Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Are the Lightning tanking it?
As the season is winding down, and certain teams are eliminated from playoff contention, I often hear fans utter comments such as this "I hope we lose every game and get a better draft pick" Of course, the NHL instituted a draft lottery in 1995 to prevent teams from doing that, but still it doesn't hurt to have the most lottery balls in the drawing for the first overall pick.
Knowing that NHL players play with more pride than all the other sports combined, it seems far fetched that an organization would actually consider losing games on purpose. However, looking at the trend of the Tampa Bay Lightning the last three seasons, including this season, one could make an assumption that something is up.
Lets start with two years ago, being the 2007-2008 season. Both Los Angeles and Tampa Bay were clearly the two clubs that had the worst records in the league. Tampa Bay ended that season going 2-7-1 in their last ten games, and losing the final four games convincingly. The Kings went 4-5-1 in their last ten games and both teams finished with the same number of points. LA had more wins than the Lightning so Tampa technically had the worst record in the league and the best chance at the first overall pick. The prized pick that year was Steven Stamkos, who was billed as the next great player by every scout in the league. He drew comparisons to Lemieux, Gretzky, Crosby, you name it. This season he has been brilliant posting 47 goals and 89 points. Don't feel bad for LA either, as they ended up with Drew Doughty who is under consideration for the Norris trophy.
Looking at Tampa's record last season might make the argument more convincing. The Lightning lost their final nine games in a row, and posted one regulation win in their last fourteen games. They couldn't lose enough to finish worse than the Islanders last year, but still ended up with the leagues second worst record and landed coveted defenseman, Victor Hedman. Does this smell fishy at all to anyone? After watching the Lightning get drubbed 5-0 by the Rangers, and 8-5 last night by Carolina, recently, I can't help but see a pattern here, and I'm intrigued to see how the finish the final three games.
I would never say that a team is not trying to win on purpose in this league, because it opens up more of a chance for injury, and hockey players have too much personal pride. Plus some of the players on the Lightning are fighting for NHL jobs and should be motivated to keep an NHL career.
However, this year promises to be a deep draft that includes Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin who are projected to be can't miss prospects. If you look at the overall NHL standings, and take out Edmonton, who clinched the leagues worst record months ago, six teams are separated by six points at the bottom. The Lightning currently sit with the third worst record in the league, only two points ahead of Toronto. Let's not forget that the Lightning were in the playoff hunt a few weeks ago.
This is a complex issue, not only in the NHL but other sports as well. It bothers me when teams such as the NY Islanders, and Carolina Hurricanes, who are playing well and fulfilling the spoiler roll to playoff teams on certain nights, may be hurting themselves in the long run. Of course, coaches will say otherwise that it's important to win every game for confidence going into the next season, which may be true. But really is it? What if the Islanders end up with the tenth pick instead of the third pick?
One would hope, the trend that appears to be happening in Tampa is just a coincidence and not the Lightning management acting on what the fans would want. Your thoughts?