The most evil four letter word in sports is tank. There’s no shame in losing but there is something fundamentally wrong with not trying to win. Thankfully, the game played on ice is on solid footing in this regard, but the same can’t be said about every other sport.
Each year at the trade deadline, it’s pretty obvious which teams are going for it and which teams are preparing for the future. The New York Rangers front office even announced a month before the deadline that they were giving up on this team and looking ahead. Some people think that NY and several other teams are better off losing down the stretch for the sake of draft positioning. I don’t buy it and thankfully, it looks like the NHL doesn’t either.
The truth is, since the trade deadline the Rangers have gone 5-4-2. The Arizona Coyotes have quietly gone 12-6-1 in their last nineteen. They have relinquished the worst record in the league to the Buffalo Sabres, who, by the way, have also been playing their best hockey at 6-7-1 in their last 14. The Senators of Ottawa are a .500 team in their last eleven. Add the Edmonton Oilers (9-6-1 in their last 16) and you have a significant list of teams nowhere near the playoffs that are playing hard and playing to win. Good for them and good for the league.
Their hardwood counterparts cannot boast the same credential. Dallas Maverick owner, Mark Cuban, got fined for referencing tanking and the NY Knicks (losers of 19 of their last 22) are under investigation for tanking. I love the game of basketball in its purest sense, but the NBA has some work to do in my estimation. My passion for hockey developed because of this sense of playing hard as a team to try and win. I can still hear Herman Edwards (NY Jets coach) saying abruptly, “you play to win the game.” Integrity means more than tanking. Integrity means more than the number one pick in the draft.
Compare the NHL records I just shared with you to the bottom of the NBA. Slumps are one thing, but the obscene numbers you are about to see are worth noting. The Phoenix Suns share the worst NBA record and are on a 1-20 stretch. Tied at the bottom are the Memphis Grizzlies, who have dropped 23 of their last 24 games. The next closest teams to the bottom — the Atlanta Hawks and the Orlando Magic — are on 3-13 and 3-15 stretches, respectively. I know bad teams lose more than good teams but these numbers are an exaggeration of that notion. Is it coincidental that all the teams closest to that top draft pick are in this boat? When you compare it to their hockey counterparts, you have to wonder.
I watched the recent Rangers wins over Carolina, then in a comeback fashion against the 2-time defending champs, the Penguins of Pittsburgh. Madison Square Garden was alive. It gave me a chill to hear that building electric again. Nobody gave the new Rangers a team sweater and told them they are supposed to go out and lose. Hockey fans everywhere can appreciate that about their teams as well. It is built into the very fiber of that NHL team sweater.
Edmonton, another team that has come up dramatically short of hopes and expectations, is still drawing well over 18,000 fans per home game. Do those kinds of crowds show up to see teams that are tanking?