In at least one way, the St. Louis Blues' run toward the Stanley Cup was inspirational.
Before National Hockey League games were played on Jan. 3, the Blues were in last place in the NHL and 11 points behind the Anaheim Ducks for the last wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
At that point, it would have been easy for St. Louis to throw in the towel and build for the future. After all, they would not be the only team in the sports world doing so.
However, thanks in part to an 11-game win streak, the Blues became just the seventh NHL team since 1967 to make the postseason after being in last place after being in last place after New Year's Day.
Last Wednesday, they won Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final over the Boston Bruins.
As a sports journalist primarily covering high school and youth sports, I will admit that wasn't my lifelong ambition. My lifelong dream is to one day go to the Super Bowl, and I've figured for some time now that I could do so one day by being a member of the media.
Of course, with the exception of my annual trip to the Chicago Bears' training camp -- and, I suppose you could say, this column I'm writing now -- I don't cover professional sports very often.
There are, however, a lot of advantages about covering non-professional sports.
For instance, I like that I don't have to worry about a team relocating or threatening to relocate unless they get a state-of-the-art, taxpayer-funded stadium. As a result, I also don't have to worry about learning the boring, jargon-filled ways in which government officials hand out municipal bonds, and other ways that stadiums are funded by taxpayer money.
I also don't have to worry about learning about all the nuances of players' contracts, as players in many the beats I cover are already declared ineligible to play once they graduate high school, and don't get paid to play. There are no opt-in clauses, signing bonuses or player options for which I have to dig for details.
One aspect that I'm mixed about, however, is the lack -- or, as far as I know, absence -- of tanking in prep sports.
In professional sports, tanking is the act of putting together a team that is set up to lose games in order to obtain a higher draft pick.
There's an obvious reason as to why tanking does not exist in amateur sports -- there's no draft, whereas major professional sports have a draft in which the worst teams either automatically get the first picks in the draft or have the best chances of getting the first picks in the draft via a lottery.
Tanking, of course, has existed forever, and will continue to exist as long as pro sports leagues insist on helping inferior teams get better by holding a draft -- until they are willing and able to copy the Union of European Football Association's relegation system.
There's a documentary made by the Toronto Sports Network called "Playing to Lose" that documented the Pittsburgh Penguins' tank job in 1983-84.
The Penguins traded away their best player, Randy Carlyle, on March 5, 1984, for a first-round pick and a player to be named later. They sent a relatively-strong performing goaltender, Roberto Romano, down to their American Hockey League in Baltimore in favor of an inferior-performing goaltender in Vincent Tremblay.
Head coach played fourth-line players against first-liners. As a result, Pittsburgh won just three of its final 21 games, and clinched the No. 1 pick of the draft, enabling the Penguins to pick eventual franchise-savior Mario Lemieux.
Tactics such as these are the reason why the NHL, and the National Basketball Association, now have a draft lottery. Has that stopped tanking from existing? Of course not.
In 2002-03, the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers finished 17-65, tied with the Denver Nuggets for the worst record in the league, before winning the draft lottery and selecting LeBron James with the first overall pick.
John Lucas, who coached the Cavs until he was fired midway through that season, said in an interview for AOL Fanhouse that the team tanked for LeBron, as he was ordered to play the younger players and the front office made some questionable trades.
"Andre [Miller] was really coming into his own and we trade him [to the Clippers] for Darius Miles, who had a bad knee, and Harold Jamison, who [was waived],'' Lucas told AOL Fanhouse. "We traded Lamond Murray, who averaged [a team-best 16.6] points, [to the Raptors] for Yogi Stewart, who was on the [injured] list. We traded Wesley Person for the 49th pick, which was Matt Barnes ... So I couldn't win.''
A USA Today written in 2016 after the Chicago Cubs won Major League Baseball's World Series included the headline "The 2016 Cubs are living proof that tanking works (and more teams should do it)."
