There has been a lot of talk about the Winnipeg Jets and "tanks" lately.
No, the club isn't entering into a new agreement with the Department of National Defence. There is no tank-themed third jersey in the works. This tank has to do with what's happening in the standings.
For those unfamiliar with the terminology, a "tank" is when a professional sports franchise, already shown to be inferior during the season, is willing to lose as many games as it can to better its drafting position.
The logic, at least on paper, is sound. If you're not going to make the playoffs, why wouldn't you try to better your lot when it comes to selecting young hockey players for your organization? A higher draft position gives you a lot more options to choose from and, if the organization knows what it's doing, can accelerate the process of going from a bad team to a good one.
More often than not, the star players — the true difference makers in the NHL — are found near the top of the draft. That's how the system works. Why not take advantage of the system?
Hard vs. soft tank
The tank has two categories. There is a "hard tank," where a club strips away all recognizable assets so that its roster is so below average, so pathetic, that losing hockey games is practically an automatic.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are an excellent example of this. Look at their roster. One suspects the Leafs farm team, the AHL leading Toronto Marlies, would be able to give them a good game.
Last season, the Buffalo Sabres, openly admitted they were tanking for a shot at the first or second overall pick, even going so far as to trade for an injured player who was out for the year. Nothing subtle about that.
There's also a "soft tank." This is a little more difficult to identify, but the overall premise has the general manager setting up his roster not so it has no chance to win, but so that it would be more likely to lose. The goal is to be competitive so that the club complies with any sanctity of the game narrative held by media, fans and season ticket holders, but not too competitive so that it hurts draft position.
The players on the ice don't tank. The coaches don't tank. They want to win. The tank is a management-driven exercise.The GM sets the tank rules.
The tank is an insult to some.
The tank is the answer for others.
The tank requires tough decisions.
Which brings us to the Jets. Winnipeg (25-29-4, 54 points) is still trying to figure out if they are going to shoot for the playoffs or try to get closer to the bottom of the overall standings. The choice looks like it has already been made for them.
Coming into Saturday's 3-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, the Jets were 10 points back of the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference with 24 games left.
The tank has a big day coming up.
Trade deadline looming
Feb. 29 is the NHL trade deadline, a time when the wheat will separate itself from the chaff.
Teams in the soft middle of false parity will either make that run to the playoffs — adding a couple low-cost rentals to shore up some weak spots — or jettison what pieces they deem expendable and look towards next season.
The tank submits that moving Andrew Ladd is a no-brainer, should the Jets fail to get him under contract. No doubt the return in trade would weaken Winnipeg's roster for the remainder of the season. That would be good news for the tank.
The tank also makes people angry.
It's hard for some to reconcile the suggestion of a club embracing losing as a way to obtain high-end potential and use that high-end potential to possibly push through that mediocre ceiling versus the purity of competition. On top of that, there probably aren't many customers out there who want to pay full price for tickets to watch games under those somewhat unsportsmanlike circumstances.
The tank does not set the market on ticket prices, by the way.
Finally, the tank would like to point out that the Jets, who as of this writing are trying to make the playoffs, are dead last in the Central Division, 13th out of 14 teams in the conference and 27th overall in the NHL standings.
Come to think of it, maybe they don't need the tank. If it's broke and it ain't working, don't try to fix it.