Is losing the Canes' winning move?

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Tankville is not necessarily a place, but a state of mind.

At various points during this season, you'll hear that Tankville has taken up residence in any number of NHL rinks.

Buffalo is surely an embarrassment to the very term "hockey." Edmonton, Arizona, Florida, and perhaps Columbus will all likely get the Tankville feel as the season unfolds and the reality of having a chance to draft uber prospects Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel gets closer.

Former Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee is doing lots of scouting these days and has seen McDavid and Eichel. He has no doubt they are worthy of such attention.

"As advertised," McPhee told ESPN.com recently of the two generational talents.

The potential lasting impact these players could have on a woebegone franchise is so vast that the NHL stepped in last offseason to change the mathematics of the draft lottery to guard against teams purposely striving to finish at the bottom of the pile to enhance their chances of landing one of the two.

In the 2015 lottery, each of the 14 teams that don't make the playoffs has a mathematical chance of landing the first overall pick. In spite of the changes, the 30th and 29th team in the standings next April still have an excellent chance to get one of the top two picks. And for the team that's dead last, the worst it can get is the second pick.

This brings us to the Carolina Hurricanes.

In looking at which teams are candidates to finish at or near the very bottom of the standings, it is hard not to pinpoint the Canes. After all, they didn't win a single game in October.

They haven't qualified for the playoffs since 2009.

And worse, while they've been bad in recent seasons, they haven't been so bad that they landed a top draft pick, drafting no higher than fifth during their stretch as a lottery team and sending their 2012 first-round pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Jordan Staal deal.

The result: They haven't landed Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, Aaron Ekblad, Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, each of whom might have accelerated a slow climb back to relevance.

There is no doubt that when this team is going, PNC Arena rocks. This was proved when the Canes made an unexpected run to the 2002 Stanley Cup finals, when they took the NHL by storm and won it all in 2006, and even when they went to the Eastern Conference finals in 2009.

The tailgating, the vibe in the building, yes, the BBQ. The Raleigh-Durham area can be a good hockey town -- when the team gives them something to cheer about.

But this team is wobbling now.

Owner Peter Karmanos has indicated he'd like to sell off a big chunk of the team but still wants to retain a controlling interest. Karmanos has been a polarizing figure, appearing on local television last year telling fans they needed to be patient -- something folks who haven't seen a playoff game in five years didn't want to hear. Then when new head coach Bill Peters was hired, Karmanos suggested abruptly that the Canes were good enough to win it all, commentary that was seen by some as an insult to the intelligence of the local fan base.

Toss in an oh-for-October and it's no surprise that on a Monday night in November against the Calgary Flames, the announced crowd was less than 10,000; the vast lower bowl at PNC Arena was a sea of empty plastic seats and a stark reminder of what happens when a team falls off the map.

Is there a potential local owner who would ante up the money to join Karmanos without having a controlling interest? That seems unlikely. So the uncertainty has prompted discussion about whether Karmanos would eventually sell to a group looking to move the team.

New team president Don Waddell insists there is absolutely nothing to suggest the team is in danger of relocating.

The Canes have a lease through 2024, and they are spending $30 million-$50 million to upgrade the facility and create new revenue streams in and around the property. Waddell said it's a hard lease, meaning there is not much flexibility for getting out of it.

The team is also significantly increasing its staff to help promote and sell the team.

So, does the appearance of McDavid or Eichel in a Carolina jersey -- alongside good young prospects Elias Lindholm, Ryan Murphy and Haydn Fleury and former rookie of the year Jeff Skinner -- help attract new owners? New season-ticket holders? Those are the questions.

But the tanking notion is nowhere near as clear-cut as the fans and frankly the media would have you believe.

As bad as the Canes were in October, they started November by collecting points in six consecutive games before dropping their next three games, which dropped them back to the league cellar.

"We're starting to build a foundation for sure," Peters told ESPN.com before his team was beaten by the Winnipeg Jets 3-1 on Nov. 13. "We're playing more complete games. We're not at the 60-minute mark yet."

Peters, who has very quickly won over the hearts and minds of those around this organization, insisted he wasn't discouraged in spite of the ugly start.