"When Epstein walked into Chicago in 2011, he saw a middling team trending down. 85 and 97 wins in 2007 and 2008 each culminated in NLDS losses. 83 wins the next season followed by 75 and 71 wins meant the Cubs were, yet again, suck in no mans land," the article by Luke Kerr-Dineen stated. "Enter Epstein, who intentionally hastened that decline. Three straight seasons of 101, 96 and 89 losses preceded a 97 win season last year. And, well, we all know what happened in 2016."
Before winning the 2017 World Series, the Houston Astros were 51-111 in 2013, fielding a team with a $22 million payroll, the lowest in baseball by far, and were 55-107 in 2012 and 70-92 in 2014. Their reward was No. 1 overall picks 2013 and 2014 after holding the same pick in 2012, and the second and fifth picks in 2015.
And then there's the most notorious -- and, arguably, trend-setting -- form of tanking, via the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers with their phrase, "Trust the Process."
The phrase goes back to 2013, when the team's new general manager, Sam Hinkie, advocated an emphasis on process over outcome in his first speech with the team before trading away star player Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel and a first-round draft pick.
This started a process where the 76ers gave up short-term wins in order to get better draft picks in the future. Philadelphia had a record-breaking loss streak in 2015, and Hinkie eventually resigned.
However, thanks to draft picks Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, among others, the Sixers went to the second round of the NBA playoffs in each of the last two years.
With the proven success of some tank jobs -- and with Duke's Zion Williamson, a player so hyped to become a superstar that people spent $2,500 or more for tickets to see him play against North Carolina last February, set to become eligible for this upcoming Thursday's NBA Draft -- it appeared that tanking was a far-too-growing trend in the league, even though the league's commissioner, Adam Silver, changed the lottery odds to where the three worst teams in the league would each have a 14 percent chance at getting the No. 1 pick.
After the Cavaliers -- who had a 14 percent chance at the top pick -- and the Chicago Bulls -- who had a 12.5 percent chance -- played a game on Martin Luther King Day, Scott Van Pelt showed some highlights -- or lowlights, actually -- of the game on SportsCenter as a segment on the topic of tanking, ridiculing the play on the court throughout the clip.
"Look at this. People paid money for this. Lots and lots of money," Van Pelt said during the segment. "Has the ball hit the rim in this highlight? This is professional basketball."
After the clip stopped, Van Pelt had this to say: "Here's the thing -- even if this works, then what? Then you're good? I don't have a magic fix. I just can't stand tanking because the process, as it's labeled, looks like what we just showed you, and there is very little guarantee that it's going to take you to the place you hope to go."
If those two teams were playing in college or high school, there would be no payoff for the ineptitude that was shown on SportsCenter that night.
However, because the Cavs lost 104-88, the payoff for them was increased odds to get the first overall pick and draft Williamson.
Well, guess what happened when the lottery was drawn on May 14 -- neither the Cavs nor the Bulls got even a top-four pick. In fact, the only one of those three teams with the 14-percent odds that will pick in the top three -- the New York Knicks -- will pick third while the Cavs and Bulls will pick fifth and seventh, respectively.
Instead, the top pick went to the New Orleans Pelicans, who had a mere six-percent chance. The Memphis Grizzlies also had six-percent odds, and will pick second.
Look, I get it -- if a team does not appear to be contending for a title, then their best option is obviously to try to set themselves up for winning in the long run.
As a fan of the Chicago White Sox, I have bought into their tank job. After they won the American League Central Division in 2008, they had lost 90 or more games only once, but never won 90 games in that span, never offering any hope for the future because their constant win-now philosophy turned their farm system into a mess.
Judging from their record hovering around .500, it looks like things might be on the upswing. Judging from all the towering home runs hit by Eloy Jimenez on Thursday and Friday in wins over the New York Yankees, I would say that trading Jose Quintana to the Cubs in 2017 for him and Dylan Cease has paid off for the White Sox.
As a fan of professional sports teams, I can appreciate a team's climb from the bottom through drafting and trading for younger players -- a climb that is obviously not available to college and high school sports.
Of course, tanking does not have a perfect record when it comes to leading teams to the promised land of a league championship.
And, as the Blues proved this past NHL season, there can be value to resisting the urge to tank and playing to win.