enjoy wins. This is just an exercise without relevance to the real world. Unless you have an example where it actually panned out.

  • DogBreath

    There is no doubt that the Canucks record over the past few years has been terrible. I recall very few games in that timeframe where the Canucks gave up. Jackson, this is the importance of a strong culture. Teams with losing cultures give up easily (ie, Edmonton); those with strong culture stick together trying to get better, despite a lack of talent etc.

  • Hockey Bunker

    Good article Jackson. Sounds like you advocate for “tanking light”. My worry with tanking is the flip side of that coin is win now. The Oilers are the example of that.
    JB is following a method I call player progression and we are realistically about to see the payoff in the next 3 years. It starts with the the draft which stocks the system. Young players progress outside of the NHL and begin to pressure for NHL spots. At that time you trade your loser veteran players for prospects or picks and the process continues. Where you draft in round one only affects progression. Top five picks can maybe step in, others need 1 to 3 years. Etc.

  • tyhee

    Despite the comments of those from what the writer termed the first group against tanking, this is the best, most logical discussion of tanking I can recall seeing. It’s a great explanation.

  • TRod

    Why is this even a debate? We have the fifth youngest team in the league, our top four scorers consist of a 20 year old, a 21 year old, and two 23 year olds. If these guys are already good enough to win games, let them win games!

    And why are these tankers (mostly analytics guys) conveniently and consistently failing to mention that their poster-child rebuild, Toronto Maple Leafs, have turned their whopping 42 draft picks since 2014 into 5 guys with NHL game experience- Nylander (8th overall), Marner (4th overall), Matthews (1st overall), Dermott (34th overall) and some guy named Rinat Valiev (68th overall) who played 10 games for them and is now in the Flames system. They haven’t built their team through “tanking”- the majority of that roster came from being dysfunctional pre-Shanaplan (Kadri, Johnsson, Reilly, Brown), via trade (Gardiner, Kapanen) and free agency (Tavares, Marleau, Hyman). The Canucks have had eight less draft picks during that time and have Virtanen (7th), McCann (24th), Demko (36th), Tryamkin (66th), Forsling (126th), Boeser (23rd), Gaudette (149th), Pettersson (4th) to show for it. To add to it, according to TSN’s list of Top-50 NHL-affiliated prospects, the Canucks have three more coming, the Leafs only have one. Having 25% more picks is meaningless if you’re half as efficient with the ones you make. Benning is clearly demonstrating the superior rebuild, and it’s not even close.

  • So many problems with this defence of tanking:

    1) Toronto is a model rebuild using tanking? They won the lottery but everything else is the product of hometown favourite (Taveres) or basic drafting. The core is a bunch of 1st round draft picks that worked out because they sucked so bad over many years (Marner, Nylander). Show me how Lamourello’s draft picks translate into today’ roster. Answer: You can’t. Plus that ignores the crap defence that Toronto has. So the challenge is out: Show me *how* Toronto is the model rebuild based on the tank.

    2) Edmonton: They are the poster boy for what you can achieve by tanking. But it’s so easy to discount them by simply saying, well they just did it wrong so I’ll just dismiss them so you can use them as an example.

    Terrible and unconvincing article.

  • TheRealPB

    I like the fact that you actually tried to define and take on the tanking question rather than simply relying on it as a given. But I also think you’ve set up a bunch of straw man arguments that don’t really address the core issues. You’re right that there are only a few examples of intentional tanking (rather than just being bad for long stretches, as with Chicago, LA and Pittsburgh so that they could acquire top players — though this was also luck since there is a Thomas Hickey drafted for every Drew Doughty or a Cam Barker for a Patrick Kane). I’m surprised that you disqualify the Leafs because they still had Van Reimsdyk and Bozak. That 2015-2016 season they were the epitome of tanking — the signed a bunch of vets to 1-year deals and flipped them at the deadline (Polak, Winnik, Matthias, Greening, Laich, Spaling), used their economic power to absorb bad contracts and stash them in the minors and rid themselves of boat anchors like Phaneuf. But all this extra picks, what did it get them? Not one of those players have played for the team; in fact the best thing that happened for the Leafs that year was winning the draft lottery, which is a fool’s errand to bet on. Their current core is based on winning the bounce of a lottery ball, being unintentionally bad and getting Marner, Reilly, and Nylander in earlier crappy seasons and of course a superstar in Tavares coming back home. Tanking has little to do with the current Leafs success. The same can be said of the Sabres. The season they intentionally tanked, they were clearly doing it to get McDavid. They got Eichel, who’s pretty awesome too, but in that season they had fewer draft picks than any other recent season and none of them have panned out. It seems to me in the optimal tanking model you go for more, not fewer picks.

    My main problem with the idea of tanking as a STRATEGY is that I simply haven’t seen any successful examples of it. You’re right, the best way to get better is by accumulating top players through the draft or possibly through trades (SJ, for example, became the powerhouse it did because they acquired not one but two young superstars in Burns and Thornton in lopsided trades). But that’s easier said than done in an era that’s dominated by hard caps and draft lotteries. It is compounded by the fact that there are basically no teams outside of the Leafs that can sustain prolonged terrible results. The Blackhawks, Bruins, Kings fall to the bottom of the league in attendance when they aren’t good; teams like the Penguins sustain an existential crisis when that happens.

