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The Buffalo Sabres and tanking ethics

Linski's List

By Justin Maskulinski, Columnist

The National Hockey League's season is winding down and many eyes are fixed on the upcoming playoffs. Sudden-death overtime, the #bucciovertimechallenge, and hard-nosed hockey will soon be among us.

The fans of the Buffalo Sabres are not focused on the playoffs. After last Thursday's loss to second-worst Arizona, the Sabres' record fell to 20-46-8, giving them a six-point cushion for last place in the league.

For those who are embracing the tank, last place is important because it guarantees the first or second overall pick in the NHL Draft. In other words, it guarantees Jack Eichel or Connor McDavid.

Eichel is preparing for the Frozen Four with Boston University and is the favorite to win the Hobey Baker Award. Eichel has 67 points (24 goals, 43 assists) in 38 games this season.

McDavid plays in the OHL with the Erie Otters, and his stats are even more eye-opening. After 47 games, McDavid has 120 points on 44 goals and 76 assists. His plus/minus rating is plus-60.

Given the top two picks of the upcoming draft, there is a fair argument for tanking if your team is close to that last-place spot.

The Sabres players have said they are not tanking, and it is believable. Hockey is not a quitter's sport, and players will do what they can to try to win every game.

Some, if not most, of the Sabres fans are pro-tank. The Sabres are in new hands with General Manager Tim Murray, and he means business.

Since Murray was announced as GM in January 2014, Murray has traded the following players: Ryan Miller, Steve Ott, Matt Moulson (now back with the Sabres), Cody McCormick (also back with the Sabres), Jaroslav Halak, Brayden McNabb, Jonathan Parker, Luke Adam, Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux, Jhonas Enroth, Brian Flynn, Michal Neuvirth, Torrey Mitchell and Chris Stewart.

The Sabres are in a rebuilding phase, and the addition of Eichel or McDavid would help the process.

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Let's go back to the tank debate. During last Thursday's loss to Arizona, there were many cheers following Arizona goals. The game was in Buffalo, and there were still more pro-Buffalo cheers, but it was impossible to avoid the pro-Coyote voice.

Sabres defenseman Mike Weber did not know what to think after hearing the pro-tank crowd.

"I've always spoken extremely high of our fans. I don't even know if disappointed is the word," Weber said in a postgame interview on Sabres.com. "They score that first one, our fans our cheering. A late penalty, they cheer. They cheer when they score to win the game. I don't even know what to say."

There are many different ways to look at this situation.

One is the Sabres have an opportunity to get a future star, so embrace the tank and cheer for the other team.

Opinion 2: Yes, the tank can bring good things. But you are still a Sabres fan, so smiling after a loss is okay, but you do not have to cheer.

Opinion 3: Root for the Sabres, but understand the good that the tank can bring. You are not openly rooting for a loss, but you are not too upset when it happens.

Opinion 4: You should never want your team to lose, so cheer for them to win. If that means missing an opportunity at the McEichel sweepstakes, so be it.

Currently, I fall somewhere between opinions two and three on the tank continuum. Twitter is a great platform for (mostly uneducated) sports debate, and there are a huge number of people who are in full support of the tank. At the same time, there are some Sabres supporters who truly hold the fourth opinion.

When the official Sabres Twitter account tweets about Buffalo has scoring a goal or taking a lead, instant replies of "no" and "stop" answer the tweet. These are people who hold opinion one.

Regardless of how the remainder of the season plays out, it seems likely the Sabres will earn the number one pick in the draft.

And regardless of where fans fall on the tanking continuum, they will be happy to cheer on Eichel or McDavid next season.

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