Gary Bettman says ‘nobody tanks’ in the NHL

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman attended the Montreal Canadiens game against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night.

“I’ll start off by saying I have no news to break,” Bettman said as transcribed by the Montreal Gazette’s Stu Cowan. “I’m here because I like coming to Montreal to watch games.”

But Bettman managed to break some news anyway by one reponse to a question about tanking that many in the NHL community is finding absurd.

“Nobody tanks because we have a weighted lottery,” Bettman said. “You’re not going to lose games to increase your odds by a couple of percentage points. That’s silly. And frankly, suggesting tanking, I believe, is inconsistent with the professionalism that our players and our coaches have. Nobody tanks. Our players and our coaches do their best to win. And again, just because you may finish with the worst record in the league you’ve got something like a 75 percent chance that you’re not going to get the first pick.”

Bettman’s answer focuses on players and coaches, but not general managers, executives, and owners who have the ability to greatly hinder the team’s success and direction. It comes a month after he said digital ads on the dasherboards are working “extraordinarily well.”

One would have to look no further than the 2003-04 Washington Capitals to see that tanking has long existed in the NHL. The Capitals traded all their stars and key veteran players that season, including Peter Bondra, Jaromir Jagr, Robert Lang, Sergei Gonchar, and Michael Nylander. The Capitals went on to miss the playoffs and finish last in the Eastern Conference. After winning the NHL Draft Lottery in 2004, the Capitals selected Alex Ovechkin with the first overall pick. Ovechkin would eventually lead the club to its first Stanley Cup 14 years later and is now challenging Wayne Gretzky for the all-time goals record.

A handful of teams this season appear to be tanking as well as to try and land the services of Connor Bedard -a likely generational talent.

Wednesday, NHL Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne posted a video making light of the fact that the Anaheim Ducks, who are in last place of the Pacific Division, would love to have Bedard on the team.

During a recent press conference with the media, Canucks’ president of hockey operations, Jim Rutherford, said, “We’re pretty close to the bottom. I’ll say the obvious. We all want the first overall pick. This year of all years.”

Rutherford and the Canucks recently fired Bruce Boudreau and hired Rick Tocchet. The team is considering trading their captain Bo Horvat and several other veterans as the trade deadline nears.

The Montreal Canadiens, who are in last place in the Atlantic Division, recently ended the season of their best goal-scorer, Cole Caufield, due to shoulder surgery. Team captain Nick Suzuki called it “an ongoing injury he’s been battling through.” Caufield was on pace to score 46 times this season.

The Chicago Blackhawks, who allowed talented top-six center Dylan Strome to leave during free agency, are rumored to be jettisoning superstars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane ahead of the trade deadline.

No matter how much Gary says it’s not happening, this season, some teams appear to be in a race to the bottom. When all hope is lost on a playoff spot, having a top three pick is a way to rebuild a franchise and reverse a team’s losing ways as quickly as possible.

During the interview, Bettman also defended Ivan Provorov — “I respect people’s religious beliefs” — and addressed inconsistency with goalie interference on goal reviews — “it’s a judgment call.”

Headline photo: Eliabeth Kong/RMNB

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