The FN Faceoff: To Tank Or Not To Tank? (7pm MT, LIVE)

Tonight, LIVE via Google Hangouts, YouTube and the magic of the Internet, join FlamesNation’s Ryan Pike, Christian Roatis and Kent Wilson – and perhaps some special guests maybe – to discuss the hottest topics of the day.

For our first FN Faceoff, our topic is…

TO TANK, OR NOT TO TANK?

Is it better to lose and get a great draft pick, or is it more important to build a “winning culture” (or at least prevent the establishment of a losing one)? That is, as they say, the question. Join in via Google Hangouts, YouTube and/or on Twitter via #FNFaceoff.

And if you can’t join in live, watch the archive via YouTube and let us know what you think!

  • Jeff Lebowski

    The question of tanking is an interesting one. Playing not to win…how does one even do that?

    Miss the net? Don’t save the puck? Take penalties?

    Allowing the notion that it is advantageous to lose should never occur in an athlete’s mind. Messing with the mental or psychological make up, thinking winning can be switched on or off is terrible thinking especially if you intend to keep players from the tank roster “off switch” and have them then contribute to the win roster “on switch”.

    This is essentially what Hartley is trying to instill:

    The process of winning is a habit. It takes enormous effort, consistency and discipline just to put yourself in position to win (the process as it were) that can’t happen in an instant.

    Tanking seems antithetical to sport in general.

    However, deliberately weakening your team via roster manipulation can achieve both goals:

    1) Maintain competitive integrity while evaluating organizational depth.
    2) Drastically improve odds of acquiring one of the most valuable assets a team can use in any time horizon.

    Even then, roster manipulation doesn’t ensure loses. Look at this time last year.

    So to truly tank and ensure loses, a team must intend to lose. If that is the question, then no way. NEVER. Nuture beats nature in this case.

    It’s easy to use edmonton as an example as they literally live in fantasyland. Not only did they cheer for finishing last, they asked the kids to save the franchise because hey they’re high draft picks and that’s all you need. The talented kids will figure it out and lead the way. They just need to be talented. Like messier and gretzky ( they truly believed hall and rnh were the second coming). No one needs to be held accountable or anything.

    Now their fanbase is crucifying their team cause they won’t flip the switch to win. They deserve all their misery. They earned it.

    • Yes I do understand that sports is all about winning and that is what the fans and owners expect!

      Unfortunately you must play the game. The game is when your in the bottom 10 the other 9 teams will most likely tank for draft position. If you don’t play the game then you lose out on some much needed young talent.

      Be a hero and finish around 20th. It will get you nothing! Your competitors will be laughing and will secure the Ekblads, Reinharts, Bennett’s etc etc. You will get garbage in a low quality draft year!!

    • beloch

      The Oilers are a really interesting case… Arguably, they’re built to tank.

      First of all, some of their star rookies still have a lot of development left to do. Eberle and Gagner aren’t really rookies but could still take a small step forward. Perron is probably peaking now. However, Hall is 22, the Nuge is 20, and Yakupov is also 20. Hall and Nuge in particular are going to be scary good in a few years. The only question is, scary good at what? Offense surely. They stink at possession and defensive play currently. Will that change? It’s possible given the right guidance. There are no quality two-way veteran forwards providing that guidance and, even if Eakins were able to provide it himself, nobody is listening to him. If these guys never develop beyond being offense-only creampuffs the team is going to have a problem. MacTavish should be soiling his bed nightly over this.

      There is simply no way Eberle, Hall, or the Nuge are worth $6M/year right now. They’re rookies who can score if given shelter but get eaten alive by top competition. The Oilers blew a third of their payroll on three creampuffs! Those contracts might eventually become reasonable but they’ve really cut the balls off the team this year. There should be an entire solid veteran possession line providing shelter for the creampuffs that is completely absent at present. Also, the bottom six needs to be filled out with competent bums rather than possession holes who would have a hard time finding work on a decent AHL team.

      The Oilers’ blueline is, to be blunt, a disaster. It’s holes from top to bottom, with the possible exception of Martin Marincin. He might become a useful defender but everyone else is horrible. Ference tops the payscale out at a whopping $3.25M with nobody else making over $2M. Worse yet, most of these guys aren’t worth half of what they’re paid!

