Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Which bad team is best positioned to fail hard for Bedard? Introducing the Tank Index

It’s mid-November, and it goes without saying that every NHL team is focused on the big prize.

Which prize? That part depends on the team.

For most teams, it’s the Stanley Cup. You’ve probably heard of it. Big silver thing, apparently pretty heavy, hangs out in the Hall of Fame in Toronto for most of the year and then heads down to America in the spring. But that’s not every team’s focus, and that’s especially true this year.

We can be honest, right? We don’t have to do the Gary Bettman thing, where he pretends that NHL teams never tank and it’s only the mean old media making stuff up. That kind of thing is insulting to your intelligence as a fan, because you know teams tank, because you have eyes and a brain. Sure, you might prefer to call it something else, especially when your team is doing it. But you know a tank when you see it.

And we’ll be seeing a few of them this year, because the top of the draft class of 2023 is absolutely stacked. There could be three legitimate franchise players, including Connor Bedard, who might be the next Crosby or McDavid or maybe even more. Remember, the league nerfed their lottery system a few years ago, so whichever team finishes dead last this year is guaranteed to get one of those top three picks. The incentive to bad is obvious. Sorry Gary, fire up the tank and let’s roll.

But which teams will do it? And when? And most importantly of all, who’s in the best position to make it work? Welcome to the Tank Index, where we try to find out. This is a gimmick I typically pull out later in the season. But this year isn’t typical, and with so much prospect gold waiting at the end of the tanking rainbow, it might be worth it to check in a few times as the season goes on.

We’ll be looking at a few factors:

Season so far: You can’t win the top pick in October, but you can go a long way to losing it. Even a few extra points picked up in the first month can be devastating to a team’s tank, so how bad has a team looked in the early going?

Seller potential: The best way to tank is to trade useful players for picks and prospects, because you get to collect future assets while also getting worse in the short term. Of course, you need some useful players first, especially ones on expiring contracts.

Goaltending problems: Even in today’s NHL, it remains true that teams go as far as their goaltending takes them. If you want to tank, you’d better make sure your goalie stinks, because there’s nothing worse than watching some guy stand on his head and cost you precious lottery odds.

Motivation: A tricky one, but maybe the most important factor of all. This one starts with the GM, who needs job security to go all-in on being bad. Will ownership understand and accept the plan? What about the market, and local media? It’s not easy to tank when one or more stakeholders aren’t on board.

We’ll give each team a score in all four categories, and see where that leaves them. For this first 2022-23 tank index, I’m going to focus on the eight worst teams by points percentage heading into Tuesday night, then add four more that I think are worth including based on preseason expectations. That brings us to an even dozen, and we’ll count them down as we work our way to this year’s early tank favorite.

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