The San Jose Sharks have never had the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft.
That’s a good thing this year — if San Jose had won the 2020 draft lottery, shades of Vincent Lecavalier, that No. 1 pick would’ve gone to the Ottawa Senators as part of the Erik Karlsson trade.
Instead, the New York Rangers will pick first overall in the 2020 NHL Draft.
But here’s a not-so-fun fact if you’re a Sharks fan: 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.
According to Nathan Gabay’s expansion draft research:
• Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks had the 1st and 2nd overall picks in their first draft (No. 1 decided by “wheel of fortune” spin)
• New York Islanders and Atlanta Flames had the 1st and 2nd overall picks in their first draft (No. 1 based on New York allowing Atlanta to select Phil Myre first overall in the 1972 expansion draft)
• Washington Capitals and Kansas City Scouts had the 1st and 2nd overall picks in their first draft (No. 1 decided by coin flip)
• Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators had the 1st and 2nd overall picks in their first draft (No. 1 decided by coin flip)
• Florida Panthers and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim had the 4th and 5th picks in their first draft, but were guaranteed 1st and 2nd in their second draft no matter where they finished in the standings (No. 1 decided by coin flip)
• Nashville Predators had the second-best lottery odds in their first draft (NHL draft lottery instituted in 1995)
• Atlanta Thrashers had the second-best lottery odds in their first draft
• Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild were among three teams with the second-best lottery odds in their first draft
Even the Vegas Golden Knights, along with being gifted the most generous expansion draft bounty in league history, were also given third-best lottery odds in the 2017 NHL Draft.
So what about the San Jose Sharks? Per Gabay:
• Shuffled into the second overall spot in their expansion year (1991)
• Slotted behind the incoming expansion teams the very next year (1992), picking 3rd while the new teams picked 1st and 2nd
• Allowed to pick ahead of the 1993 expansion teams that year, but said expansion teams were already guaranteed to pick 1st and 2nd overall the next year no matter what. That’s even if they made the playoffs, even if they went on a run, even if the played each other for the Stanley Cup.
Basically, there was a precedent set for expansion franchises before the Sharks, which San Jose was excluded from — then the NHL reverted back to that precedent after the Sharks.
Was the San Jose Sharks first general manager Jack Ferreira upset by this?
“Not at that time. It’s not like it is now,” Ferreira said. “When we came in the league, you got absolutely no respect. It didn’t surprise me that we weren’t given the first-overall pick.”
Ferreira wasn’t just offering up sour grapes. There weren’t many gems in expansion drafts in those days. Consequently, the Sharks won just 28 games in their first two seasons of existence. This is the fourth-least in the modern expansion era, just more than New Jersey/Kansas City, Ottawa, and Washington.
The 1991 NHL Draft also featured generational prospect Eric Lindros, another reason for the “big brother” franchises to shortchange the “little brother” Sharks.
“That’s just what you had to face,” shrugged Ferreira.
BROTEN FOR STEEN?
Ferreira also shared this story from his time as Minnesota North Stars GM.
It was October 29, 1988. Minnesota was in last place in the Norris Division with a 2-8-1 record. Winnipeg was last in the Smythe with a 2-4-2 mark.
“John Ferguson is the GM in Winnipeg. I’m looking to shake up my team. We worked out a deal, I was going to trade him Neal Broten for Thomas Steen. Stats were very similar, good two-way players.
“We agreed to make the trade. It wasn’t like it was now where you make a trade call. You just worked it out, PR departments get involved, make the announcement.
“The next day, Ferguson was going to call me in the morning. We were going to work out when we were going to announce the deal. But the next morning came and went, and I never heard from him.
“So I called his office — and he had been fired that morning.”
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