      To sum up, the Oilers have massively overpaid a bunch of creampuff rookies who currently have no business playing against top competition. There is a notable absence of veteran possession players that could give the creampuffs the shelter and mentoring they still desperately need. The bottom six lacks competency. The Oilers are paying far too little for their defencemen and getting far too little for what they’re paying. This team is just plain built wrong.

      The disturbing thing about the Oilers rebuild is that they still look to be at least 2-3 years from making the playoffs. They don’t have scads of cap-space to address their needs via free agency. They have a high quality defensive prospect in Nurse, but he won’t be ready for top minutes for 2-3 years at best and no prospect is 100% certain to succeed. Hall, Nuge, and Yak are unlikely to be able to face top competition for 2-3 years, if ever. They need to acquire a huge number of quality possession players at every position and role but lack the assets to trade for them. They might have some prospects in their system who will step up, but probably not in less than… 2-3 years.

      • Jeff Lebowski

        The oilers are indeed interesting.

        Their entire philosophy, and the demands of their fanbase, is predicated on their glory days: the ability to score goals. Even back then, I would imagine that talent was not their driving force. It was necessary but only in concert with effort. I would argue that winning, in any era, has to include the unglamorous companion of effort.

        The rule changes in 2005, thought to increase offense actually made it he game more tactical. The rules did remove the physical slowing down of the game (clutch and grab) but perhaps ushered in the hallmarks of today’s NHL: positional play and shot blocking. Watch any game, you will see how crowded the scoring chance area is. Defences pack their zone in the middle of the ice. How to get even a shot through?

        A team needs to play the oft heard ‘200 foot game’. Be in position.

        Edmonton’s tanking rewards, hall, ranch, yak and also the rest of their top 6 don’t do any of that. They focus on scoring. That’s all that franchise and fanbase want them to do. In a way who can blame them?

        Instead of committing to playing vets, who weren’t as gifted but knew how the league had shifted, guys like hemsky or any of the holdovers : horcoff
        They gave TOI to kids and preached patience.

        Instead they should have done what every team does now: make the young bucks learn the 200 ft game so they earn the ice away from the vets.

        It is now impossible for them to go backwards ie take TOI away until they learn the ‘right way’. Those kids have been told so many things about how great they are that they feel it’s not their job to supply the 200 ft effort. They have the skill.

        Though unscientific, have we seen pre cap, free agent frenzies where a team tries to buy wins via buying talent only to see epic failures: glen slather.

        Have we also seen untalented teams overachieve to great heights? Even the expansion teams.

        You need good players, no doubt. However creating a situation where loses are seen as advantageous to the franchise does no good. Those players learn extremely detrimental lessons. Lessons that can’t be unlearned. You have to erase them and start anew.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Tanking is stupid.

    I’d rather see my team lose, than win by being douchey.

    I had absolutely no jealousy of Canucks fans when their team was diving their way to the Cup finals, while my team was just bad.

    If and when someday the Oilers stop being so bad, and god forbid maybe even get better than the Flames, I won’t be jealous of that either.

    Because those teams spent years of disgrace bringing shame to themselves and to the league.

    Big business is going to do what big business is going to do. But at the end of the day this is sports. And you may have heard this at some point in time, but its true: in sports it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.

    I don’t want to cheer for a hockey club that has no integrity as an organization, and tanking is lack of integrity writ large.

  • Derzie

    Tanking is NOT pulling your goalie when down by 2 (Sabres, I’m looking at you). Tanking is calling up Steve McIntyre to replace Eberle. Tanking is putting every player with a salary north of 2 mil on IR for hangnails. Tanking is an embarrassment. No tanks.

    • SmellOfVictory

      Steve MacIntyre is a decent guy doing a tough job! He has nothing to do with the Oilers tanking! Their cream-puff lineup of overpaid, under- proven”stars” is the reason they are in the tank again!!!

  • SmellOfVictory

    if the draft pick was Crosby, I’d play Macdonald in goal every game and give major minutes to McGrattan and call O’Brien backup. But I like to be pragmatic.

