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Recapping the Arizona Coyotes’ run of lousy lottery luck

Craig Morgan Avatar
May 9, 2022

There are many factors to consider when rehashing the Coyotes’ lousy NHL Draft Lottery luck. We’ll get to those in a moment, but here’s one that I did not expect to include when writing this macabre memoir.

By now, you are likely familiar with the image of NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly holding up a card with a single team’s logo on it when that team’s draft position is determined by the lottery draw. There are also iconic images of team logos on ping pong balls. 

I searched Getty Images and USA Today for such images because I wanted that to be the main photo at the top of this story. I found photos of those cards or logo-imprinted ping pong balls for 31 NHL teams — including the defunct Atlanta Thrashers! 

My search did not produce any results for two teams: The Vegas Golden Knights, who have been in the lottery once in their short existence (they will also be in the 2022 lottery on Tuesday).

The other team that I could not find? I don’t think you need any hints. It’s almost as if the original desert team does not exist.

The Phoenix Coyotes have never won the lottery. Neither have the Arizona Coyotes, but as stunning as it sounds to outsiders who rightfully lay blame for this franchise’s historic struggles on a lack of stable ownership, arena location or cash-poor management, the Coyotes have never even picked in the top two. That’s hard to do when you have missed the playoffs 16 times in your 25-season existence.

Maybe that’s why Coyotes fans weren’t the least bit surprised to watch their team rally from three-plus goal deficits three times in the final four games of the season to climb past Montréal and blow the best odds at landing the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft. Coyotes fans are conditioned to disappointment.

When the NHL Draft Lottery begins at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, the Coyotes will own the second-best odds of winning the top pick and, presumably, the right to draft Kingston Frontenacs center Shane Wright.

2022 NHL Draft Lottery odds

TeamLottery odds
Montréal Canadiens18.5 percent
Arizona Coyotes13.5 percent
Seattle Kraken11.5 percent
Philadelphia Flyers9.5 percent
New Jersey Devils8.5 percent
*Chicago Blackhawks7.5 percent
Ottawa Senators6.5 percent
Detroit Red Wings6 percent
Buffalo Sabres5 percent
Anaheim Ducks3.5 percent
San Jose Sharks3 percent
Columbus Blue Jackets2.5 percent
New York Islanders2 percent
Winnipeg Jets1.5 percent
Vancouver Canucks0.5 percent
**Vegas Golden Knights0.5 percent
* – Chicago will transfer its pick to Columbus if it is not a top-two pick.
** – Vegas will transfer its pick to Buffalo if it is not a top-10 pick.

Lottery rules history

The Coyotes have never moved up in the lottery, unless you count in 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.

From 1995 to 2012, at least the league’s process didn’t feel overtly anti-Coyotes. 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.

For the 2015 lottery — you know, the one with a certain generational center at the top — the league changed the odds, putting less weight on finishing 30th 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.

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 can move up a maximum of 10 spots, making only 11 of the 16 teams who miss the playoffs eligible for the first overall pick. Also beginning in 2022, a team can’t win the lottery more than twice in a five-year span.

Dylan Strome accepts a Coyotes hat presented to him by former GM Don Maloney after Arizona selected him third overall at the 2015 NHL Draft in Sunrise, Florida. Former coach Dave Tippett is pictured on the right. (Getty Images)

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, often regarded as the best draft of this millennium, GM Mike Barnett infamously traded away the Coyotes’ first- and second-round selections.

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 Evgeni 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 league’s fifth-worst team, the Chicago Blackhawks, jumped the Coyotes and Philadelphia Flyers to grab Patrick Kane with the first overall selection. He led them to three Stanley Cups.

The Coyotes got Kyle Turris at No. 3, and after some eye-popping 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 are painful memories, but the worst was yet to come.

In 2015, the Coyotes finished two points ahead of 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. Matthews missed the cutoff birthdate for the 2015 draft by two days or he would have been in the mix for one of those top three spots and the Coyotes would have had either him or Eichel.

In 2017 and 2018, the Coyotes fell four and two spots, respectively, from their spot in the season-ending standings.

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

YearLeague finishActual draft spotSelectionTop pick (team)
20045th worstNo. 5Blake WheelerAlex Ovechkin (Was)
20072nd worstNo. 3Kyle TurrisPatrick Kane (Chi)
20152nd worstNo. 3Dylan StromeConnor McDavid (Edm)
20167th worstNo. 7Clayton KellerAuston Matthews (Tor)
20173rd worstNo. 7Traded to NYRNico Hischier (NJ)
20183rd worstNo. 5Barrett HaytonRasmus Dahlin (Buf)
201914th worstNo. 14*Victor SöderströmJack Hughes (NJ)
202110th worstNo. 11**ForfeitedOwen Power (Buf)
20222nd worstTBDTBDTBD
* – In 2019, the Coyotes traded up to get Söderström, sending the 14th and 45th picks to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for the 11th pick.
** – In 2021, the Coyotes 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.

Lottery still flawed

The NHL has made a lot of recent tweaks to its lottery system, but it should probably make some more. De-incentivizing tanking is important, but a system that doesn’t properly compensate the worst teams in the league is a flawed system. A system that gives a team better odds of falling in the lottery than landing the pick that corresponds to its standings finish is also a flawed one.

I’m not a fan of a system that allows teams just outside of the playoff picture to land the top two picks. No matter how remote their odds, it can happen. It did in 2017 for Philadelphia when the Flyers jumped 11 spots to No. 2. I think there is a middle ground between putting five teams and 10 teams in the mix for those picks. Don’t allow a team to move up more than six or seven spots. This keeps enough teams in the mix to keep the bottom feeders honest, but it also keeps teams on the playoff bubble from winning the top prize in a draft.

As for the Coyotes, this isn’t the first time that they have entered the lottery with high hopes based on one of the leagues’ worst records. On Tuesday afternoon, they’ll find out if this latest bottom-out rebuild will pay dividends, or if their lousy lottery luck will persist.

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