Tanking in the NHL isn't a problem that needs to be fixed

Tanking Isn't A Problem That Needs Fixing

The NHL spends an incredible amount of time trying to fix tanking. The idea of teams losing on purpose dominates the thoughts of the league's brass way more than it should.

They can tinker and toy with the NHL Draft Lottery as much as they want, but that still won't fix tanking. Teams will still justify losing in the hopes of drafting what they feel could be a franchise-altering player with the first overall pick.

Odds To Win NHL Draft Lottery
End of Season RankImplied OddsOdds


But who cares? Let those teams tank.

1st Overall Picks Bring Immediate Success 

Let's dispel the myth that first-overall picks bring immediate success. There's no doubt whoever is selected first overall is going to be a good NHL'er, but alone that player doesn't guarantee success. At least not how success is defined in this league. And that's winning a Stanley Cup.

From 2003 through to 2019, only seven first-overall picks have (so far) won a Stanley Cup. None have done it earlier than Chicago and Patrick Kane. The Hawks won a Cup three years after drafting Kane. 

Even if you broaden your definition of "immediate success" to just making the playoffs, the returns are poor.

Over the past five years, only one team has made the playoffs in the year after making the first overall pick. And that was the Rangers, who were technically a playoff team thanks to the expanded postseason format following COVID.

1st Overall Picks & Playoffs
NHL SeasonTeamMade Playoffs?Odds To Make Playoffs
2018-19Buffalo SabresNo+275
2019-20New Jersey DevilsNo-125
2020-21New York RangersYes+140
2021-22Buffalo SabresNo+1600
2022-23Montreal CanadiensNo+1200

You can go back even further and find that over the last 15 years, only four teams made the playoffs the next year after drafting first overall. That means 73% of teams drafting first overall don't make the postseason the next year. Ouch.

Will They eventually be successful?

Teams that draft first overall typically do so for a reason, they're bad. It's borderline irresponsible to ask a teenager to change a bad team virtually single-handedly in year one. But give that kid some time and he'll get that Cup, right?

Not really. Of the last 20 Stanley Cup champions (that includes the 2023 Vegas Golden Knights) nine teams didn't have a first-overall pick on the roster. 

The eleven sides that did have a number one pick on their roster took an average of 8.75 years before winning their first Cup.

In other words, a twenty-year sample shows us that nearly half of the teams who drafted first haven't won a Cup with that pick and the ones that did needed nearly nine years (on average) to surround that first-overall pick with the right talent before winning.

How Can NHL Fix Tanking?

I think I've made my position clear. Don't fix tanking. If anything the NHL should drop most of the measures meant to prevent tanking.

For example, get rid of the "Oilers Rule". A rule designed to limit the number of times a team can draft first in a set number of years. Edmonton took the first pick four times in a six-year period from 2011 to 2015 and still hasn't won anything. 

While I'd get rid of the draft all together I realize that's a pretty radical stance. I'd settle for the same setup as the NFL draft; the worst drafts first and so on. 

Tanking in the NHL happens but it isn't something that needs to be fixed.