"Well, I believed in the plan all along, but more importantly, I believed in the guys," Peters said. "We've got a real good group of guys, we really do. They were good throughout it. Very resilient and stayed strong."

The rookie coach has already made highly paid but often unproductive winger Alexander Semin a healthy scratch. Veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey has also been in the press box. And Peters has moved captain Eric Staal, a lifelong center, to the wing at times.

Longtime Carolina analyst Tripp Tracy describes Peters as someone who is nicely balancing making players accountable with being a players' coach.

"It sends a cultural message to every guy in that dressing room," Tracy told ESPN.com. "Every guy."

So, where the Hurricanes fit into the loser dynamic will continue to be a compelling storyline until the end of the season.

On a hockey team, there is not much room for players and coaches to ponder whether it would be better overall for the team to be really, really bad.

Zach Boychuk is a smart guy. The 14th overall pick in the 2008 draft is also trying to work his way into the Carolina lineup every single night. He scored the Hurricanes' first goal on Nov. 10 against Calgary. He's doing his job. He is not thinking about McDavid or Eichel.

"We're definitely not playing to lose; we're playing to win," Boychuk explained.

He wants to stay in the NHL, and the best way to do that is to play well and help his team win.

That's no different than the mindset Eric Staal brings to the rink every night, Boychuk added.

"Our focus is on the playoffs," he said. "It's not on Connor McDavid."

But the reality of the situation is that there will be separation in the standings. And if the Canes are on the wrong side of that separation as the trade deadline approaches, Carolina general manager Ron Francis will have some difficult choices to make.

McPhee was the GM in Washington when the Capitals obtained their generational player, Alex Ovechkin. The great Russian was selected first overall in 2004.

The year before? The Caps were 23-46-10-3 (this was before the shootout eliminated ties). They gave up a whopping 253 goals while scoring just 186 as the Caps dismantled a team that the previous season had been a playoff team.

"It's a very difficult process to go through," McPhee said recently.

"People can talk about rebuilding, and conceptually it sounds fine, but it [had] better work," he added. "Because if you don't do it right, you're going to lose your fan base. ... It's a very difficult process. You don't get any respect. Your team is a doormat. It's not much fun.

"I know that experience. I wouldn't want to do it again. We were fortunate in that it worked."

"Our focus is on the playoffs. It's not on Connor McDavid."
Carolina forward Zach Boychuk

It took two years, but the Caps went back to the playoffs in 2008 and qualified for the postseason six straight seasons, twice earning the top seed in the Eastern Conference. They have struggled to achieve in the postseason, but the Caps are by almost every other measuring stick a success, with the Verizon Center one of the top places to watch a game in the U.S.

"That building has been full for many years as a result," McPhee said.

How this plays out for the Carolina Hurricanes is anyone's guess.

If things go sideways, how does Francis not explore moving a player the stature of Eric Staal or netminder Cam Ward? Both have one more year left on their respective deals and would -- at least in the case of Staal -- command significant returns.

Both Ward, who has been very good since early in the season, and Staal have no-trade clauses but are approaching the stage of their careers when having a chance to win again might be attractive.

Former Calgary GM Craig Button, now a top analyst, questions the logic of pouring money into adding players at the expense of sending off draft picks or other assets.

Button likens it to approaching a different tax threshold. Why make an extra $10 if it means you're going to be taxed an extra 10 percent on your whole salary? Why move yourself into a higher tax bracket if it means you're moving further from assets such as Eichel and McDavid?

"It's a straight economic choice: Why would you do that?" Button said in a recent conversation.

Francis makes it abundantly clear that he's not thinking of McDavid or Eichel at this stage, and he is unequivocal that he doesn't expect any kind of McDavid/Eichel discussion to be going on in his locker room.

The team is getting healthy after a horrific spate of injuries, and the Canes are learning things about their roster -- like how good Riley Nash and Victor Rask are.

But Francis acknowledged that every GM knows what the lay of the land is regarding next June's draft, and he's forthright enough to acknowledge that it's not clear where his team is going to be.

"We certainly know we have some work ahead of us," Francis told ESPN.com. "But our goal is to make the playoffs. That's not going to change. We owe it to our fans and we owe it to our organization to want to be successful."

The problem is that being successful might require being less than that in the coming days.