Many of you have mildly chastised me for the tenor of my Coyotes NHL Draft Lottery previews this week, noting that they were awash in negativity while also dwelling too much in the past.
Some of you even threatened not to read them.
I get it, but as the great writer Saul Bellow noted, “The truth comes in blows.” I don’t make or influence the Coyotes’ history; I just chronicle it. The truth is evident: The Coyotes’ lottery luck stinks and their odds of changing that this season also stink, thanks to 21 wins on home ice this season — wins which accomplished far less than the players and coaching staff would have you believe.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the Coyotes have no hope. Like 10 other teams, they are crossing their fingers, amassing their good-luck charms and ignoring the odds. Everybody is hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. After all, it has happened before.
As the NHL prepares for its annual Draft Lottery at 5 p.m. on Monday on ESPN, here are seven things that I wonder.
1. Will there be a surprise winner?
Since the lottery went to a format in 2013 in which more than the top five teams could win (aside from that weird, Sidney Crosby, post-lockout year), four teams with the best odds have won. Buffalo did it twice (Rasmus Dahlin, Owen Power) while Toronto (Auston Matthews) and Montréal (Juraj Slafkovský) did it once apiece.
Six times, a team outside the top spot jumped to No. 1. Colorado did it with the second-worst record in 2013 (Nathan MacKinnon) and Florida did it with the second-worst record in 2014 (Aaron Ekblad). Edmonton did it with the third-worst record in 2015 (Connor McDavid). New Jersey did it with the fifth-worst record in 2017 (Nico Hischier), and with the third-worst record in 2019 (Jack Hughes). The New York Rangers did it with the 14th-worst record in 2020 (Alexis Lafrienière)!
Before the current format, the teams that enjoyed the largest jumps aside from New York were as follows: Chicago did it twice. In 1999, it jumped from No. 8 to No. 4, the largest allowable jump, and then traded the pick. In 2007, it jumped from No. 5 to No. 1 and drafted Patrick Kane. In 2000, the Islanders jumped from No. 5 to No. 1 and drafted Rick DiPietro (ouch). New Jersey also enjoyed a big jump in 2011, going from No. 8 to No. 4 (Adam Larsson), the largest allowable jump.
If the Rangers are the outlier, and not part of some grand conspiracy to reward the large-market teams, it is fair to note that no team other than New York has won the lottery from lower than the No. 8 seed. Given the current rules that prevent a team from jumping more than 10 spots, only Anaheim, Columbus, Chicago, San José, Montréal, Arizona, Philadelphia, Washington, Detroit, St. Louis and Vancouver have a chance at Connor Bedard. If you believe in conspiracies, Chicago, Montréal, Philadelphia, Washington or Vancouver will win.
It is at this point that I will note that in all six cases when a Canadian team finished with the worst record and had the best odds at the No. 1 pick (*Ottawa’s pick belonged to Colorado in 2017), those six teams all picked No. 1. Yeah, nothing fishy about that.
2. Do the Coyotes deserve to win the most?
Yeah, I read The Athletic piece on this topic. While I have great respect for many of my former colleagues there, they missed the boat entirely on this one, opting for the low-hanging fruit approach instead of the nuanced reporting approach. The Coyotes have been as luckless as any team in this annual event. If you want to cement the place of the NHL’s most troubled franchise in its current market, hoping that it will land its first-ever top-two pick is a good place to start. The players, coaches and fans have nothing to do with this franchise’s mismanagement over the years. They are richly deserving of a reward at long last.
Aside from the Coyotes, the Blue Jackets, Canucks and Red Wings have suffered the most at the hands of the lottery so I’m adding those three teams to the mix of most deserving, with a caveat on Detroit to be explained below.
3. Which teams deserve to win the least?
There is a strong sentiment that the Blackhawks don’t deserve any luck after the Kyle Beach scandal and their previous luck in the lottery. They top this list in a landslide, and they probably also top the list of potential draft-lottery conspiracy theories, given their lucky lottery history.
