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Campbell’s Cuts: Tanking for No. 1 pick an absurd concept

The New York Islanders sit last in the NHL with a 16-33-6 record and 38 points. (Getty Images)

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The New York Islanders sit last in the NHL with a 16-33-6 record and 38 points. (Getty Images)

Here we are 840 games into the NHL season and the only thing we can say for sure is that the New York Islanders are, without a doubt, the worst team in the league.

It’s great to see everything’s going according to plan for them. After all, this is the plan, isn’t it? You know, try to lose as many games as possible to give themselves the best possible chance to get the first overall pick in the draft.

Yup, you have to think owner Charles Wang, GM Garth Snow, coach Scott Gordon and the 20-or-so guys who suit up for the Islanders are just thrilled when they bumble their way to yet another loss in front of 6,000 people in one of the most antiquated buildings in the league.

Over the past couple of years a certain notion of how to do things has been gaining quite a bit of traction. People seem to think that if a team isn’t good enough to make the playoffs, it should simply trash the season by losing as many games as possible. In some corners, it has become generally accepted as a wise plan for franchise building.

Get a grip. The only flaw in the plan is that doing such a thing goes against everything for which the game stands. It rips off and insults the intelligence of the paying customer and it’s a sleazy, unseemly way to go about doing business.

The idea that a team should construct itself in such a way to deliberately be bad isn’t just wrong, it’s fraught with peril. Just ask the Quebec Nordiques what happens when you run your organization into the ground. Oh wait, you can’t ask them because they no longer exist.

The Nordiques spent much of the late 1980s and early ‘90s wallowing in the depths of the league and when they finally realized the fruits of their labors, there wasn’t the political or corporate will to build them a new rink and they won the Stanley Cup in Colorado.

It’s called karma and it’s a you-know-what. It was the same for the Ottawa Senators, who were accused of throwing the 1992-93 season – looking at that roster, not sure how anyone would know – in order to get the first pick overall, which they used on Alexandre Daigle instead of Chris Pronger, Paul Kariya, Jason Arnott, Jason Allison, Saku Koivu or Todd Bertuzzi.

(Of course, things worked out pretty well for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were even worse than the New Jersey Devils in 1983-84 and picked Mario Lemieux. But if watching your franchise teeter on the precipice of extinction is your way of team building, then fill your boots.)

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Not only that, it’s almost impossible to accomplish. In fact, I’d challenge anyone in the NHL to try to be as bad as the Islanders are this season. Sure, they’ll stand an excellent chance of getting John Tavares and even if they lose the lottery and drop to second they’ll have Victor Hedman. But what good are having those players when they’ll spend the next couple of seasons surrounded by borderline minor leaguers? Will those guys teach the young players how to win?

And here’s another thing a lot of people don’t realize when they suggest a team tank the season. Unless you deliberately fill your roster with sub-par players, you’re never going to be able to do it because the players and coaches who put their reputations on the line every time they perform couldn’t care less about the prized prospect the team will get next season.

Tell proud veterans such as Doug Weight, Bill Guerin or Brendan Witt that the plan is to tank the season to get the first overall pick, then let us know how that black eye heals up for you.

Being bad for an extended period of time is not an acceptable way to build a team. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work from time to time, but it sure takes a long time to get the stink off your organization. Teams that are ultimately successful in the long run wouldn’t think of employing that kind of strategy.

They generally go the more conventional route. You know, make good trades, draft and develop players well and manage the salary cap. What a concept.

Or you could try to lose on purpose and keep yourself in a cycle of ineptitude that takes years and years to correct. And if you have no respect for the game and everything it means, then go for it.

I’m willing to bet there are about 30 teams in the NHL that want nothing to do with that kind of building project.

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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