Coyotes to forfeit two draft picks as penalty for combine testing violation

Arizona Coyotes warm-up to take on the Vegas Golden Knights prior to NHL exhibition game action in Edmonton, on Thursday July 30, 2020. (Jason Franson/CP)

The Arizona Coyotes will forfeit two draft picks after the NHL found the team violated the combine testing policy during the 2019-20 season.

In a statement, the NHL said the Coyotes will forfeit their 2020 second-round pick and their 2021 first-round pick. No discipline will be handed down on any specific individuals involved in the case.

The decision to punish the Coyotes this way was made by commissioner Gary Bettman after a hearing on Aug. 6. In that hearing, which included testimony from representatives of the NHL and Coyotes, the team “acknowledged that it had violated the Policy by conducting physical testing on 2020 draft-eligible players prior to the Combine,” the NHL’s statement says.

“While the Combine Testing Policy Memoranda reference a fine of ‘no less than $250,000 for each violation’ of the Policy, I exercise my discretion to impose the aforementioned discipline — which I consider to be more appropriate given the specific circumstances of this case,” Bettman said in his ruling.

“As for the Club personnel who participated in, or may have contributed to, the Club’s violation of the Policy, I have decided that no discipline shall be imposed on these individuals. While I conclude that certain Club personnel acted in a grossly negligent manner at best, which was conceded by the Club, I ultimately conclude that the record does not establish — to a standard with which I am comfortable — that those individuals engaged in intentional wrongdoing, as opposed to grossly negligent behaviour.”

The NHL’s Constitution specifically prohibits teams from conducting physical testing on prospects eligible for the NHL Draft prior to the annual Combine in the spring “to ensure competitive fairness among Clubs with respect to evaluating and drafting prospects and to avoid subjecting prospects to repeated and duplicative testing procedures,” the NHL’s statement says.

The power to punish a team for violating the NHL Constitution is given to Bettman in Article 6.3, which includes allowing the commissioner to take draft choices away from a team “if the conduct in question affects the competitive aspects of the game.”

The Coyotes acknowledged Bettman’s decision in a statement released Wednesday.

“We were advised today of the NHL’s ruling regarding the allegations of physical fitness testing of draft prospects and respect the League’s ruling,” the team said. “Under new leadership, we have added thorough internal controls and compliance measures to prevent this type of occurrence from happening again in the future. We will have no further comment.”

Reports surfaced in January that the Canadian Hockey League had filed a complaint against the Coyotes for illegal recruiting tactics and the team acknowledged the reports at the time in a brief statement.

“We are aware of the reports. We have discussed the matter with the NHL and we will have no further comment at this time,” the Coyotes said in January, according to The Arizona Republic.

The Coyotes were already thin on high draft choices over the next two NHL Drafts before this punishment was handed down. This is due in large part to the Taylor Hall trade the team made with the New Jersey Devils last December, which saw New Jersey acquire the Coyotes’ first-round pick in 2020 as well as a conditional pick in 2021. That pick is the 2021 third-rounder, but can be upgraded to the second round if Hall signs a contract extension in Arizona.

Additionally, the Coyotes’ third-round pick in 2020 is currently owned by the Washington Capitals, who acquired it from the Colorado Avalanche.

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