Anatomy of a Tank
by Lucas Buckley
Every year in the National Hockey League there’s a team that doesn’t even get the chance to pack it in, they’ve already decided there may as well not even be a reason to unload sticks or skates or even put on their team’s jersey. They’re often stuck in limbo, whether it be years of mediocrity or an impending doom looming with each year a foundational player ages. You see it with the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche this year. This, as many Buffalo fans know-and most likely don’t need this introduction for- is known as “tanking”. It’s a strategy long practiced whether openly or not by franchise in need of new life. Sell off assets and bring in lesser ones in order to secure a brighter future for your squad. But have you ever noticed that nearly every one of those players fits into specific roles that every building team has? Let’s take a deeper look at these roles, and after reading, take a peak at some of the notorious tanking teams of the past few years and tell me you don’t see the similarities.
Part 1: The Offense
LW: The Aging Has Been- The 1st line Left Wing is usually a player who once was something greater . They’re brought in just to fill up some cap, maybe even to ensure that those loose puck battles are never won.
C: High Draft Pick from Several Years Before- There’s always the guy on tanking squads who was once was, and maybe even still is, viewed as a promising stud. Despite that, they’ve floundered in the minors for previous years between stints battling for playing time in the big leagues.
RW: Career 3rd Liner finally getting good Time- You need someone to fill this spot, so keep around that straggler who has worked hard for years on the 3rd line. Truth is he just not good enough, perfect for helping the team achieve the goal of losing.
LW: Expensive, dwindling FA- Remember that free agent your team picked up a few years ago to maybe bolster a fringe playoff team? Yeah well now you’ve realized that contract kind of sucks, nobody wants the guy and his skills are declining. Stick ‘em where he can show this skill set best.
C: Hey, I know that guy!- He’s a fringe NHLer, maybe had a good season 2 years ago when he was viewed as a guy with a nice bright future. You think he’s good because of his name power, but you quickly realize upon watching him that his star has become a supernova.
RW: Just another long time loyal team member- Self explanatory pretty much. This is a guy who has been with the team and has always deserved better and even still does. He keeps a cool demeanor and always believes in a run, but behind those hopeful eyes lies a sickly pup begging to be put out of misery in the form of a trade to a contender.
LW: Random Swedish Dude- Its pretty much an unspoken rule at this point that every team needs a Swede. His name also ends in -son.
C: He’s forced to be here- So a few months ago your team needed to get rid of its stars and bring in a wagon-load of picks and assets. But uh-oh! That trade won’t go through unless you take that bad contract from the other team. So stick this unmotivated player right on the 3rd line where he will realize just when he thought he had already given up, it suddenly got even worse.
RW: That one Depth forward- This is the guy that’s sole purpose is to help develop the youngsters on the farm, but boo-boos happen, and he is the go-to guy to fill that roster void. Except now he actually has a full time spot. Our biggest problem here- who’s taking care of the young ducklings now that poppa is away for work?
LW: Desperate Grinder- He will literally play anywhere. If he has to, he’ll even play defense. Anything to stay on the team and to give him bragging rights in his beer league 2 years from now.
C: Forgotten Draft pick- I remember that dude! We drafted him in the 3rd round in like 2011! Man, it’s a real shame he never really panned out, but hey, he’s living the dream for at least a little bit!
RW: Why is he even here?- Better served as a 2nd liner in a beer league. He is literal evidence that your team is tanking, and is the reason the NHL will give every team equal lottery odds in a few years. He couldn’t skate down a mile long stretch of road in an ice storm. Maybe if he plays well eno- no no let’s not even go there.
Part 2: The Defense
LD1: An actual talented prospect!- Can you believe it? After all this painstaking suffering, there is a gleam of light. He’s a high pick, spent a year down on the farm, now his progress is showing.
RD1: Successful veteran defenseman- You’ve heard his name before on playoff teams. He can help bring along the young guy he’s paired with, and hey, maybe he’ll even stick around when the building is complete.
LD2: Stop gap-cap clearer- He’s the defenseman equivalent of our 3rd line center. His contract has one year left with some good money that doesn’t come with good play. He’s out of here this offseason.
RD2: Journeyman FA- Ok, so it turns out we’re kind of out of options for NHL caliber d-men. Let’s scoop up the guy who is the 7th defenseman on a playoff team. Did we mention he’s been on 4 teams in 2 years?
LD3: Undrafted FA- He was signed in like, 2010 or 2012 or something. It doesn’t even matter, he’s only here to lose.
RD3: The Human Pylon- He is an honest to god carbon copy of the 4th line right winger. He’s only here because as long as you pay him the league minimum, he will throw himself in front of the 40+ shots your goaltender will face a game (more on that later). His best purpose is his ability to showcase your team’s goaltender that will be used as deadline trade-bait.
Part 3: The Goalies
Starter: Over achieving backup- An extremely serviceable goaltender who wouldn’t be given much of a chance elsewhere. He’s a real trooper, a thoroughbred, facing the plethora of shots that are guaranteed to come his way every night. The scary thing is, he’s going to wind up accidentally stealing a few games for you. He can be traded to a playoff hopeful for some picks and a bad goalie.
Backup: Now Hiring- A revolving door of never-will-be’s whose names you can’t pronounce. Every goaltender in the organization will get at least one crack at this job within the 82 game season.
Now does that look familiar? Never the less, the formula works. It is these men who are the heroes to numerous franchises every year. And a few years from now when that new power house destroys the Sabres hopes, you can thank this gang of renegades for putting that team together.