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Sharks’ History of Not Getting No. 1 Pick

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Credit: WHL

The San Jose Sharks have been oh so close to the first-overall pick of the NHL Draft a handful of times. But they’ve never had it.

This was especially true in the ‘90s, when the Sharks had the second-overall selection three times and the third-overall twice.

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, that’s a feeling familiar to a 32-year-old franchise that has five Western Conference and one Stanley Cup Final appearances to their credit, but zero championships.

Obviously, San Jose, 16 points out of the playoffs at the All-Star break, aren’t going to snap their Stanley Cup-less streak this season.

But that other streak? 32 years without a first-overall pick? That would be a streak – Captain Obvious reporting once again – that would be oh so sweet for the Sharks to snap with highly-touted Connor Bedard on top of the board.

Anyway, the 2023 Draft lottery isn’t until after the regular season.

But I was thinking about the San Jose Sharks’ close calls with the first-overall pick as they were losing to league-worst Columbus Blue Jackets 5-3 on Jan. 21.

According to Tankathon, the Blue Jackets have a 25.5 percent chance at the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. Those are the best odds at presumed first-overall selection Bedard.

The Sharks, the fifth-worst team in the NHL, have an 8.5 percent chance at the No. 1 pick.

Now I personally don’t believe in tanking i.e. intentionally losing, and I don’t think San Jose, up to this point, has done anything to intentionally lose games.

But facts are facts. Even if the Sharks keep trying to win games – it’s another discussion, but I believe it’s good for the locker room, for future San Jose players to keep trying to win – they’re not actually winning games. They’re probably going to keep losing games too, if they begin to break apart an already-mediocre squad, whether that means Erik Karlsson or Timo Meier or James Reimer or whomever leaving town.

It’s a delicate balance, doing your best to win, but losing all the same. The Sharks, like it or not, have been striking that balance all season, and there’s no reason to believe that’s going to change.

So San Jose may yet bottom out and freefall for the No. 1 pick.

Letting Columbus come back from a 2-0 deficit a week and a half ago? It may all be for the best, when all is said and done, helping your lottery odds and hurting the opposition’s, all at the same time.

This game, and its four-point swing, makes me think of all the times in the past that the San Jose Sharks have been close to the No. 1 pick.

Let’s rewind to the beginning of the franchise, before even their first game.

1991

“Since the advent of the modern NHL Amateur Draft in 1970, San Jose is the only expansion team to not get a No. 1 pick or at least a chance at a No. 1 pick before their first season.”

Essentially, the rest of the league wanted to keep a chance at generational prospect Eric Lindros to themselves.

Sharks & the No. 1 Pick That Never Was

Instead, the expansion Sharks were given the No. 2 pick. They selected sniper Pat Falloon, who was out of the league by 2000.

Because of concussions, Lindros endured a star-crossed career, but he was still inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2016.

1992

The next year, however, the league reversed course and gave expansion franchises Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators the No. 1 and 2 picks in the Draft.

Tampa Bay selected defenseman first-overall Roman Hamrlik and Ottawa followed up with center Alexei Yashin.

San Jose had the worst record in the league that year, and in a normal year – this was before the Draft Lottery would be instituted in 1995 – that would automatically net them the No. 1 pick. Instead, they picked solid-but-unspectacular blueliner Mike Rathje at No. 3.

Hamrlik never quite lived up to his billing, but Yashin, in his prime, was a first-line pivot.

1993

The Sharks went 11-71-2 – and somehow, that wasn’t the worst record in hockey. Instead, that was held by the Ottawa Senators, who also had 24 points like San Jose, but only had 10 wins.

That summer, the Senators were investigated for throwing their last game of the season, a 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins. A win or tie against the Bruins would’ve given the Sharks the no. 1 pick.

The NHL didn’t find any wrongdoing, but be careful what you wish for, Ottawa selected all-time Draft bust Alexandre Daigle first-overall. Meanwhile, the Sharks traded back their No. 2 pick (and a chance for future Hall of Famer Chris Pronger) to the Hartford Whalers for the No. 6 pick (Viktor Kozlov), veteran Sergei Makarov, and the No. 45 (Vlastimil Kroupa) and 58 picks (Ville Peltonen) in the 1993 Draft.

1996

Again, the Sharks were “competing” with the Senators for the No. 1 pick. So like what San Jose’s loss to Columbus on Jan. 21 might shape up to, the Sharks-Sens games that season were actually important to Draft lottery odds.

Second-worst San Jose finished six points ahead of Ottawa in the standings, winning their Dec. 1995 match-up 2-1 (game-winning goal: Tom Pederson), then tying their Feb. 96 tilt.

If the Senators win both those games, the Sharks have the top odds for the No. 1 pick.

The 1996 NHL Draft ended up being one of the worst in modern Draft history, with no future All-Stars selected in the first 20 picks. Ottawa’s first-overall pick, defenseman Chris Phillips, however, at least played in 1,179 NHL games. San Jose followed by choosing blueliner Andrei Zyuzin, who topped out at 496 NHL games.

1997

But for one game, the San Jose Sharks could’ve had the best odds for the No. 1 pick in the Joe Thornton Draft.

The Sharks finished just one point ahead of the NHL-worst Boston Bruins. Funny enough, they lost both of their games against the Bruins that season. But one extra loss would’ve put them in the driver’s seat for consensus No. 1 Thornton.

So that’s some fun alternate history: San Jose selects Thornton first-overall, maybe Boston takes consensus No. 2 prospect Patrick Marleau second-overall?

Anyway, all’s well that ends well: The Sharks eventually made both Thornton and Marleau the backbones of their franchise, picking Patty with the second-overall pick and trading for Jumbo in Nov. 2005.

Both will be inducted into the Hall of Fame one day.

1998

Thank Kozlov for the Sharks’ first first-overall pick.

In Nov. 1997, San Jose sent the still-promising 21-year-old left winger, along with a 1998 fifth-round pick, to the Florida Panthers for their 1998 first-round pick and veteran grinder Dave Lowry.

The Panthers struggled, finishing with the NHL’s second-worst record…and they won the Draft lottery.

Hooray for the Sharks? Vincent Lecavalier was the consensus top pick.

But wait!

That Trade Deadline, the Tampa Bay Lightning sent defensemen Bryan Marchment and David Shaw to San Jose for Andrei Nazarov and the right to swap their first-round pick for Florida’s.

The Lightning finished with the NHL’s worst record, but lost the lottery, falling to No. 3 – but they swapped that pick for the Sharks-owned Panthers’ No. 1.

In the end, it all worked out for the Sharks – the physical Marchment was long-coveted by then-GM Dean Lombardi and became a mainstay on the San Jose blueline for the next five years, while the franchise would eventually convert No. 3 pick Brad Stuart into Thornton – but 2007 Rocket Richard winner Lecavalier would’ve looked pretty good in teal too.

For what it’s worth, Stuart had a solid career, suiting up for 1,056 regular season NHL games and winning the 2008 Stanley Cup.

Since 1998, the Sharks haven’t been particularly close to the first-overall pick.

In 2005, after the cancellation of the 2004-05 season, they had a chance at No. 1 and Sidney Crosby, along with the 29 other NHL teams, but they ended up with the eighth-overall pick and Devin Setoguchi.

They were in the Draft lottery in 2003 and 2015 and the past three seasons.

Of course, in 2020, the Sharks had the third-worst record in the league at the time of the COVID pause, and were awarded the No. 3 pick, but that selection (Tim Stutzle) went to Ottawa, San Jose’s long-time Draft nemesis, in the Erik Karlsson trade.

Will the Sharks finally win in the spring of 2023?

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