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The prize in the NHL Draft this year looks significant
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NHL: Does the NHL have a tanking problem this season?

While there is no direct evidence of teams choosing to tank an NHL season, ownership and General Managers making their team purposefully uncompetitive clearly happens, particularly in a season when there is a generational talent sitting atop of the draft.

Connor Bedard of the Regina Pats is the name on everybody's lips and is the huge reward for failure over 2022/23, which begs the question does the NHL have a tanking problem this season?

Rewarding failure

The NHL want a competitive league from top to bottom, which is exactly why the draft exists in the way it does, allowing the worst-performing teams to restock and catch up by getting the best prospects.

By rewarding failure, the NHL has enticed the option to tank, but asked about it ahead of 2022/23, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly stated that he has: "zero concerns in this area".

No team is guaranteed Bedard with the bottom 11 teams placed into a lottery to win the first overall pick. This was introduced in 1995 as a deterrent to purposefully trying to finish last. The worst team has a 13.5% chance of winning the lottery and no team can win it more than twice in a five-year span.

Generally, the system works and the Montreal Canadiens certainly can't be accused of tanking last season to pick Juraj Slafkovsky first overall.

While a good player, the Slovak is unlikely to change the fortunes of Montreal's franchise overnight like Bedard has the potential to do for the lucky winner next time. 

Bedard highly sought after

This is where the problem exists, as like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews of recent times, Bedard is a rare commodity.

Projected to be a superstar, the Canadian centre has the potential to become the face of a franchise for years to come and with smart building around him, sky rocket a team from basement dwellers to Stanley Cup contenders.

Bedard is the first player ever to be granted exceptional status by the WHL and during 2021/22 became the youngest player to score 50 or more goals (51). He was only the third 16-year-old to manage a 100-point season in the WHL, and the first to do so in the 21st century.

Blackhawks shooting for Bedard

The Blackhawks are a team who know first-hand the impact a talent like Bedard can have.

Between 1997 and 2007, Chicago qualified for the playoffs just once but their regular position towards and at the bottom of the NHL allowed them to select current Captain Jonathan Toews third overall in 2006 and the aforementioned Patrick Kane first overall a season later.

Just three years later the pair were instrumental in the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup and again in 2013 and 2015 during a dynasty period for the organisation.

Back to square one

With just one playoff appearance in the past five years, the Blackhawks are back to square one, and quite clearly aiming to pull off the same trick again by using the draft to fuel future success.

Top scorer Alex DeBrincat was traded to the Ottawa Senators in the off-season, three-time Stanley Cup Champion Marc-Andre Fleury moved to Minnesota Wild and Brandon Hagel sent to help the Tampa Bay Lightning's bid for a third straight Stanley Cup last season.

Like Fleury and Hagel, Toews and Kane look set to be moved to a contender ahead of the deadline this season.

On top of star names, the Blackhawks were also stripped of depth with Dylan Strome and Kirby Dach being allowed to leave via free agency.

All moves suggest a focus on nothing more than a large fall down the standings, but who can blame General Manager Kyle Davidson?

Recent history

Kane and Toews weren't the only generational players to turn a franchise on its head.

See also Crosby, drafted first overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005, Captaining them to the Stanley Cup in 2009, 16 and 17. Ovechkin, picked first overall by Washington Capitals in 2004 took a little longer to get his side there but lifted the franchise's first Stanley Cup as Captain in 2018.

Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers) are two of the biggest and most prized players in the world, each tearing up scoring records after being selected first overall.

So, with Bedard on the board, it's easy to see why the Blackhawks and notably the Arizona Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks have chosen to make themselves as uncompetitive as they can get away with this season.

Weighing up a tank

Depending on the path several other struggling teams choose to take for the remainder of the 2022/23 campaign, the NHL may well have a competitiveness problem this season.

But it's a Bedard thing. Without the chance of that talent on the board, the option of tanking rarely weighs up favourably.

Sporting integrity generally reigns supreme as does the aim of selling a product as few want to pay high prices to watch and support regular losers. Coaches and players also find themselves on a different page to their General Manager and owner, too proud and with their own agendas to try to win as much as possible.

If the Blackhawks for example win the lottery, GM Davidson's tear down will be well justified. If they don't, it could come at a huge cost and that's the chance teams take, and often it's just not worth it. 

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