Over the weekend, the Edmonton Oilers blew a 3-0 lead against the Carolina Hurricanes and lost 7-4. It was cause for rejoicing and anger, only with 2014-15 being the season of the tank, the rejoicing and anger weren't in their usual places.
Oilers fans, on the cusp of 30th place and a guarantee of either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in the 2015 draft, were mostly thrilled. The Hurricanes, a team not going anywhere this season, seemed to upset fans with their fun comeback win. Tank, tank and tank again seems to be the mindset of some fans of losing teams this season, but when it comes to Carolina, that mentality hasn't made sense in a while.
Hurricanes PR guy Mike Sundheim took to Twitter to explain why winning, and this is shocking, is good:
Mike Sundheim @MikeSundheim
Building culture & identity is more important than a few extra ping-pong balls, folks.2015-3-8 23:00:05
PR guys are always going to protect the #brand, but he's right. The idea that the Hurricanes should tank is a pre-2015 idea that's long since become outdated. The Hurricanes are 15-9-3 since Jan. 1, which is a 100-point pace over 82 games, and it's not a coincidence their improved play coincides with improved health.
But let's say you want the Hurricanes to lose anyway. You want the extra Ping-Pong balls. Here's why that's a bad idea.
The Hurricanes are 27th in the league standings with 57 points—26th-place Toronto has one more point but has played three more games—while 25th-place Columbus has 58 points. The Hurricanes are nine points behind 24th-place New Jersey and seven points ahead of 28th-place Arizona.
In other words, the Hurricanes are locked into finishing 25th, 26th or 27th in the standings. The odds of winning the draft lottery from those three spots are 9.5 percent (27th), 8.5 percent (26th) and 7.5 percent (25th). Most of the core in Carolina today will be there next year. You really want them to maybe sabotage next season for a 1 percent increase in long-shot odds to win the lottery? Do you want GM Ron Francis to tell coach Bill Peters to bench Elias Lindholm for the rest of the season?
That mentality applies to nearly every team outside the top eight in either conference, as most of them have zero reason to lose intentionally between now and the end of the season.
|NHL Standings, bottom of the league|
|Team||Points||Games left||Lottery odds|
|17. Los Angeles||75||17||1.0%|
|18. San Jose||72||16||2.0%|
|24. New Jersey||66||16||6.5%|
A Twitter search of any of those bottom-seven teams and the word "tank" will yield tweets from fans hoping their team tries to lose over the final month. It's well-meaning, sure, but it's an ill-informed way of looking at things as we head down the homestretch for two reasons.
1. Look at the standings and how those teams at the bottom are in pockets. There are the bottom three teams, then the aforementioned Toronto-Carolina-Columbus cluster, then four other teams that aren't going to the playoffs, then the top four teams that can still believe the playoffs are a possibility. Exactly who should be tanking among the top-11 teams in that chart?
Certainly not Los Angeles, Florida, Ottawa and San Jose. Maybe you want Colorado to shoot itself in the foot the rest of the way, but for what? A 3 percent gain in lottery odds? To go from 3.5 percent to 6.5 percent? Try as they might, the Avs aren't dumping 14 points to the Blue Jackets no matter how actively they attempt to lose.
2. Mathematics aside, you know these teams have to play again next season, right? The trade deadline has come and gone and in almost every situation, the players you are seeing now are the players you will see next season. At this point, you want to build toward 2015-16 and send players to the offseason feeling good about what lies ahead. You don't want players dreading training camp; you want them excited about being better next season.
Maybe this gets lost in the analytics shuffle sometimes, but these guys are human beings that need to be in the right mindset at all times. There was a time earlier in the season when your favorite team losing was a good thing, but for most of them that tank has left the barn.
Tanking make sense for Buffalo, Arizona and Edmonton and perhaps Toronto, only because the Leafs are tearing down the house and will probably continue to do so in the offseason with more trades. If the Leafs are in it for the long haul rebuild, and they are, scorching the Earth for two percentage points is probably a good idea.
