In last week's article on the Draft Lottery chances of the Calgary Flames, Eric Francis of Sportsnet argued that Calgary's ability to flip the first overall pick might be more useful than retaining it, especially if the Arizona Coyotes were involved:
Given how happy the Flames are with their budding centre-ice strength, the door would also be open for the boldest of moves, which would be to shop the first pick overall — namely to the Arizona Coyotes.
As a former staffer, GM Brad Treliving has a tight relationship with ‘Yotes GM Don Maloney and knows how much the Franchise would crave having the Phoenix-raised product. Perhaps the Flames could swap their first pick for Arizona’s top pick and also acquire a top prospect or two — or maybe even Max Domi — in a deal.
There is a lot to unpack in this quote, but let's begin with the obvious question: would the Coyotes really trade Max Domi for Auston Matthews?
Domi for Matthews?
In a straight-up deal for the 1st overall pick, the answer is almost assuredly yes. In Domi's Draft +1 season, some of his NHL comparables (based on OHL production) were Corey Perry, Scott Hartnell, and Ales Hemsky. All three turned out to be consistent NHLers, though Arizona fans would hope that Domi turns out to be more Perry than Hemsky.
Auston Matthews on the other hand was mentioned in the same breath as Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews as recently as December of last year. That's important for two reasons: first, both Kopitar and Toews have been repeat Selke Trophy finalists, with Toews actually winning the 2012-13 incarnation. That speaks not only of quality, but of consistency. Kopitar and Toews personify the blueprint for success in the modern NHL.
Second, the difference in skill level between Kopitar and Toews is negligible; Toews averages .895 points per game in his NHL career while Kopitar averages .893 points per game. However, the difference between Corey Perry (.833 points per game), Alex Hemsky (.703 points per game), and Scott Hartnell (.574 points per game) is quite stark. It's the difference from being a franchise cornerstone (Perry) to a supplemental top six forward (Hartnell and Hemsky).
Every draft pick is a gamble, and Domi has the advantage of actually having an extended sample of NHL action to look at compared to Matthews' experience in Europe. But the days of Alexandre Daigle and Patrik Stefan are further and further in the distance; even the least impressive first overall pick of the post-Lockout Era - Nail Yakupov - was a product of a relatively anemic draft class (#2 and #3 that season were Ryan Murray and Alex Galchenyuk, respectively). Draft scouts are not infallible, but it is rare in this day and age for them to get a player completely wrong.
So I were a gambling man, I would be pretty comfortable betting that Auston Matthews will have a more productive career than Max Domi. That's hardly a sure thing, but it's a bet teams regularly have to take on Draft Day.
A Realistic Picture
But let's not kid ourselves: there's no way a straight up Domi for Matthews trade actually happens. The last first overall pick to move was in the 2003 Draft, and the Penguins had to swap their third overall choice, a third rounder, and a prospect with Florida for the chance to pick Marc-Andre Fleury.
If the NHL season ended today, Arizona would hold the 8th overall selection. A top ten pick is nothing to sneer at, but it is more of a gamble than a top three or top five choice.
And the fact that no first overall pick has moved since 2003 is arguably a better indicator of how valuable the choice is in the Salary Cap Era. Were a GM like Brad Treliving to hold that pick, he wouldn't give it up for anything less than a king's ransom. Even Francis' proposed pick swap + Domi is probably not enough to make a deal happen.
Think of it this way: if Arizona won the Draft Lottery: what would convince you to part with the pick?
Why Is This Even a Conversation?
From any objective standpoint, there is practically no reason for the Coyotes to even be looking into the first overall pick. Arizona's forward prospect pool is widely considered to be among the best in the league. They have high-end prospects on the left (Anthony Duclair and/or Domi), down the middle (Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, and Ryan MacInnis), and on the right (Nick Merkley, Christian Fischer, and Conor Garland). And the best defensive prospects in this draft - which Arizona desperately needs - tend to land in the #5 to #10 range, which is where Arizona would pick anyway.
Indeed, even Francis recognizes that Matthews' value to Arizona is driven heavily by his status as a Scottsdale native. If he were from Moncton or Minneapolis, the only reason anybody would be talking about Matthews in Arizona would be if the ping-pong balls went their way at the end of April.
To acquire Matthews from their current position, the Coyotes would likely need to sacrifice both current assets (their current players/prospects) and future assets (the chance to draft a high-end defenseman). The question isn't so much which assets Arizona will trade, but rather how many.
There is probably a price Arizona could pay to land Matthews if Don Maloney wanted to. A win of any of the three lottery positions might make the price reasonable enough to seriously consider. And there's no denying that Matthews as an Arizona native would be a great story for the Coyotes.
But even top picks are not a guarantor of success. For every Max Domi or Oliver Ekman-Larsson, there need to be players like Tobias Rieder and Jordan Martinook that make an impact. Sacrificing multiple draft picks in pursuit of Matthews reduces the number of chances the Coyotes have to get those depth picks right.
Max Domi for Auston Matthews? I'd do it. Max Domi and a top ten pick for Matthews? Maybe. But as the price gets higher and higher, it's worth wondering how much of Matthews' value to Arizona comes from his skill and how much comes from his place of birth.