    This is not to argue that making foolish moves when you are rebuilding is a good idea. I think the worst move is one that Benning hasn’t made — trading young prospects or picks for aging veterans. Instead, his biggest mistakes — mostly in UFAs — have an impact primarily on the Aquilini’s bottom line, not necessarily on the team. I don’t think Eriksson and Gudbranson are worth their contracts but most of the others are neither huge overpays nor on big term. We also are the fourth or fifth lowest payroll in the league, with little left on our books when EP and others are up for the big raises.

    I’d love to see a more substantive engagement with the idea of an intentional tank. The Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA might be a good example in a different sport and league. I’d also like to say that we don’t have to go through all the “but it will foster a losing culture” stuff except that this comments section is replete with such arguments.

  • kablebike

    “And if the Canucks do all this and still manage to make the playoffs? No one on team tank is going to complain.”
    So move players (Guddy, Sutter, LE) that nearly all teams presumably will provide little return on and team tank is okay. Okay. Then silence? Deal.

  • Kanuckhotep

    The whole concept of “tanking” as presented in this article is nebulous to say the least and not clearly defined. Anyone who has actually played hockey competitively at any level would be quickly jumped on by any suggestion akin to, “ Gee, dudes, I guess we’re gonna lose this one,” swiftly by his teammates. Even down three goals going into the 3rd period you NEVER make idiot statements like this. I’ve seen it many times. If the article implies losing is a good thing I’m not getting it. No one says the Canucks are the 70’s Habs, 80s Isles or even the cap era Hawks or Pens. To me the goal is to win at every step along the way and learn from subsequent successes or failures along the way. Team Tank is a moronic concept IMO.

    • TheRealPB

      But I don’t think the concept is that you are going to get the players to play poorly. It’s that you’ll construct a team that is full of players who are not good and thus get poor results. It’s Pittsburgh trading their best D-man at the time in Randy Carlyle to get worse to get Mario Lemieux. It means the Leafs leaving arguably better young players like Nylander, Kapanen, Hyman and Loov in the AHL for most of the season and icing a squad with questionable vets and letting them fend for themselves.

      Of course it’s ridiculous to think that players are going to play to lose. They don’t. But tanking doesn’t rely on such a strategy simply because you couldn’t. I think both sides of this argument are relying on myths. I think the core idea is correct, that the only way you get better is by drafting well and high and then focusing on development. But the idea that you can strategize getting high draft picks is nonsensical.

      • DogBreath

        It might not have been a tanking strategy per se, but the decision to leave Nylander etc in the AHL may have been because they knew the big league team was going to get hammered every night and they didn’t want their young players playing on a team like that (in TO to boot). Babcock knows a thing or two about the importance of building a team culture around winning.

  • Hockey Bunker

    The JB progression method is sound. No one gets an NHL spot until they beat the man ahead if them. That way if a pick works out, you trade a vet for more picks. If the pick doesn’t work out you are not left with a hole. Filling a hole is the most expensive and least effective way to manage a team. The current situation feels to slow, but be patient, the plan is working and it’s real

  • Druken Lout

    To put is gently Jackson you are talking out of your a$$. There are not two camps opposed to tanking, they are the same. How you can write an entire article while blithely ignoring one argument is beyond me, it’s basically admitting that you don’t have a comeback against it…

    • DogBreath

      I suspect he wrote it because he knew it would create debate, which it has. It’s good for the website. A different approach to the topic that we’ve been debating for years.

      The next chapter in the Canucks progression will be interesting. What happens if we get all the prospects in place and the team doesn’t progress? We see that with rebuilds that restart again and again because the young pieces in place aren’t the right pieces. Man, let’s hope that doesn’t happen….

  • Fred-65

    To tank or not to tank, sound simple but is it. There are I suspect many degrees of tanking but basically it circumvents the natural order of why the league was set up. To offer competition. Here’s the but. Without decimating the roster you can use this period to ice a less than premier roster. After the TDL as I understand teams are permitted to increase their roster size by I believe 3 players ( I’m not sure of this any one that has info I’d like to hear ) this is done as far as I know to permit development of prospects before decissions are made in the summer. So there is ample opportunity to ice a less than top roster without trading away experience which you might need the following season. I presume Hughes will be added but I’m also expecting a couple of D from a short list in Utica, the likes of Sautner, McEnemy, Chatfield etc maybe MacEwen. You put that bunch on the ice rather than Edler and Tanev and I suspect the out come may be effected

      • TheRealPB

        Oh, if we’re talking about stealth tanking then yes, when the Canucks ice a lineup of Griffen Molino, Borna Rendulic, Mike Zalewski, Alex Grenier, Joseph Cramarossa, Jason Megna, Mike Chaput, Luca Sbisa and Jack Skille then we know the fix is in…