For everyone else, it's about building something for next season. So stop rooting for your favorite team to lose. It's probably just as unhealthy for you as it is for your favorite team.
Quote of the Week: Jon Cooper vs. Darryl Sutter
Lightning coach Jon Cooper and Kings coach Darryl Sutter are the two most quotable coaches in the NHL. Each week, we will let you decide who had the best quote.
Hi, Darryl, any thoughts on must-win games, or the idea of must-win games in general?
There’s no ‘must’ anywhere. You don’t have to do anything. Just try and win. There’s no such thing as a ‘must-win.’ Nobody gets locked up or thrown in the ocean or anything. I’m not into that. It’s just a game.
I'm not into being thrown into an ocean, either. As is almost always the case, that's from LA Kings Insider.
Cooper, meanwhile, is being touted as one of the best coaches in the league, and rightfully so, in his second full season with Tampa. It's interesting how the winner of the Jack Adams Award always has great goaltending, as documented by Pro Hockey Talk after Paul MacLean was fired in Ottawa this season.
These were Cooper's thoughts on his reputation as a good coach, and he seems to understand the correlation between goaltending and being a good coach:
Mark Masters @markhmasters
Jon Cooper on how he turned things around in Tampa Bay: "Goaltending & timing" http://t.co/QNv1gMlA2M2015-3-5 22:02:10
Personally, Cooper sounds a lot like the fired Dallas Eakins when discussing hockey. Is Eakins a bad coach, or did he have a bad team with bad goaltending for a year and a half? Only time will tell.
Who Is Connor McDavid-ing This Week?
The tank battle for Connor McDavid will be quite the scene this season as teams stumble over each other to finish last in the standings, thus guaranteeing either McDavid or future American hero Jack Eichel.
30. Buffalo Sabres (19-42-5, 43 points)—The Sabres have outshot their opponents four times in 66 games and once in their past 33 games. With Anders Lindback and Matt Hackett in net for perhaps the rest of the season, there may be no stopping the Sabres from guaranteeing themselves a top-two pick.
29. Edmonton Oilers (18-39-11, 47 points)—It's important to note the Oilers aren't tanking; they're just this bad without trying to lose. They squandered a 3-0 lead to the Hurricanes over the weekend by allowing seven of the next eight goals. The only tanking bullet the Oilers have is getting their players placed on a no-fly list or stealing their passports.
28. Arizona Coyotes (21-38-8, 50 points)—With two of their next three against Chicago and Los Angeles and two head-to-head matchups with Buffalo on the schedule, the Coyotes still have hope of finishing 30th. A fun thing to do for the Sabres games is find a way to force a forfeit, maybe ice a player not eligible for the game or have a coach fight an official. Outside-the-box thinking is needed sometimes.
Goal of the Week
Is this goal by Alexander Semin worth $7 million?
The mercurial Semin may have found the secret to revitalizing his game: play stomach-down on the ice.
Questions and Answers
Got a question? Tweet me @davelozo or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, but please don't call before 9 a.m. I will answer any of your questions about hockey or whatever if it's a good question.
How do you feel the NHL should fix the issue of overtime resolution of games? How do you feel about the 'loser point'? Do you favor longer 4 v 4? 3 v 3? (pistols at the blue line?)
The GMs will be meeting and the goalie fiasco in Florida is expected to come up. What's the solution? (I vote for a crowd raffle based on seat number)
Answer 1: Three-on-three is dumb and bad and should not be used to decide hockey games any more than a shootout should be used to decide hockey games. Both are gimmicks. Ties are fine. Playing four-on-four until someone scores is fine. Three-on-three is just as hokey, if not hokey-er, than a three-on-three breakaway contest.
