Former NHL coach Ron Wilson was a panelist on TSN’s NHL Trade Deadline coverage, and dropped a bomb during a discussion of teams throwing their seasons for high draft picks: While coaching in the NHL, he was asked by a former general manager to tank.
Which team and general manager? Wilson left a trail of breadcrumbs that would make Hansel and Gretel blush. The clues:
- It was a team that was a former Stanley Cup finalist. The only time Wilson made the Cup Final was with the Washington Capitals.
- It was a season that had several high-profile injuries that caused the team to struggle, to the point where a tank was considered.
- The player the team drafted “didn’t play in the NHL.”
Our guess: The 1998-99 Washington Capitals.
The Caps made the 1998 Stanley Cup Final, losing four straight to the Detroit Red Wings. The following season, the Capitals saw significant man-games lost from Peter Bondra (limited to 66 games), Sergei Gonchar (a holdout plus an injury cost him 29 games), Adam Oates (59 games) and others. In total, the Capitals had 511 man-games lost to injury that season.
By March 20, 1999, the Capitals were seven points out of the No. 8 seed and 10 behind the Southeast Division leader.
From that point on, they went 2-11-0.
Wilson said he was approached by his general manager – at that time, George McPhee – to tank the season. As he said on TSN, it was “harder to try to lose” than attempt to win, because the coach would have to do what he could to facilitate the tank without his players catching wind of it. Then there was the fact that no tank is safe from a hot goalie, which is why the Buffalo Sabres have traded two of them this season.
In hindsight, the 1999 draft was full of landmines. The Vancouver Canucks secured the Sedin Twins, but No. 1 pick Patrik Stefan, No. 4 pick Pavel Brendl and No. 5 pick Tim Connolly didn’t pan out. The Capitals' pick, Kris Beech, did in fact play in the NHL, here and there for 198 games. But he’d become most well-known for being a part of the Capitals’ acquisition of Jaromir Jagr in 2001.
Was Wilson proud of being asked to tank?
“I said I would never do that again,” he said.
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