By Tom Hunter
Here’s the thing about writing about Arizona trading for Auston Matthews, stop doing it because you’re just wasting your time. Sure Matthews is from the Phoenix area, and sure he got into hockey thanks to the Coyotes, but the idea of a trade between Arizona and Toronto simply doesn’t make any sense.
People in the main stream media have been bringing up the idea for a while now. First, it was “If the Oilers win the lottery they should trade Matthews for Oliver Ekman-Larsson” and sure, that’s probably an idea that would make sense from an Edmonton perspective, but frankly it’s hard to believe the Coyotes would trade their franchise player. Then, relief set in when the lottery took place and it was learned that it would be the Toronto Maple Leafs that would be selecting Auston Matthews first overall next month. I thought that surely all this “Coyotes should trade for Matthews” talk would stop because after all, there is no way in hell the Leafs would trade the first overall pick. But alas, here we are four days after the lottery and ESPN’s Craig Custance writes an article about the idea. “Coyotes Need to Trade Up For Matthews” is the title of the piece, here’s the thing Craig, no they don’t.
The Phoenix Coyotes have been the whipping boy for NHL fans and media for more than a decade now, and for a long portion of that time it was deserved. They were owned by the league, a drain on the revenue of the other 29 teams, and frankly looked like a franchise that was going to be moved at any time. Fast forward to the spring of 2016; with an ownership group led by Anthony LeBlanc, the Coyotes are likely the most financially stable they have ever been. They’ve just finalized the purchase and planned relocation (to Arizona) of their AHL affiliate, they are working on a long-term arena solution in the Phoenix area and they just made history with the hiring of their new General Manager. Add to that the fact that they have a lot of good young players on the roster along with a prospects pool that will rival any and you’ve got a franchise that is likely healthier than it’s ever been.
Now, the 29th ranked attendance can’t be overlooked, the team only sold 78.4% of their home tickets this season and that will have to be improved. But do you know what’s more likely to improve the attendance number? The answer isn’t mortgaging what they’ve started to build. The answer is the same as for 90% of the rest of the teams in the NHL…winning.
That brings me to the crux of my issue with this “Matthews to Arizona” narrative; ignoring everything else, the trade simply doesn’t make sense from a hockey perspective. And not just for the team trading away Matthews, but for Arizona as well. The premise for just about every trade scenario that has been brought up is building a package around stud defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson and right there you’ve got a non-starter for Arizona. Any team willing to even talk about trading the first overall pick this year would always start with the Coyotes’ best player. He’s one of the top-5 or 6 defensemen in the NHL and the kind of player every team wants to build around, he’s signed to a very nice long-term contract, he’s their leading scorer and he seems to be in line to take the C whenever Shane Doan decides to retire. Which is exactly why Arizona would not give him up under any circumstance. He’s their franchise cornerstone and trading him away would leave a blue line led by Zebynek Michalek, Michael Stone, Connor Murphy and Klas Dahlbeck. No matter how you look at it that’s a recipe for disaster.
The hilarity in the trade proposals really sets in when you learn that people think Arizona should ADD significant pieces to OEL in exchange for Matthews. Everyone from Anthony Duclair to Max Domi to Dylan Strome has been mentioned as pieces that would need to be added, oh and don’t forget the 7th overall pick. Stop being silly, no NHL team (not even one run by Dave Nonis) is dumb enough to add assets like that to OEL for any player outside of Connor McDavid.
Now for arguments sake let’s say that the Coyotes lose their mind and decide to cripple the franchise for the sake of trading for a hometown kid. Let’s say they offer an absurd package or OEL + Domi + 7th overall for to Toronto for the 1st overall pick. Do you think Brendan Shanahan et al would accept this deal? I sure don’t.
Don’t get me wrong, that package is great value and those are some very nice pieces you’d be getting in return. But do the people suggesting these kind of deals forget who was supposed to be drafting Tyler Seguin? Or Logan Couture? Or heck even as far back as Scott Niedermayer? The history of the NHL draft is littered with star players that were selected with picks that ‘originally belonged to the Maple Leafs’. This is a fan base that still holds ill will towards Phil Kessel and a large chunk of it stems from the memory that he cost us Tyler Seguin. This is a team that has been looking for a franchise centerman since Mats Sundin left nearly a decade ago. This is a management team that has proven that they know exactly what it takes to start over and are willing to take the time necessary to build a team the proper way.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are not going to be trading the 1st overall selection in the 2016 NHL Entry draft, they are going to draft Auston Matthews with that pick and they are going to build around an Arizona-raised and developed hockey player for the next decade. On the flip side, the Arizona Coyotes are not going to offer a monster package to acquire Auston Mathews. They’re going to build around an all-star Swedish defender and a couple high end forwards from the Greater Toronto Area in Strome and Domi. They’re going to improve in the standings that the attendance (and revenue) will follow. You know what, I bet both teams will be incredibly happy to do so.
So while it’s a very easy (and lazy) narrative to write about, take a second and actually think about it before you pen your Coyotes Need Matthews ‘think’ piece. There is really no properly thought out reason to think that this kind of trade would be desirable from either side. McDavid and Toronto wasn’t going to happen last year, Nolan Patrick and the Jets probably won’t happen next year, and Matthews and the Coyotes certainly doesn’t ‘need’ to happen now, despite what ESPN writers will tell you.