As always, my answer to reducing the number of shootouts is to get rid of them. Either that or go to a 3-2-1 points system, but that will never happen, as the points system that exists now provides fans the illusion they are still in the playoff race when they are not. If Boston holds on to the final wild-card spot, that means the top eight in the East will have remain unchanged since Jan. 7.
Answer 2: The solution is to suck it up and dress a position player. While I find the idea of a goalie coach or dude in the stands signing a contract and playing to be funny and great, I mean, really? In football, every team has an emergency quarterback if two or three QBs get hurt in a game. In baseball, if you run out of a pitchers, a position player takes the mound.
If your goaltenders get hurt, hey, life is tough and full of sadness so throw your sixth defenseman in net and let's go. Every so often something happens to remind me that the NHL still has a garage league quality to it, and allowing a random person to sign a contract mid-game is very garage league.
@DaveLozo who do you see winning the first two rounds of the metro, making it to the conference finals?2015-3-9 16:34:55
I don't know. Depends on the matchups and how the teams are playing a month from now.
Pat Hoagland @FlyoverReviews
@DaveLozo what makes a team good during the regular season but unsuccessful in the post season?2015-3-9 15:56:44
I don't know. Luck and stuff? Who knows.
Samantha Bader @leafssam8
@DaveLozo how are the flames so good in the third period?2015-3-9 15:52:57
Score effects, explained here at NHL Numbers.
1. Do you think the Sharks would have a chance at making the playoffs if they moved Burns back to forward? He has pretty much been responsible for their last three losses with his giveaways / turnovers.
2. Always interested to hear your perspective on the value a coach brings to a team. Torts and Vigs is a fun comparison. But, I'm more interested in your take on Barry Trotz. Washington is much improved under his leadership. So is Ovie. But the Preds are amazing. Did Nashville benefit from removing Trotz? If so, does that spell trouble for the Caps?
1. There are so many things about a hockey team that, no matter how much we watch from afar, we can never understand. One of those things is not Brent Burns and how bad he is on defense. When you think about the Sharks' problems with forward depth, it makes the Sharks' struggles that much more frustrating. It's one of the many offseason decisions that has sabotaged the 2014-15 Sharks.
Burns is one of those players where the analytics don't match his play on the ice, at least to me, anyway. His WOWYs don't really say much one way or the other, either. He's a more extreme version of Kris Letang to me: both are excellent on offense, have great underlying numbers but seem more prone to the global killer mistake, way more so with Burns, of course.
2. It's really hard to judge a coach without having a length body of work. I once thought Todd McLellan was the best coach in the NHL; now, after seeing his deployments and decisions, I don't know. How much of it is him? How much is GM Doug Wilson? Unless you're in the office with those guys, you can't say for sure.
Sometimes you need a fresh voice. Alain Vigneault wasn't a bad coach toward the end of his time in Vancouver, yet he was fired because things were stagnating, which happens. That's what happened in Nashville, too. I'd say go back and read what Jon Cooper said about good coaching. Even when we know, we don't really know who the good coaches are.
Who should win the reverse Hart Trophy? That is, which player had the most negative impact on their team?
I will use similar criteria to the real Hart Trophy, only the player has to be a true albatross around the neck of a team that otherwise would be in the playoffs. We shall call it the Trah Trophy. Get it? It's Hart, backward. I get paid to write this.
Anyhoo, it's Kari Lehtonen. The Stars were a playoff team a year ago and with a month to go they are dead in the water and it's largely because of Lehtonen. He is 35th in save percentage (.905) and last among goaltenders to make at least 50 starts. His .911 even-strength save percentage ranks 58th out of 88 goaltenders and, again, is last among those to make at least 50 starts.
Sure, the Stars are allowing 30.7 shots per game this season but it's not much worse than the 30.4 they averaged last season. As a team, they've actually improved their Fenwick from 50.9 percent last season to 51.7 percent this season.
Lehtonen going from .919 last season to .905 this season has absolutely killed the Stars. He is my 2015 Trah Trophy winner.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.