NHL Column: Lose for Hughes

Colorado Avalanche left wing J.T. Compher, center Nathan MacKinnon and right wing Mikko Rantanen, from left, take in the final seconds of the team's NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, in Denver. The Wild won 5-2. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The modern sports fan loves to lose. They embrace the idea of failure in hopes of a better future. They believe in the idea that things need to get messier before they get cleaned up.

“The tank,” these days, is a fan’s favorite word. It provides solace for their teams’ losses, and hope for a better tomorrow. When a season takes a wrong turn, with the playoffs becoming a pipe dream, the modern belief is that a team is better off losing to improve their odds at a higher draft pick. While mathematically speaking, this is logical, the philosophy has gotten to the point where fans actually prefer that their team lose every game.

Believers in “the tank” boast building elite squads down the road and avoiding constant mediocrity. From a management perspective, this is a sensible way to look at an organization. But for fans? It just seems backwards.

Rooting for your own team to lose defies the definition of what it means to be a fan. It is understandable in dismal times, but truly pulling for your favorite players to perform poorly ruins the spirit of sports.

This year, the tanking phenomenon is hitting the NHL at an all time high. Ahead of the 2019 draft, more teams appear to be vying for a top draft pick than usual. With this, the “Lose for Hughes” campaign has begun for some of the league’s worst teams, as they hope to obtain this year’s consensus first overall pick, Jack Hughes. The American born center projects to be a generational talent, and someone who can change the shape of a franchise.

A few years ago, The NHL changed the draft lottery system, altering the odds of teams missing the playoffs to receive a top pick. The higher finishing teams received better odds than under the previous system, while the lower finishing teams’ odds worsened. The lowest finishing team’s probability lessened from 25 percent to 20 percent, while the 14th worse team (and closest to the playoffs), had its chances climb from .5 percent to 1 percent. Since then, the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights to the league as its 31st franchise decreased the worst team’s odds from 20 percent to 18.5 percent.

They also altered the lottery so that it would determine the top three picks in the draft, rather than just the top selection. The league hoped to deter tanking by instituting these changes, but in some instances, it has actually increased the number of teams that forget about winning.

With the new system, teams can finish anywhere in the bottom tier of the league and remain hopeful that they will leap forward to picks one through three.

In 2017, the Colorado Avalanche finished the season with an atrocious 48 points, which was 21 fewer than any other team. Despite having the highest odds at 20 percent, they did not win a single lottery pick, and selected fourth overall. The New Jersey Devils, who finished fourth from the bottom, won the top pick. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Flyers, who were 12th worst, got the second pick, and Dallas, the seventh worst team, got the third selection.

While it is easy to argue this as evidence against a tank, it also shows that you do not have to be the absolute worst to obtain tremendous drafting position. The 2019 draft class is regarded as one of the deepest in recent history, meaning that finishing somewhere around five to ten will still likely yield a fantastic player. A team that finds themselves in this range has a strong shot at a top three pick, and even if they do not win the lottery, they will still end up in a decent drafting spot.

The race for Jack Hughes created one of the biggest tanking races the NHL has ever seen. Fans are embracing losing to an extent they never used to. In the past, fans would talk about losing, saying, “At least we’ll get a decent draft pick.” Now, they say things like, “We need to lose for (insert player here).”

The portrayal of top picks is transforming from an idea of exciting prospects to that of saviors. But as fans, why spend months rooting against your favorite team when there is a 20 percent chance or less that the team will actually get that top pick.

Teams that get multiple top selections also do not automatically find success. The Edmonton Oilers have selected in the Top 5 of the draft most years for the past decade, but continue to struggle. Teams that try to rebuild often do not succeed for a countless number of years. When they accumulate these top picks, they are able to build a solid core, but that’s not enough to win. During a rebuild, it is difficult to pick the time to try to start adding supporting players through trades and free agency. It is also tough to break a losing culture that can mount over years of rebuilding.

Despite this, the art of tanking, while boasting foreseeable benefits, is inconceivably accepted by fans nowadays. Each team in the “Lose for Hughes” race will grab a potential star at this year’s draft, but it is easy to forget that only one will claim Jack Hughes. And the chances of getting him are less likely than not.


Dylan Barrett is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at dylan.barrett@uconn.edu.