As for the rest of the teams, the Ducks, Sharks, Capitals and Blues just haven’t been here often enough to deserve instant success. Patience is in order. In addition to Chicago, the teams that least deserve Bedard are the Canadiens (they drafted No. 1 last season and have never suffered from the lottery), and the Flyers (they jumped from No. 12 to No. 2 in 2017).
4. When should I stop running Tankathon.com simulations?
Do my spins of the wheel matter? If so, how many spins warrant a fair sample? Should I even care about a fair sample or should I just stop right here? Please advise.
5. Is this the best lottery format?
Probably not. If you look at the evolution of the draft lottery since its inception in 1995, there have been many incarnations; many tweaks. I don’t think we have seen the last of them, and I don’t think we should have seen the last of them.
I have three main sticking points with the current format. I understand that the NHL is trying to discourage tanking (it’s not working), but I think the odds of the league’s very worst teams landing the top pick are too low. A critical focus of the draft is to help the worst teams improve. When you allow teams to jump too many spots to grab the top pick, it defeats that purpose. It should also be noted that the truly game-changing players are overwhelmingly found in those top couple of spots.
I’d like to see better odds assigned to the very worst teams and I’d like to see the number of teams eligible to draft first overall drop from 10 to seven. The Capitals, Red Wings, Blues and Canucks, who currently sit No. 8-12, were basically .500 teams. They don’t deserve Bedard, even though I noted Detroit’s bad experiences with the lottery in the past, which would lessen the blow if the Wings did win.
My colleague, Steve Peters, suggested assigning the same odds at the No. 1 pick to each of the worst three teams and making those three teams the only ones eligible for the top pick (the 4-6 teams could rise as high as No. 2). It’s an interesting idea that warrants discussion.
Finally, a team should have the best odds of landing the pick that corresponds to its finish in the standings. You’d probably have to tweak some things to make this happen, but I don’t care what math you have to employ to get there. Make it happen because it is logical.
6. Will this finally be the year of the Coyotes?
As Coyotes fan Joe Ducko reminded all of us on Twitter last week, there is another way of viewing the Coyotes’ odds; one that looks beyond this year’s 15.2 percent chance to jump into the top two. Per Joe’s math, which far exceeds my comprehension, the chances of the Coyotes winning at least one lottery drawing in their history were 82.6 percent heading into this lottery. Per Joe, that number increases to 85.2 percent if the Coyotes don’t come up winners on Monday when the NHL holds the draft lottery at 5 p.m. Arizona time on ESPN.
In that light, it’s fair to believe that there is hope; that Arizona may finally be looking at brighter days. Even if the Coyotes don’t jump to No. 1, Adam Fantilli at No. 2 would be a nice consolation prize so feel free to will that into existence. A center depth chart of Fantilli, Logan Cooley, Barrett Hayton and jack McBain would look good for the next decade, with Conor Geekie taking his time to develop and work his way into the mix.
As long as you’re dreaming, you’ll have to find a spot for the inevitable free-agent signing of Auston Matthews.
7. Whom will the Coyotes target?
If they jump to No. 1 it’s Connor Bedard
If they jump to No. 2 it’s Adam Fantilli.
If they draft sixth, seventh or eighth, your guess is as good as anyone’s. If Matvei Michkov is still there, will they target him because he is one of the three best players in this draft?
If USNTDP forward Will Smith somehow drops out of the top five, will they take him? Will they opt for the top-rated defenseman available in the draft and select David Reinbacher? Will they stick with the center position in a center-heavy draft? Will they pull a surprise?
And what about that Ottawa pick that is more than likely to land at No. 12 or No. 13? This will be a fascinating draft to watch, and it doesn’t even account for the possibility of draft-floor trades, which GM Bill Armstrong engineered as recently as last summer.
It’s time for the first of the Coyotes’ critical offseason dates.
Top illustration courtesy of Diane Eichler.