There will come a year when we won’t have to add another family member to the Coyotes’ long lineage of lousy lottery luck. The law of averages dictates it.
This is not to suggest that the Coyotes are alone in their suffering. The Columbus Blue Jackets, this season’s second-worst team in the standings, have their own demons to slay. The Vancouver Canucks may be cursed, and the Detroit Red Wings had a two-year run of some of the worst lottery luck imaginable.
When talk turns to the league’s unluckiest teams, however, it won’t surprise you to learn that the national media overlooks the Coyotes. Just Google least lucky NHL lottery teams. Good luck finding anything that wasn’t locally produced.
Maybe national media and other fan bases don’t think that the Coyotes deserve luck, given their history of mismanagement and missteps. Or, more likely, they’re just not aware of the details and nuance of Arizona’s predicament; a plague that often strikes the national media when it comes to the Coyotes.
The Phoenix Coyotes have never won the NHL Draft Lottery. Neither have the Arizona Coyotes. They have never even picked in the top two. Think about that for a moment. The Coyotes have missed the playoffs 17 times in their 26-season existence but they don’t have a single top-two pick. When I told my former Athletic colleague Arpon Basu this, he didn’t believe me. He was certain that I was forgetting something.
It gets worse…
Coyotes lottery history
The Coyotes have never moved up in the lottery, but from 1995 to 2012, at least the league’s process didn’t feel blatantly anti-Coyote. In that time span, no team could move up more than four positions in the draft order so the only clubs with the opportunity to win the first overall pick were the five teams with the lowest regular-season point totals, or the teams that acquired those picks. Additionally, no club could move down more than one position as a result of the lottery.
Of course, the Coyotes’ predecessors, the Winnipeg Jets, did just that in the first year of the lottery, dropping from No. 6 to No. 7 in 1995. That was OK, however, because they chose Shane Doan with that pick. If you look back at that draft, he was clearly a better player than anyone who went before him, and he finished his career with the second-most points of any player in that draft behind only Jarome Iginla.
For the 2015 lottery, the league changed the odds, putting less weight on finishing last overall by spreading out the distribution of odds. Believing that the changes would discourage tanking, the league gave all non-playoff teams the opportunity to select first overall. We all know what happened that year. It’s etched in Coyotes infamy.
From 2016 to 2019, the top three picks were awarded through the draw, ensuring only a top-four selection for the worst overall team. Beginning in 2021, only the top two spots in the draft were determined by the lottery. Beginning in 2022, a team could move up a maximum of 10 spots, making only 11 of the 16 teams who missed the playoffs eligible for the first overall pick. Also beginning in 2022, a team could not win the lottery more than twice in a five-year span.
Coyotes lottery history
The Coyotes were a pretty good team until 2002 so the lottery really wasn’t a factor in their planning. In 2003, the first of six straight non-playoff seasons, and also one of the best drafts of this millennium, GM Mike Barnett infamously traded away the Coyotes’ first- and second-round selections (coincidentally, none of the Coyotes’ picks from that draft ever played an NHL game).
In 2004 when the Coyotes finished with the league’s fifth-worst record, Washington jumped from the third-worst record to the No. 1 spot and drafted Alex Ovechkin. The Pittsburgh Penguins, an historic lottery darling, got Evegeni Malkin at No. 2. The Coyotes stunned everybody by selecting Blake Wheeler at No. 5. The pick proved ingenious, except for the fact that Wheeler wasn’t willing to sign with the Coyotes and ended up playing the majority of a fantastic career in, of all places, Winnipeg.
In 2007 when the Coyotes finished with the league’s second-worst record, the fifth-worst Chicago Blackhawks jumped the Coyotes and Philadelphia Flyers to grab Patrick Kane with the first overall selection. The Coyotes got Kyle Turris at No. 3. After some eye-opening contract demands from his agent, Kurt Overhardt, the Coyotes traded him in 2011 for defenseman David Rundblad and a second-round pick in the 2012 draft which the Coyotes used to acquire Antoine Vermette at the 2012 NHL trade deadline.
Those were painful moments, but the worst was yet to come.
In 2015, the Coyotes finished two points better than the Buffalo Sabres for the worst record in the NHL. Edmonton jumped both teams from the No. 3 slot to claim franchise center Connor McDavid. Buffalo got Jack Eichel and the Coyotes got Dylan Strome, who was later traded to Chicago with Brendan Perlini for Nick Schmaltz.
In 2016, the Toronto Maple Leafs held serve (cue conspiracy theories) as the worst overall team and landed the rights to No.1 overall pick Auston Matthews, an Arizona product. The Coyotes? They dropped four spots from No. 3 to No. 7, but they made lemonade out lemons by drafting Clayton Keller.
Here’s a look at the seasons in which the Coyotes had a chance to land the No. 1 overall pick and where they ended up.
A change of fortune?
The Coyotes didn’t do themselves any favors in their quest for Connor Bedard or Adam Fantilli this season. While analysts rated their roster as one of the worst in the cap era, the Coyotes won 21 home games and finished with the sixth-worst record in the league. Mullett magic or Coyotes curse?
Here’s a look at the odds of each team for the picks that they are eligible to make in the 2023 NHL Draft, based on lottery rules.
As you can see, the most likely occurrences for the Coyotes are, in order, seventh, sixth and eighth, with a 15.4 percent chance of moving into the top three. GM Bill Armstrong has noted that those are not great odds. The Coyotes will likely have to settle for two very good players (their own pick and Ottawa’s 12th overall pick which they acquired in the Jakob Chychrun trade) instead of landing a franchise player.
But hope springs eternal. One of these days, luck is going to smile upon the Coyotes. If it does on Monday at the draft lottery, what a way that would be to kick off the vital month of May.
Top photo via Getty Images