When John Chayka was named General Manager of the Arizona Coyotes, there was quite a stir among hockey fans. First of all, he is one of the first General Managers in the NHL to be hired from an analytics background, and not a member of the “Old Boys Club”. The move was also criticized because Chayka is 13 years younger then the team captain of the Coyotes, Shane Doan. At 26 years old, John Chayka became the youngest GM in not only the history of the NHL, but the history of professional sports. Chayka was hired a year previous as assistant GM to Don Maloney, and was then hired to replace Maloney after he was fired. Chayka’s role was an important role, not only for the Coyotes, but for the entire sport. If the analytics approach doesn’t work in Arizona, it’s fuel for the anti-analytics movement.
Chayka inherited what is arguably the best prospect pool in the NHL headlined by Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, Nick Merkley, Christian Fischer, Brandon Perlini and Louis Domingue. The club also features young talents like Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Tobias Rieder. On top of all that, the Coyotes had four picks in the first two rounds of this years draft, including the 7th overall pick. The pieces were there to assemble a great team in the desert, but the rebuild is still in full swing. The Coyotes were badly in need of defense, at every level. Aside from Oliver Ekman-Larsson, there’s no notable defensemen or prospects in the system. It’s at a point where Jared “the steroids didn’t even help” Tinordi is listed as their top defense prospect on Hockey’s Future.
Going into the draft, the Coyotes were determined to add to their cupboard and establish a solid blue line down the line. When the 7th pick came around, the Coyotes took high scoring forward Clayton Keller who, while being slightly undersized at 5’10”, is extremely skilled and has managed to produce at every level. The Detroit Red Wings held the 16th overall pick, and when it was their turn to make a selection, the clock ran down and shortly thereafter Gary Bettman was scurrying his way across the stage to announce a trade. The Wings had traded Pavel Datsyuk’s contract (who fled for the KHL this offseason), along with their 16th pick in exchange for Arizona’s 20th and 53rd picks, and Joe Vitale (who can no longer play due to concussion). It seemed like a high price to pay for the desert dogs to move up 4 spots in the draft, but the Coyotes were over $14 million away from the salary floor, and while Pavel Datsyuk’s $7.5 million cap hit still counts against the cap, he is owed no real money because he isn’t playing in the NHL. The Coyotes went on the select defensemen Jacob Chychrun, who at 16th overall is a steal, as some had him pegged as high as 4th overall. Chychrun (pronounced Chick-rin) instantly becomes their top defensive prospect and joins a top group of young players.
Chayka wasn’t done making trades just yet though, he managed to pry the 2015 OHL and CHL top defensemen Anthony DeAngelo out of the grips of the Lightning in exchange for the 37th pick. DeAngelo just played his first year pro in the AHL, and could make the jump to the NHL this year. The Coyotes also selected high-scoring rookie defensemen Cam Dineen who put up 59 points in 68 games from the blueline in North Bay this season.
The Coyotes addressed team weaknesses by adding three very good defense prospects, while also adding one of the top wingers in the draft. That is a successful draft. John Chayka isn’t only adding to his defense through the draft however. He went out and traded for the negotiating rights to defensemen Alex Goligoski, and went on to sign him to a 5 year deal worth $5.5 million per year. It’s a high price to pay, but Goligoski is proven top four defenseman who can move to puck well and put up 35 to 40 points a year while driving possession. All in all, it gives the Coyotes someone who can lead the second pair behind Ekman-Larsson. You can expect the Coyotes to continue making big splashes in free agency because they still need to spend at least $7.7 million dollars before the start of next season.
The Coyotes still have plenty of team needs to be addressed, the most pressing being a top pairing defensemen to play alongside OEL. The ‘Yotes need to re-sign or replace Shane Doan, Alex Tanguay, Boyd Gordon, Victor Tihkonov, Sergei Plotnikov, Kyle Chipchura, Tobias Rieder, Nicklas Grossman, Michael Stone, Jarred Tinordi, Kevin Connauton, Connor Murphy and Klas Dahlbeck. It’s going to be a busy summer for Chayka. So far in his short tenure, he has shown he’s willing to make a big move or an impact signing to help his team become more successful. The Coyotes are going to be a force for years to come, and with the young GM in the front office, there’s reason to be hopeful.