Trading, Building, or Tanking

There has been a frenzy of buzzwords tossed around the last couple of years about ‘generational talents’ and ‘tanking’ for the right to draft them. Articles and quotes filled with accusations and disgust, along with even more proposed changes to the new age lottery system are regular occurrences.

Why all the focus on this?

Looking at the results shows that sometimes being a bad team for an extended period produces a good to great team and other times it doesn’t. Edmonton has been very bad for a long time and still can’t get out of its own way. Toronto has been bad and has not turned it around either. Buffalo was terrible for a couple seasons and might get another top 5 pick this year. With the vaunted parity that has been created, not many teams are more than 10 points out of the playoffs. So if Toronto wants to trade away some capable pieces and get some future value in return why is that wrong. Buffalo did the same last year and picked up value along the way.

The goal is to set your team up for a future when it is like Chicago, trading to win the Cup every year. To me it is almost the same question, a GM is trading to achieve his goals. Right now Stan Bowman’s goal is to win the Stanley Cup, while Lou/Shanny/Babs and Tim Murray are looking to add building blocks to get to that level. With the salary cap and free agency, even if your complaint is that Edmonton should not get all these #1 picks year after year, well those players will get out of that market at some point. On the player personnel front only, I find salary retention deals, players getting buried in the minors, and trading ‘players’ that will never play again to be more distasteful than a team trading current assets for future ones. If Toronto traded Phaneuf for a 7th round pick, then sure that needs to be looked at. Otherwise, if there is decent value going both ways, then it is all about team building. These teams have not benched their best players for half the year or sent 50 goal scorers to the minors.
I think way too much has been made of this issue. Every team needs to rebuild at some point. The example of Detroit being consistently competitive is a streak and like all streaks it will come to an end. The Red Wings were awful in the 1970’s and had some bad years in the 1980’s, then the streak began. Eventually their luck will run out and either they will become a bad team or too long will have passed since the last Cup and fans, new owners, or whoever will demand big changes to rebuild. Personally, I don’t want to see more and more rules and systems applied to the draft. If order of finish is not a good system, then just throw all 30 teams names into a hat and pick randomly for slots. Otherwise, the system becomes contrived and therefore not fair to anyone.

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