NEW YORK – Tanking? What tanking?
Gary Bettman doesn’t see any tanking.
The NHL commissioner insisted Friday morning at the league’s Manhattan offices that nobody lost on purpose this year to improve draft position and have a shot at blue-chip prospect Connor McDavid.
“I don’t believe there’s tanking,” Bettman said. “I think it’s more perceptional. I think that perception gets driven more by commentary than it does in reality.
“The fact of the matter is, if the plan was to tank and get the No. 1 pick, then it obviously didn’t work.”
The Buffalo Sabres finished in last place, but the Edmonton Oilers won the draft lottery last weekend. The Sabres will draft second overall and are expected to select Boston University center Jack Eichel.
“Teams rebuild all the time,” Bettman said, “and if you’ve concluded what you have is not working and you need a rebuild, then you maximize the assets that will take you into the future.
“The Buffalo Sabres are not the first team to go through a rebuild and at the trading deadline acquired future assets.”
The Sabres, though, appeared to sandbag before the season began. They finished in last place a year earlier but did little to improve their chances of winning.
The Sabres were so awful from the get-go that Las Vegas oddsmakers didn’t favor them to win once the whole season.
The Sabres scored 1.87 goals per game, the fourth-lowest average since 1929.
Bettman mentioned that tanking should be less of a concern because the draft-lottery rules have been adjusted and will make it significantly harder for the worst teams to be guaranteed the top picks.
The Sabres had a 20 percent likelihood of winning the lottery. Next year, the top three picks will be assigned by a lottery.
“I don’t think that teams tank,” Bettman said. “I think teams rebuild, and in terms of the perception we have the mechanisms in place that should, despite suggestions to the contrary, eliminate that debate.”
If teams don’t lose on purpose, then why was the NHL compelled to make adjustments to its draft-lottery process?
“We’re dealing with the perception,” Bettman said. “Just like at the top – there were 16 points separating the top 16 teams – the margin on the back end isn’t that great either. It’s not like there’s one or two teams that stand out relative to anyone else.”
The NHL’s bottom five teams finished within 17 points of each other.