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NHL Playoffs 2012: The Merits Of Tanking For A Better Matchup

For those of you who like me have spent your last month or so on the road and paying little attention to hockey outside of the St. Louis Blues' waiver wire, let's catch up on what the Philadelphia Flyers situation is right now:

The Flyers are fifth in the East with six games remaining. With the third-best record in the conference, they have already clinched a playoff spot. They have almost no shot at passing the Rangers for first, and a slim chance of passing the Penguins for fourth. Regardless of whether they finish in fourth or fifth, however, the Flyers would almost certainly play the Penguins in the first round, which let's face it, no one wants.

Team No. 1
No. 3 No. 4 No. 5 No. 6
1 NY Rangers 89.17%
-- 10.72% 0.12% --
2 Boston who
cares about Boston ?
3 Florida --
93.81% -- -- 0.005%
4 Pittsburgh 10.65%
-- 76.03% 13.30% --
5 Philadelphia 0.00%
-- 13.25% 83.55% 2.96%
6 New Jersey --
-- 0.0002% 3.01% 85.21%

Chances of finishing in X position via Sports Club Stats

So how do we not get what we don't want, you ask? By getting the New Jersey Devils into fifth. And how do the Flyers achieve that? By losing. And losing a lot. With one more game in hand and four more points, the Flyers will have to suck at an extremely high, consistent level in order to give the Devils the opportunity to pass them.

Losing that much in March and April might not seem ideal, but the prize -- avoiding the Penguins and getting the lowly Florida Panthers in the first round -- would almost certainly guarantee the Flyers safe passage through the first round. Just like that cornucopia thing I'm reading so much about, about half the competitors will fall right away in the first round in the NHL playoffs.

The last team I can think of that explicitly tanked at season's end to avoid a tougher early foe was, ironically, the 2007-08 Penguins, who tanked late to avoid our beloved Flyers (starring Jim Dowd and Lasse Kukkonen) in the first round.

So what do you think? With the standings situation this straightforward, should the Flyers take a dive to help their playoff positioning?

P.S. from Travis: Think of it this way, too. Considering the chances of falling to the sixth-seed are extremely low regardless of if the Flyers lose a lot down the stretch, it could come down to a decision on whether or not they wish to face Pittsburgh or the New York Rangers in the first round.

The Flyers play the Penguins twice in the final three games of the season. They play the Rangers once in there, too. Pittsburgh still has a legitimate shot at the division title, and it could very well come down to these games. If the Flyers would prefer to play the Rangers (debatable), it would make sense to:

  • a) beat the Rangers so they fall in the standings and
  • b) let the Penguins win those two games at the end of the year so they climb in the standings, right?

Jeez, I need to take a shower after typing that.