Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate PHNX Sports Community!

7 wonders of Craig: Pre-NHL Draft Lottery edition

Craig Morgan Avatar
March 19, 2023

Two weeks ago, I wrote a column that asked and attempted to answer seven Coyotes-related questions in the wake of the NHL trade deadline. I liked the format so much that I decided to make it a recurring theme.

Introducing the 7 wonders of Craig, a column in which I stare out a window with a cup of coffee nearby, exert minimal effort, conduct minimal reporting, yet still offer profound and definitive thoughts. In other words, 2023 style journalism.

You may have missed the fact that the NHL held its GM meetings in Florida last week. If you did, that’s because little substance came out of them.

This was supposed to be the first of many summits that would finally put an end to Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong’s LTIR scheme, a legal practice that is apparently so heinous to some that they had dubbed it money laundering. Instead of heated discussions, however, multiple sources said that there was barely a mention of the topic in Florida.

When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman fielded the LTIR question during a news conference in Florida, he effectively put it to bed.

“Trades involve players. They involve draft picks. And they involve cap room. Cap room is a very valuable asset under a cap system. And if, at a particular point in time, you can maximize the other assets that you can achieve by using cap space, I don’t have a problem with that.”

Arizona is playing by the rules. Until there is significant will to change those rules — and I really question whether there is — this discussion is moot. All of this recent chatter felt either self-interested or reactionary in the wake of the trade deadline; the type of chatter that dies down once the real business analysis begins.

As for the other topics at the GM meetings, there was talk of a salary cap increase, there were renewed prayers for a better playoff seeding format, there was talk of pride jerseys and there was an update on the sale of the suddenly plummeting Senators, but the biggest piece of news from those meetings for me was a simple date. The NHL will hold its draft lottery on May 8, just eight days before we will know the fate of the Coyotes’ proposed arena and entertainment district, which rests in the hands of Tempe voters.

This was once a highly anticipated date for Coyotes fans. Now it’s a sore subject because the Coyotes are riding an eight-game point streak, they never lose at Mullett Arena, and they own the NHL’s seventh-worst record, with a realistic chance to fall as far as No. 9.

Speaking of No. 9, the guy who wears that jersey is the biggest driver of the anti-tank movement in Arizona. With three points in a 4-2 win against the Blackhawks — Arizona’s sixth straight win at home — forward Clayton Keller is on pace to break the Coyotes’ single-season points record (86) set by Keith Tkachuk in the franchise’s first season in the desert (1996-97). 

I’ll be diving a lot deeper into that particular topic soon, but with the optics altered on that all-important lottery, here are seven things about which I wonder.

The Coyotes have had lousy lottery luck.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly announces the Coyotes No. 3 overall draft position during the 2022 NHL Draft Lottery at the NHL Network’s studio in Secaucus, New Jersey. (Getty Images)

1. Will Coyotes finally enjoy lottery luck?

The Coyotes have never had a top-two pick in their 27-year Valley history, despite missing the playoffs in 17 of 26 seasons. The Coyotes have never even moved up in the lottery, unless you count 2014 when they jumped from 13 to 12 because the NHL penalized the New Jersey Devils (11th worst record) for signing forward Ilya Kovalchuk to a salary-cap-circumventing contract by bumping the Devils to the last pick of the first round. 

Here’s a look at the Coyotes’ lottery history in years in which they had a chance at the top overall pick. 


League finish

Actual draft spot


Top pick (team)


5th worst

No. 5

Blake Wheeler

Alex Ovechkin (Was)


2nd worst

No. 3

Kyle Turris

Patrick Kane (Chi)


2nd worst

No. 3

Dylan Strome

Connor McDavid (Edm)


7th worst

No. 7

Clayton Keller

Auston Matthews (Tor)


3rd worst

No. 7

Traded to NYR

Nico Hischier (NJ)


3rd worst

No. 5

Barrett Hayton

Rasmus Dahlin (Buf)


14th worst

No. 14

Victor Söderström

Jack Hughes (NJ)


10th worst

No. 11


Owen Power (Buf)


2nd worst

No. 3

Logan Cooley

Juraj Slafkovský (Mon)

A couple notes: In 2019, the Coyotes traded up to get Victor Söderström, sending the 14th and 45th picks to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for the 11th pick. In 2021, they forfeited their first-round selection due to sanctions by the NHL over illegal fitness testing of draft-eligible players before the Scouting Combine. Arizona later acquired a first-round pick (No. 9) from Vancouver and selected Dylan Guenther.

Will this be the year that things change? The odds don’t look good, but if there is any franchise that is overdue for a little lottery luck, it’s the Coyotes.

