Amid the disappointment of not participating in the NHL postseason, non-playoff teams like the Arizona Coyotes get one night during the playoffs every year to occupy the spotlight.
Arizona has just a 6.5% chance of winning the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. And the continued success of the Edmonton Oilers should forever bury any notions that the NHL rigs the Draft Lottery every year.
But if Gary Bettman were ever to orchestrate a Draft Lottery win, it should be this year. And the Arizona Coyotes should be the beneficiary.
Once in a Generation
The Arizona sports scene is undergoing a substantial transformation. Shane Doan and Larry Fitzgerald, two of the Valley's most celebrated athletes, are nearing the end of long and storied careers in Arizona. Auston Matthews would be Doan's logical successor as the face of Arizona hockey.
Matthews is the culmination of what has been a steady trend in Arizona. USA Hockey membership increased by 50.8% this year over last year. And lest those percentages earn snark from those North of the Border who think that going from two players to three is a 50% increase too, that 50.8% jump translates to 2,459 new members.
The ownership group in Arizona has done an excellent job at spurring interest in hockey in Arizona. IceArizona is bringing an AHL team to Tucson, Arizona's second largest city. A return of professional sports to Tucson, coupled with new ice sheets, will only continue to increase hockey's footprint in the state. Auston Matthews playing for the Coyotes would do wonders for hockey's continual exposure in a market crowded with professional and collegiate sports.
Good for the Goose, Good for the Gander
Matthews going to Arizona would be good for both the Coyotes and for the rest of the league as a whole. Matthews would obviously be a tremendous draw for both ticket sales and merchandise, but his most invaluable asset to the franchise would be his skill. Arizona loves winners, and a top six that features Dylan Strome, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Tobias Rieder, Christian Dvorak, and Auston Matthews would win a lot of games, really quickly.
Financial success is obviously good for the Coyotes, but it benefits the entire league too. Apart from making investment in the league more appealing for possible owners league-wide, the more successful the league's smaller franchises are, the less pressure is on Gary Bettman and the central office to preserve financial parity.
Part of the reason the salary cap is structured the way it is today is that the NHL's less affluent teams fear a large disparity between the league's top clubs like the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs, and their own bottom lines.
Auston Matthews in Arizona would address that particular problem, while teams like Toronto and Montreal would continue to improve by landing high caliber players. The relative difference on Toronto's bottom line if Patrik Laine dons the Maple Leafs sweater in place of Auston Matthews is likely small, but the relative difference for Arizona's bottom line if Patrik Laine dons Sedona Red instead of Matthews is much larger.
Let's be honest: any scenario in which the Coyotes win a top three pick will lead to numerous accusations of rigging. Half of the continent already thinks the NHL has done too much for Arizona.
So go ahead, Commissioner Bettman. Do what must be done to ensure that the most visible sign of the success of your Southern strategy ends up in the Valley of the Sun. The Coyotes will be better off for it. The league will be better off for it. And hockey in general will be better off for it.