The Arizona Coyotes shocked the hockey world this spring when they named 27-year old John Chayka their General Manager. He became the youngest General Manager, not only in the NHL but in all of pro sports. Criticism of the hire inevitably materialized. He’s a stats geek. He’s too young. What does he know? Hockey lifers are going to take this kid to school. However, John Chayka’s impressive offseason should be silencing his skeptics.
John Chayka’s Impressive Offseason
Lost in the notion that being a hockey lifer is a requirement for NHL General Mangers is the fact that Chayka himself is a hockey lifer of sorts. He’d been a fine player his entire life. Drafted by the Plymouth Whalers in the 2005 OHL Priority Selection, Chayka put together a respectable hockey career. Highlights include scoring 80 points in 51 games during his last season with the Woodstock Slammers of the MJAHL. This was good for third best in the league.
However, an all-too-familiar curse struck him at the height of his play. Like so many before him, his career was cut short by a back injury.
It was after the injury that Chayka began his journey to NHL employment. Teaming up with colleague Neil Lane to form “Stathletes,” Chayka became somewhat of a hockey analytics pioneer, supplying advanced statistics to NHL clubs before they became popular. This lead to him catching the eye of the Coyotes which, in turn, landed him their Assistant General Manager position.
Given his analytical background, Chayka provides his team with an advantage in decision-making. Of course, being a General Manager is not just about knowing results. One must understand the business. Since his promotion to full-time GM, Chayka is proving he knows this side of the spectrum as well.
Making a good first impression didn’t take long. Moving up to pick number 16 and selecting defenseman Jakob Chychrun at this year’s NHL Draft was a stroke of brilliance. In order to do so, Chayka creatively took retired player Pavel Datsyuk‘s $7.5 million cap hit off the Detroit Red Wings‘ hands. Arizona can afford eating his money, Detroit can’t. Chayka identified this predicament and used it to score young talent; an extra-base hit in his first major league swing.
On August 1 he bought out the contract of centremen Antoine Vermette. Analytical data suggests Vermette’s value has been declining steadily. Despite his dip in even strength production, Vermette was costing Arizona $3.75 million per season. With prospects Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak waiting in the wings, ridding the team of Vermette made room for these talented young centremen to crack the lineup and also set the stage for Chayka’s next move.
On August 25, Chayka sent a third round pick to the Florida Panthers in exchange for the $5.5 million contract of Dave Bolland and prospect Lawson Crouse. Bolland is set to miss all of 2016 with an ankle injury, making him and his cap hit a nuisance for the Panthers and their wishes of contending this season. With Florida being close to the cap ceiling as it is, Bolland’s contract was standing in the way of their Aaron Ekblad extension funds. Chayka once again identified someone else’s complicated salary situation and used it to his club’s advantage.
Adding Crouse and Chychrun to an already stacked prospect pool is making Arizona look like a scary opponent in the not too distant future. Whether these prospects pan out or not is, of course, uncertain. One thing is for sure, though. John Chayka is increasing his team’s chances of succeeding. He’s not just some guy who is good with numbers. Chayka has some tricks up his sleeve and is proving he understands the NHL’s economics.