The lottery odds do not look good for the Coyotes.
The Coyotes currently have a 13.4 percent chance of landing the first or second overall pick at the upcoming 2023 NHL Draft in Nashville. (Source: tankathon.com)

2. Whom will Coyotes target if they hold position?

A while back, I took a look at some of the players whom the Coyotes could target if they didn’t finish among the top three at the draft lottery. I didn’t heed my own advice. 

As is often the case, the list has changed. Lists are fluid and when scouts get more viewings of players, those players can rise or fall as has happened recently.

The Athletic’s Corey Pronman released his updated rankings earlier this month and there was a significant shift. 

I encourage you to pay attention to analysts such Pronman, Chris Peters, Craig Button and of course, Bob McKenzie, when he releases his prospect rankings closer to the draft. These are the guys who are out watching games. They talk to countless scouts so they know what they are thinking and how they evaluate prospects. In turn, they also learn how to evaluate prospects.

I harp on this a lot, but there are lots of pretenders out there who are more than happy to discuss their prospect rankings. Few are worth any attention because they don’t put in the work via live viewings and they don’t have the sources or the training.

Could the Coyotes take a gamble on Russian star Matvei Michkov?
Matvei Michkov is considered one of the top three talents in the 2023 Draft.
(Getty Images)

3. What will become of Matvei Michkov?

Drafting Russian players is always fraught with risk. That risk has increased exponentially, given the global political situation created by the Vladimir Putin-led Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the shaky status of relations between the United States, Canada and Russia.

There is this line of thinking that the Coyotes are perfectly positioned to take such a risk because their rebuild timeline allows them the luxury of waiting until Michkov’s contract with Putin-friendly SKA Saint Petersburg expires after the 2025-26 season. I’m not so sure. Executives are feeling extremely skittish about the Russian situation and how it will impact that nation’s draft prospects. It would be a bad look for anybody to come up empty-handed with a high draft pick.

Somebody is going to take a swing at Michkov. He’s too good to leave sitting past the first round. Pronman had him ranked No. 2 in his latest prospect rankings. Could Arizona grab him with its second pick of the first round? Who will blink first? This will be one of the draft’s more intriguing storylines.

4. Will Coyotes extend rebuild?

Some Coyotes fans are giddy about the team’s success at Mullett Arena, where Arizona has 20 wins so far this season. I get it. Winning is fun. But when talk turns to emerging from the rebuild early because the pieces of the core are in place, well, I just roll my eyes.

No, the pieces are not in place. The Coyotes’ system is not nearly deep enough to build a sustainable winner. Armstrong recently noted that the franchise is only about halfway through the rebuild. The Coyotes need more players, whom they will acquire over the next two to three drafts, or perhaps via trades.

Look at the roster and system right now. Keller is the only first-line forward in the mix with Logan Cooley a possibility, but far from a sure thing. A lot of folks whom I talk to think that Dylan Guenther is a second-line forward. There are no top-pair defenseman anywhere in the system unless Artyom Duda or Maveric Lamoureux takes a quantum leap.

This is the mistake that Armstrong’s predecessors have made. They pulled the plug too early on the rebuild and the team was left to spin its wheels as a playoff bubble team. That’s exactly what would happen if Armstrong were to start making trades to try to win next season. There are too many armchair GMs offering thoughts on what the Coyotes should do when they don’t know a damn thing about the job.

Winning is fun and you can’t expect the players or coaches to strive for anything less, but if the coaches, their parents, the players, the fans or anybody else tells you that the Coyotes need to try and start winning next season, tell them to kindly shut up because they are wrong. Dead wrong. Armstrong needs more depth and Armstrong needs more elite talent. Without it, the Coyotes will never build a sustainable winner, and if they don’t get some lottery luck they will never compete for Cups. If you don’t pick in the top two or acquire elite talents you have to keep trying.

Let Armstrong do his job and don’t be fooled by shiny things. This is the way.

Coyotes forward Nick Schmaltz
Coyotes forward Nick Schmaltz celebrates a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Feb. 10. (Getty Images)

5. Will more core players move on?

You know what else happens when you don’t pick in the top two and acquire elite talents who can speed up your rebuild? Your core players get frustrated by the lack of opportunity to win. What player wants to spend the prime years of his career in a rebuild? 

That frustration drove Jakob Chychrun to approve a trade. I don’t know if that will happen with other players, but how happy will be Clayton Keller, Lawson Crouse and others be if the Coyotes follow the lather, rinse, repeat formula for the next two seasons?

