We’re close to halfway point of the NHL season, and the Vancouver Canucks are in a playoff spot. Not because they are playing particularly well, but because the Pacific Division this season has been terrible. Six of the seven teams in the division are at .500 or worse, including Vancouver, who have 14 wins and 23 losses in regulation in overtime combined, good enough for third place and 37 points. In comparison, the Canucks would place sixth and seventh in the Central and Metropolitan divisions, respectively.
While the playoff home dates will be welcomed by the owners (read: more money), playoffs would mean yet another year of putting off the inevitable. Approaching the stretch run of the NHL season, the Vancouver Canucks need to seriously consider starting the dreaded “T” word: tanking. Tanking is purposely losing to get a high draft pick by putting a subpar product on the ice, and it would be the best course of action for the long-term competitiveness of the franchise.
Although Jared McCann, Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen, and Ben Hutton have shown brief flashes of brilliance, they are not the top-end talent needed to win the Stanley Cup. The only way to get that talent in a salary cap system is to draft them high. Gone are the days before the salary cap where teams like Detroit, Colorado, and Dallas could sign and trade for all the talent they could afford to get. With the salary cap, the free agent market has dried up, resulting in less high end talent getting there and gross overpayments for the players that do.
Recent history has proven that tanking ultimately achieves its desired result.
Trading has become a balancing act, with equal salary having to go out and come back. The only way to get high-end players is to draft them, and more often than not they’re picked in the top five.
Recent history has proven that tanking ultimately achieves its desired result. Chicago drafted Jonathan Toews third overall in 2006 and Patrick Kane first overall in 2007, and went on to win three Stanley Cups in five seasons. LA drafted Drew Doughty second overall in 2008, and he ended up being a major player in their two Stanley Cup wins. Pittsburgh of course drafted Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin first and second overall in their respective draft classes, and have been perennial contenders ever since, even winning the Stanley Cup in 2009. Edmonton is still trying to become competitive, but there are always exceptions to the rule.
The worst place to be is where the Canucks are right now: a middle-of-the-road team. Not only do you not have any chance of competing for the Stanley Cup, you also won’t get a high enough draft place where your odds of picking an high-end, impactful player are good.
The Vancouver Canucks are at a crossroads. Do they make a push for the playoffs that will most likely result in another first round exit? Or do you bite the bullet for the next few seasons, acquire high draft picks, and try and eventually win the Cup? I believe the best course of action is obvious.