    • Even Oiler fans are impressed with McGrat’s efforts and obvious improvement this year! He does not look out if place on the third line, and has shown great leadership qualities in addition to being the NHL Heavyweight Champ!!! He does not deserve your ridicule! He is a class act on and off of the ice!

  • SmellOfVictory

    I am fairly to new to this place but wondered if anyone has ever seen the bearded 4 all together at one time?
    Good job, enjoyed it and good putting faces and character to your articles! Keep it up fellas

  • MWflames

    Nice work guys, this was enjoyable.

    RE: Winner culture is not worth anything

    That concept is wrong in so many ways. Is it worth more than the difference between hayden fleury and Aaron Ekblad. I’m personally on the fence, and I would probably lean towards tank mode. But to state there is no difference what so ever between competing hard, attempting to win and barely missing the playoffs and being a complete embarrassment of franchise that intentionally ices the worst team possible is totally false.

    Strong organizational culture is an incredibly difficult thing to achieve. Whether its a hockey club, international corporation or small company, its all very similar, and most certainly not changed overnight. Developing unanimous buy-in to the right values takes non-stop effort and commitment from top down. Strong Culture is also lost exponentially quicker than it is created if the message isn’t consistent and thorough. Bad habits are a real thing, and they’re cancerous to any kind of team. I completely do not by the argument that “oh they’re professionals, they know how turn it on” & “they’ll learn to hate losing more this way.” I find it very interesting that culture has no value in this discussion when many of the flames short comings in the last half decade had everything to do with a poor culture. I don’t mean to say that those teams were cup contenders, but I’d say its pretty unanimous that the flames were largely underachievers and flakes for several years. There were clearly bad habits within the core of that group that could never be changed. But when the discussion of developing our future, strong culture takes an immediate sideline? WHY!? If we don’t learn from the mistakes of the past, we are doomed to repeat them in the future. It is completely unreasonable (especially as a flames fan) to expect a few (if you’re very lucky) elite talents to come in and perform a total overhaul on the core culture and turn the team around on their backs within a few years. Yes, it has happened. But this is very rare. It has a ton to do with upper management right down to the coaching staff and all the players, and it needs to be consistent and built upon year after year. This atmosphere that the flames are building is not switched on like a light. It took a complete overhaul of the organization to get things moving in the right direction.

    Another benefit is that the current flames are learning is how to win. Winning is one of the most difficult things in sport. I’m pretty sure most people who’ve played high level competitive sports will agree. Just like shooting, skating, passing and defending, being a winner is a skill. I’ve seen many great athletes fall short, and surrender upsets because the lack the ability to perform when the game is on the line. Ever see a player, or perhaps a line just completely take over a game. With some players you say “oh ya that’s just Toews doing what he does” and others you’re like “God, if only hemsky could play like that everyday.” That is the difference between having the ability to be perform consistently, and reliably when the pressures on and the game is on the line, and crumbling and forcing stupid plays and trying too hard, and generally not pulling through more often than not. This is being a winner, and yes Toews is more talented than Hemsky, but it is still a skill, and it is absolutely part of reason Toews is better Hemsky. Winning requires practice just like any other skill, and things like confidence are greatly affected by winning.

    Other benefits include, better development occurs in a better, more competitive, atmosphere, and flames assets grow in value as a result. As I said before I’m not 100% sure which way I would choose it if I had the choice, but you know what? The way the flames are buying-in, playing hard and playing above themselves is a damn good alternative and silver-lining, and it seems, from your discussion, very under appreciated.

    Anyways, thats my rant. Really did enjoy the discussion though, looking forward to the next one.

    • piscera.infada

      I agree with you in a sense, and the people saying “winning culture is a myth” in a sense. I guess I would say that often the whole conception of a “winning culture” is often over valued to the point of absurdity – much like saying “losing has value”.

