Tanking: the art of trying to be as bad as humanly possible in the hopes of landing an 18 year old kid who can come in and remake the image of your franchise. Teams have probably always done it. If you think a little bit you can likely think of a few situations that seemed a little tank-ish throughout your hockey watching careers. The situation this year though is performance art quality tanking.
The Buffalo Sabres have made no bones about what they're doing. Sure, they spent a little bit of money in the offseason. The NHL also has a salary floor so they had to, especially after dumping Christian Ehrhoff. The tank job went into high gear at the trade deadline when they traded Tyler Myers, arguably their most well known player, and Drew Stafford for the injured Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian. The trade could certainly work out in the end. Kane is a talent. However, trading for an injured forward is the Mona Lisa of tank related masterpieces.
The Sabres tank job even recently got the attention of one of the targets, Jack Eichel. A segment of the Sabres fanbase has latched on to the tank job so strongly that they actually cheered as the Sabres gave up goals. Eichel was asked about it in the Toronto Star:
"I have a friend that was at the game and I got a text message saying the Buffalo fans were cheering when they lost," Eichel told the Toronto Star for a story in Sunday's editions.
What does Eichel think about all the cheering for losses by the home side in places like Buffalo?
"It's kind of a bizarre thing to think about — that fans are cheering against their team, hoping that they lose," he said. "But I guess, really, they're just excited about the future."
That's a nice way to say "they might pick me, I'm not saying a word".
They are hardly the only culprits. The Arizona Coyotes and Toronto Maple Leafs are putting in similar efforts, though the Coyotes are the much more blatant culprit after dealing Keith Yandle and Antoine Vermette at the deadline. Their stripped down roster is laughable, but the future is bright.
Oftentimes viewers have a skewed view of what it means for an organization to tank. The entire organization engaged in tanking can get lumped into one big group of tankers when in reality a very small group are at fault: management. The ones who put the roster together should be the ones drawing your ire should you have it, not the players.
The players have worked their entire lives to be in the NHL. Winning games is a matter of pride. Every player on every team is constantly auditioning for their next paycheck. The old expressions about film not lying are very applicable. Every action each player on the ice takes is scrutinized. If it looks like a player has quit teams are going to notice and that player could lose their meal ticket.
It isn't in a player's best interest to lose games. Their interest is in winning a Stanley Cup and getting a paycheck. It can be easy to throw out the baby with the bathwater, but players on teams tanking for a top pick aren't the culprits. Mike Weber of the Sabres described what it's like to play for a team that is tanking after the home debacle where their fans cheered against them:
"I don't even know what to say. This is extremely frustrating for us. We don't want to be here. We understand where we are. We understand what this team's doing, what the organization's doing, the place we've put ourselves in. I've never been a part of something like that, where the away team comes into a home building and they're cheering for them. Again, I respect our fans. I love our fans. I show up to work everyday to whatever I can for them, and to play hard for them and my teammates...
"This is two years in a row now. Physically, mentally, this sucks. To compound things, you have your home fans cheering against you. Again, I've never been a part of that. Obviously, what doesn't kill ya makes you stronger, I guess. But this is a whole new low right now."
No one is going to cry for professional athletes getting a chance to play at the highest level, but Sabres and Coyotes players are in a tough situation that is almost entirely out of their control. In the tank debate it's worth keeping in mind that as ridiculous as the situation is to us on the outside, those being told that they were put together with the idea that they would be bad enough to contend for the top pick aren't all that happy about it either.