And if the Coyotes do plan to follow that formula — which they should — why would they keep a player such as Nick Schmaltz around? He is 27 so he won’t be in his prime by the time this team emerges from the rebuild. His trade value may never be higher and his salary escalates significantly over the next three seasons. Could the Coyotes acquire more high draft assets for him and goalie Karel Vejmelka (26) in their seemingly endless search for franchise players? Would such a move piss off the other core players?

Again, winning meaningless games in 2023 sure is fun, but it creates a laundry list of potential problems for Armstrong. I respect the hell out of coach André Tourigny’s staff and this ragged roster of brothers, but culture will only get you so far. Without elite players, you aren’t winning championships. The long view is always more prudent than the impulsive one when plotting a successful course.

Former Coyotes and current Senators defenseman Jakob Chychrun.
Former Coyotes and current Senators defenseman Jakob Chychrun skates against the Colorado Avalanche on March 16. (Getty Images)

6. Where will Ottawa finish?

The Ottawa Senators have been overrated by national pundits all season. They are a mediocre team with defensive issues, goaltending issues and a minus-10 goal differential. Since acquiring Jakob Chychrun from the Coyotes, Ottawa has withered in the face of playoff pressure, going 3-5-1, including a a five-game losing streak.

This is not to say that the Senators lack potential. They are young, skilled and possess plenty of reasons for optimism. They were just overhyped too early.

The Senators are not going to make the playoffs this season and the Coyotes own their 2023 first-round pick. Right now, it would be the 11th overall pick which, as Armstrong explained to the dimmer folks among us, is better than two late first-round picks because of the level of player that you can find at that spot in the first round (nobody is taking the 28th and 30th picks from you so you can trade up to the 11th pick).

Right now, The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn has Ottawa remaining at No. 11 in the final standings, but the Senators could shift a few positions either way, with the 10-13 range being the most likely. That means the Coyotes are going to get two high first-round picks for a second straight season. The Ottawa pick is top-five protected this season but if Arizona enjoys a little luck with its own pick, this could be another banner draft.

Side note: Imagine the irony of the Coyotes overtaking the Senators in the standings. 

Imagine Connor Bedard as a Coyote.
Connor Bedard is the kind of player who could alter the Coyotes’ trajectory. (Getty Images)

7. Which conspiracy will win out?

The way I see it, there are four competing conspiracies involving the draft lottery and the selection of presumed No. 1 pick Connor Bedard; the next generational NHL talent. Nobody seems to care about the California teams, Columbus or St. Louis so we’ll leave them out of the mix.

A. The Kane Conspiracy: No, not the Biblical one of a different spelling. The Patrick Kane one. When Chicago drafted Kane first overall in 2007, it finished with the league’s fifth-worst record. The Hawks leapfrogged four teams — including the Coyotes, who got Kyle Turris — to land Kane. The feeling is that whenever Chicago is in the running, the NHL will reward one of its inaccurately labeled Original Six teams because the market is important and so profitable. When the Hawks were in their Cup-winning window the previous decade, they were as a high profile a team as the NHL has ever enjoyed. Bedard would replace the recently departed Kane and Chicago could shine again — Kyle Beach scandal be damned.

B. The Canadian conspiracy: What happens when a Canadian market is in the running for the No. 1 overall pick? Well, they win it of course, as Edmonton did four times (most recently for Connor McDavid), as Toronto did for Auston Matthews, and as Montréal did for Juraj Slafkovský. Of the nine instances in which the worst overall team has picked first since the 2004-05 lockout season, four of those teams (44 percent) were Canadian. That’s an awfully high percentage for a nation whose teams make up about 22 percent of the NHL’s clubs. 

C. The cash-cow conspiracy: The thought here is that the NHL would reward its biggest and potentially most profitable markets with players who could elevate that franchise to a Cup-winning level. This year, this conspiracy would apply to Chicago, Philadelphia and Montréal.

D. The Coyotes conspiracy: Gary Bettman loves him some Coyotes. I mean, why else would a team that loses tens of millions of dollars every year and plays in a college rink still be in Arizona? It’s hard to level this conspiracy with the reality that the Coyotes have never had a top-two pick, but everyone loves a good Coyotes bashing and let’s be honest: If Bettman really wanted to bring stability to the redheaded stepchild of the NHL, Connor Bedard would be a good starting point.

Which conspiracy do you like best? Here is our poll. Vote for which one you think will win the day.

Top photo via Getty Images: The Grand Canyon is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It has nothing to do with this column, but national broadcasts of Coyotes games in Arizona still love to use its imagery even though it is 230 miles away. It’s like showing Lake Louise for a game in Edmonton.

Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter

Get Arizona's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!

Become a smarter Arizona sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from PHNX's writers and podcasters!

Just drop your email below!

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Scroll to next article