      This is where I agree most with @Jeff Lebowski. The organization has made a concious decision to ice a team that is not prima facie competitive (I mean, when you look at the roster, yikes!). It’s a completely reasonable position to be in from a front-office stand point, as clearly there is a need for an injection of elite prospects into the organization. The important point here is that you can never allow that to creep into the collective or individual psyche of your players. That, in and of itself is the issue inherent in “tanking”. How do you reconcile an organizational philosophy where losing as much as possible leads to the “reward” of a high draft pick, with players and coaches who are always expected to win? Of what use is a professional athlete that doesn’t care about winning?

      The thing about the “winning culture” argument is that it’s not a catch-all. You can’t build an elite team devoid of elite talent just because the players “love to win” or “know how to win”. It’s an element, for sure, but it’s certainly not the be-all end-all. What I do believe however, is that I cannot be happy about losing as a fan because it gets us one step closer to the “prize” of a top pick. Yes, I understand we need elite talent, but I’m skeptical that drafting first overall is the only way to do that. As such, I will cheer for wins and let the draft order fall where it may. Picking high in a rebuild is no more of a cure-all than a “winning culture” is. It’s about instilling a organization-wide direction and philosophy for the future – something that I think we can see in the Flames organization (and something that has been lacking for a very long time).

    • Jeff Lebowski

      the reason it takes an immediate sideline is because a winning culture is based on the idea that management is not incompetent. if a team is losing a lot, that’s the fault of the management, not the atmosphere in the room. I dont think there is anyone in existence who will ever not like to win or enjoy losing. it is genetic. no hockey player on the planet will ever say that is acceptable to lose, and you’re free to ask every single one of them if you want. let’s start with me! I will never want to lose, regardless of what people say a losing culture can do. the issue of losing culture or winning culture is a post hoc explanation based on what is going on on the ice. it is irrelevant.

  • MWflames

    I am all for a winning attitude and seeing our players develop. However, looking at next draft and the golden prize (McDavid) that is waiting there. Team’s need star power, and look at what a legit star can bring to a team. The flames are polar opposites of the Oilers in how they are rebuilding and I’m frankly okay with that. But are any of our guys now going to be a top 5 talent in the league one day?

  • MWflames

    Elite talent isn’t always found in the first 3 picks of the draft. Getting the 1st overall pick is virtually impossible unless you’re the oilers.

    Lots of teams picked up their elite talents either later in the draft or through free agency. so tanking to get alex daigle is useless. Good drafting from any position in the draft makes a contender. A good culture and opportunity makes free agents want to show up.

    Look at Detroit, Anaheim, Boston teams like that who draft well get the occasional star free agent and have elite talent found outside of the first 5 picks in the draft.

    Tanking is idiotic

    • piscera.infada

      I completely agree with you that elite talent doesn’t have to be found in the top-3 picks – San Jose is another example. That said, scouting has advanced greatly since Alex Daigle. With all the information now at scouts’ fingertips the first couple picks of a draft are becoming less and less of a crap shoot. The inherent nature of developing young talent however, makes “busts” inevitable. But yes, tanking simply for picks is idiotic – it runs contra to everything that professional sport is about (at least in it’s most basic sense, absent from the free market).

      • supra steve

        I am always disapointing to read posts that don’t look at the facts. Several have posted that teams like StL and Chi and LA have built the RIGHT way (not bottoming out and selecting early on multiple occasions), that is incorrect.

        Your assertion that San Jose is a strong club, without top picks is also incorrect.

        Thornton was not a Sharks pick, but he was #1 overall in ’97.

        Coincidentally enough Marleau WAS a Sharks pick that same year at #2 overall.

        Brad Stuart #3 in 1998 (used to aquire Thornton), Michalek #6 in 2003, Setoguchi #8 in 2005 (via trade), Couture #9 IN 2007. Some of these high picks have moved on, but the Sharks did get assets back for these players.

        The talent that you can get with a top 3-5 pick is very hard to get with later picks, it can and does happen, but not as often as with one of those top picks. The Flames have never picked in the top 3.

