The fall hard for Connor Bedard is on in the NHL and pretty soon teams will be shipping out any and all players they can in an effort to help their respective rosters lose hockey games. Yet, according to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, this is not a ‘thing that happens’ in his league. Just because the NHL has a weighted lottery that gives the worst teams the best odds to draft a potentially generational talent like Bedard doesn’t mean teams engage in this sort of nonsense.
“Nobody tanks because we have a weighted lottery,” Bettman told reporters. Amazingly, he expected people to believe him when he said it too. He added, “You’re not going to lose games to increase your odds by a couple of percentage points. That’s silly. And frankly, suggesting tanking, I believe, is inconsistent with the professionalism that our players and our coaches have.”
Yet, somehow, everyone knows teams do it.
Granted, players might not want to lose and they certainly don’t try to when they’re on the ice. But to say general managers don’t trade players to ensure a team that has no chance of competing for and in the playoffs don’t dump whatever pieces they can to pick up future draft picks and prospects, all while making their teams a lot worse in the present is laughable. It’s standard practice and the deeper the draft, the more teams do it.
Allan Walsh, a prominent player agent in the NHL tweeted, “Gary Bettman in a media availability just now made the ridiculous and wildly false statement there is no tanking in the NHL. Trust me when I tell you, NHL teams would rather finish dead last than miss the playoffs by 2 points.” He added in a second tweet, “Pick me off the floor I’m laughing so hard. There isn’t a human being on the planet (or in the hockey industry) that believes this absurd statement.”
Bettman tried to sell the fact that a 75% chance of getting the first pick wasn’t swaying teams. He explained, “Our players and our coaches do their best to win.” Again, this specific statement is probably true. But, he’s not fooling anyone when he tried to sell the idea that teams and GMs don’t see the odds and start salivating at the idea of getting the No.1 overall pick. “And again, just because you may finish with the worst record in the league you’ve got something like a 75% chance that you’re not going to get the first pick.”
The Opposite of What Bettman Is Saying Is True
The reality is, the NHL lottery incentivizes more teams to tank because more teams have a shot at a top pick when they do. The moment a league gives better odds to a team that finishes near the bottom of the standings than it does to teams who just miss the postseason means that teams who know they’re not going to make it try to intentionally miss by a wide margin. Teams that almost get there are actually penalized, with the exception that one could argue a team that isn’t competitive from the start sells fewer tickets every season.
Not only that, but the NHL changed the lottery to ensure teams that lose the lottery can only fall so far. The league has changed the odds more than once to better control the outcomes and had the league itself felt like it had its system right, there would have been no need to change the way the lottery odds were handed out at all.
The real evidence will come as a handful of teams near the bottom of the standings start making moves ahead of the March 3 trade deadline. If clubs like the Anaheim Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes start dumping everyone for less value than they probably should get, that tells everyone all they need to know.
Next: Devils Are a Team Showing Interest in Sharks’ Timo Meier
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