Tanking: controversial, yet effective

Louie DiBiase, Reporter

There are a number of controversial topics in the world of sports. There are scandals within league front offices, cheating of many sorts (see: New England Patriots), but none of these issues are as controversial and debatable as the strategy of tanking.

Tanking is when a team is giving up on short-term success and losing on purpose to gain a future competitive edge. It is a strategy that a number of teams have used throughout every league in the world of sports.

This strategy is controversial because there are two key sides to the argument of whether tanking is a viable solution to a team’s problems.

On one side, you have team employees, media members and fans alike who believe that tanking is ethically wrong and hurts the integrity of sports.

Many believe that throwing a game or even a season to get a high draft pick or finish in a certain position come playoff time can damage a sport and its future. Not to mention the fact that fans put a lot of time and money into a sports franchise.

Tanking should only drive these die-hard fans away, right? Wrong. Fans are typically smart and understand how leagues work. Yes, the team will struggle in a single season and will not contend for a championship. Fans must face the fact that winning titles takes star power across the entire roster, which comes from high draft picks and through free agency. It seems hard to justify trying to win with a mediocre roster.

Tanking allows a team to start fresh by trading away older talent that hasn’t been able to get a team to the next level for future draft picks. This then allows a general manager to select generational talent that can only be found in drafts. Creating potential will bring in free agents who want to play for an organization with a bright future.

The Buffalo Sabres are a perfect example of a team that did just that. With second year general manager Tim Murray trying to rebuild a roster that had missed the playoffs three years in a row, he chose the quickest solution in getting the Sabres back to a being a successful, winning organization once again – tanking.

Tim Murray signed a few veteran leaders in Brian Gionta, Matt Moulson, and Andrej Meszaros. These players were great leaders, but they made minimal impact on the ice.

Making these off season acquisitions put Murray in a perfect situation. It seemed that the Sabres were trying to improve with these moves, but in reality the team was in no position to compete for a playoff spot.

It may not seem like a good thing that the team was not in contention for the postseason, but with two prospects in the then-upcoming draft that are being compared to Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby, being bad would put Buffalo in a great position to land one of the two.

Murray went all-in on the tank during the season, trading away two productive goaltenders and five forwards. The team ended up finishing in last place, guaranteeing Buffalo a top-two pick.

Drafting Jack Eichel opened up more doors for the Sabres than anyone imagined. Buffalo ended up trading for all stars Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and Ryan O’Reilly, plus they were able to land a few key free agents.

Although there were fans and media members who were against the “unethical strategy”, it has put the Sabres in a position to contend for a Stanley Cup within the next few seasons.

There are a number of examples that prove tanking was a smart strategy for teams. Without it, the Cleveland Cavaliers would potentially be without Lebron James.

It’s tough to get fans on board with tanking, and leagues are doing what they can to stop it, but there isn’t a specific way that any league can prove that a franchise is losing on purpose.

Yes, losing is never supposed to be the desired outcome in the sports world. However, if winning a championship is the ultimate goal for any organization, then tanking is a strategy that struggling teams need to consider.

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