NHL Draft 2021: Why did the Coyotes have to forfeit their first-round pick?

On Friday, 31 players will be selected in the first round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. You may be wondering how that is since there are now 32 NHL franchises.

One team broke the rules, and like in the 2020 draft, has lost a pick. This time it’s a coveted first-rounder.

So what exactly happened? How did a pick get forfeited?

Here’s everything you need to know.

Which team had to forfeit its pick, and why?

In early February 2020, rumors began to circulate that the NHL was investigating the Coyotes for allegedly violating the predraft scouting process.

According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, the Canadian Hockey League — the governing body for major junior hockey in Canada, which is composed of the WHL, OHL and QMJHL — accused the organization of conducting predraft physical fitness testing of more than 20 prospects prior to the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. It was later reported by The Athletic ($) that the United States’ top junior league, the USHL, also had players tested by the Coyotes.

This testing is illegal when it’s conducted outside the NHL’s scouting combine window, which is usually late May or early June when the combine takes place in Buffalo. Testing did not occur in 2020, or 2021, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to The Athletic, Arizona reportedly didn’t think it broke any rules when it asked prospects during pre-combine interviews about their eating habits, supplement use and workout regimens. The NHL, however, was concerned that a strength and conditioning consultant, Tommy Powers, was involved. The Coyotes also reportedly requested that draft prospects attend interviews wearing T-shirts and shorts so team staff could “eyeball” their bodies.

On Feb. 8, 2020, Dreger reported that there were at least 20 instances of draft-eligible players going through fitness testing with the franchise.

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Why did the Coyotes have to forfeit the pick?

After a hearing was conducted Aug. 6, 2020, in which testimony was provided by members of the Coyotes organization and the NHL — and the organization acknowledged that it had violated the policy by conducting physical testing on 2020 draft-eligible players prior to the combine — the league announced Aug. 26, 2020, that the club would have to forfeit draft picks.

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Per the NHL’s statement, the sanctions were imposed under Article 6.3 of the NHL Constitution, which authorizes the commissioner to impose discipline “if he determines . . . that any person . . . has either violated the Constitution, the By-Laws, or any other governing rule or regulation of the League, or has been or is guilty of conduct . . . detrimental to the League or the game of hockey.”

The statement added that Article 6.3 empowers the commissioner to remove draft picks “if the conduct in question affects the competitive aspects of the game.”

Arizona issued the following statement in response: “We were advised . . . of the NHL’s ruling regarding the allegations of physical fitness testing of draft prospects and respect the League’s ruling. 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.”

It should be noted that the Coyotes’ general manager in 2019, John Chayka, quit in late July, right before bubble hockey got underway. Bill Armstrong was hired as the new GM in mid-September 2020 and will be in charge this weekend.

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Which pick is forfeited?

Under the ruling by commissioner Gary Bettman, the Coyotes forfeited their second-round pick (49th overall) in 2020 and their first-round pick in 2021, which turned out to be the 11th overall selection.

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At the time of the ruling, the NHL noted that Bettman stressed the decision came about because the policy is in place to ensure competitive fairness and to avoid prospects going through testing more than once.

“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.

The one negative of all this? For the second straight year, one less player will have his name selected and his draft dreams realized this year and next. And there will be one guy who should have been a first-rounder but will now go in the second.

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