        • piscera.infada

          I don’t buy it. In fact, I don’t think you are looking at the facts correctly (although I’ll concede the San Jose example, because you proved me wrong there). What’s the cut-off for “elite” picks? If you can come up with something more substantial than the standard (and rather arbitrary) “top-3”, or “wait top-5”, or “wait top-7”, or … ad nausea… then we can have a conversation about how many teams have actually picked in the “elite” range how many times. But to look at a team and say “oh, they got elite picks by tanking”, referencing Couture at #9, is not a real example of anything. If you say “you have to finish with a top-3 or top-5 pick for ‘x’ number of years”, then prove it’s been done successfully while taking into account winning the lottery (Chi and Pitt) or, having a player fall when in hindsight he should have been picked earlier (Chi with Toews).

          The point I’m making is finishing with a high draft pick is great. The organization still has to make that pick. So to say “top picks ensure elite players” is missing half the story (and I would argue it misses more than half the story, because as we know well as Flames fans, development is also a large part of the battle).

          I’ll agree to disagree though because I just like the discussion.

          • supra steve

            “top picks ensure elite players”

            I didn’t/wouldn’t say that.

            However, looking at the top 10 teams in the standings currently, picks they have had in the top 10 and top 5 since 2004 entry draft:

            StL-4 top 10 picks, 2 of those were top 5 picks

            Bos-4,2

            Ana-3, 1

            SJ-2 (Thornton/Marleau etc. preceded my time frame here), 0

            Chi-4, 3

            Pit-3, 3

            Col-3, 3

            TBL-4, 2

            Mtl-2, 2

            LA-3, 3

            Is it fair for me to say that to become an elite team, the Flames NEED to accumulate a few more very high draft picks? So, to gain those picks the Flames either have to have a few “off” years, or gain (in trade) some early picks from some other lowly teams.

          • piscera.infada

            That’s fair to say and I agree with that. I never disputed that point. In fact, if you read my earlier post, I said as much. It’s the notion that a team must finish with a first overall draft pick, or must finish with two or three or more top-3 draft picks to be successful, that I dispute.

            The Flames will, after this season, have drafted in the top-10 twice, with (I’m sure) another one or two in the coming years (I would assume at least one of those will be even higher). What’s the problem with that? They won some games and the draft pick might not be top-3, but it’s still likely to net them a good to great player. I’m just not going to sit here and be happy with losses roll in. I’ve seen some big positives this year, and “winning culture” or not, I’m refuse to say that missing out on Ekblad, Reinhart, Bennet, etc. is going to undo those positives.

            I guess I’m just more of the mind that if you’ve structurally tanking (ie: dressing and AHL team), and it just doesn’t take, then at least you’ve been able to evaluate some players, and your draft pick is just going to fall where it falls. You better hope your scouts have done their job.

      • Jeff Lebowski

        I don’t think scouting has advanced greatly, or even to a trivial degree. There are more scouts and more players to scout.

        Weisbrod said, the later picks, if you can get players there, is the sustainable way to build and maintain team quality. He seems to have delivered. Others not so much.

        In edmonton’s first overall years they also had the first picks in the 2,3,4 rounds. What to show?

        In fact they coveted our 6 th rounder, Brossoit, who may be good but was on the bottom rung organizationally. It proves one thing: Feaster and Weisbrod were great at drafting (I allow the FEW other orgs who have mined late round gems). Not the league.

        The singular focus on top 3 – elite picks/talent is a red herring – to a degree.

        High hockey IQ. The Weisbrod Way. That is what has transformed the Flames system. You also see it at pro level. How they identified Russell , Hudler, Byron,

        If Calgary ends up with a team full of good but not a few great players, I think this will allow them to be a great team for years in a cap world.

  • Thanks for the feedback folks. If you liked it we will definitely try to make this a semi-regular thing. We’ll try to incorporate audience questions/chat during the broadcast and maybe invite a few guest commenters to participate.

  • Tenbrucelees

    It’s very simple In my mind.

    You ice the best team available to you and you expect them to play as well as they can each every game.

    You do this until the last match of the season at which point you look at the table and see where you stand in terms of where the team drafts.

    You then pick the best player available to you.

    There should be no efforts to try and strategically control your finishing place.

    I know it’s an idealistic point of view but as another poster stated, integrity is important to my personal enjoyment of sport and I couldn’t care less if the flames were the only ones not demeaning themselves and the game by manipulating their position. Actually I would be proud of the fact.