It is an assumption that follows the Arizona Coyotes through these final few weeks of another fruitless regular season. Wherever the Coyotes finish, they’ll talk trade for the consensus No. 1 overall pick, Auston Matthews — a Scottsdale native who scouts say is the best player available at the June draft.
The Coyotes are hoping to unveil plans for a new rink nearer downtown Phoenix, and for that, a marquee name and the only first overall draft pick to ever come from Scottsdale would be the perfect get.
So, as popular thinking goes, should Arizona not win the lottery they’ll send their top draft pick (No. eight or nine) and a very good player to the lottery winner in return for the right to draft Matthews. Or maybe they’ll just deal a package for the pick, then use their own first-rounder to fill the lineup hole left behind.
Teams will ask for Arizona’s best player: defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Coyotes GM Don Maloney will ask himself: “Are we really getting any better by trading one of the game’s true No. 1 defencemen for an 18-year-old centre?”
Then ownership will chime in: “We’ve had OEL here for six seasons, and we’ve missed the playoffs the last four years. Why not start over with the Matthews kid, and sell tickets at the same time?”
Now, there are some holes in this theory.
What if Finnish forward Patrik Laine is a better player? What if the Maple Leafs win the lottery? They desperately need centres. What possible deal could Arizona offer Toronto to get their claws on Matthews?
The other assumption is that the Coyotes can come to an agreement on the new arena that is at the root of all this conjecture. Coyotes President and CEO Anthony LeBlanc says they’re talking with Arizona State University — which needs a new home for its basketball and hockey programs — plus several different Phoenix-area municipalities that would like to welcome a new big-league arena.
OK, for the sake of conversation, let’s go down the road. Once the NHL’s Draft Lottery takes place on April 30, what would it take to get the No. 1 pick from…
Toronto Maple Leafs: I don’t think it’s possible. The Leafs have sculpted this season to finish 30th and get Matthews. They need a centre to build a forward ranks around. Arizona is hoping Toronto doesn’t get the first pick overall. The Leafs won’t deal it.
Winnipeg Jets: The Jets are all about drafting and developing. I would see the Jets holding on to Matthews, playing him a line below Mark Scheifele, and dealing Bryan Little at the draft to a team that needs help at centre. This would be an unlikely deal for Arizona.
Edmonton Oilers: If Arizona doesn’t win the lottery, they’re hoping the Oilers do. Edmonton already has centres Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. And with a high-end trade in the offing in Edmonton, GM Peter Chiarelli has both the pieces and the leaning to make a monster deal here.
The problem is, Edmonton’s ask would begin and end with Ekman-Larsson. Maloney would have to carve out a deal with the Oilers where he got a decent defenceman back for OEL — Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom — while swapping first round picks with the Oilers. Of course, if Edmonton wins the lottery they’ll also shop Matthews to Minnesota and Toronto, two clubs desperate for centres. So if the ‘Yotes truly want Matthews, they’ll have to dig deep.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Since trading Ryan Johansen, there’s a huge vacancy down the middle in Columbus. If the Jackets win the lottery, it’s a cinch they draft Matthews and keep him. Except for one thing: Finnish GM Jarmo Kekalainen has his eyes on the two big Finish wingers — Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi. If Maloney could find some way to turn the 2016 draft into the 1999 draft — when Vancouver GM Brian Burke wheeled and dealed to land the two Sedin twins at No. 2 and 3 — he’d get a shot at Matthews from Columbus. Good luck.
Vancouver Canucks: Here’s the Canucks’ biggest problem: At age 35, the Sedins are still the team’s best two forwards. Bo Horvat plays out (at worst) as a strong No. 3 centre and Brandon Sutter in place at No. 2, so adding Matthews would be of huge value in Vancouver. If the Canucks win the lottery, they draft Matthews, let him tutor under Henrik for a few seasons, and the Coyotes are out of luck. The future down the middle in Vancouver would go Matthews, Sutter, Horvat. Not bad.
Buffalo Sabres: The rebuild is on in Buffalo, and knowing GM Tim Murray, he’d take one look at a Top 6 where the centres’ names are Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews and head straight to the podium. No dice, Don.
Calgary Flames: See above. With Sean Monahan and Matthews on top of the defence Calgary already has in place, the Flames are set. With McDavid-Draisaitl-RNH just up the road, the Flames will put a value on the centre ice position. They’re not trading the pick, even though GM Brad Treliving used to work for Maloney.