It has been 32 days since John Chayka quit as the general manager and president of hockey operations of the Arizona Coyotes, but the consequences of his actions during his tenure in the desert are still being felt.
Earlier in the 2019-20 season, when Chayka was still employed by Arizona, news broke that the NHL was investigating the Coyotes over allegations involving illegal physical fitness testing of draft prospects, a violation that once again made the franchise a punchline, and came with the possibility of substantial league punishment.
Well, punishment came down from the league on Wednesday, in the form of forfeited draft picks. Specifically, the Coyotes lost their second-round choice in 2020 as well as their first-round selection in 2021, leaving the cupboard extremely bare when it comes to future draft picks (more on that later).
Chayka Got Out of Dodge
These sanctions likely are part of the reason for Chayka’s abrupt departure from the Coyotes. Knowing that he was still under contract in Arizona, but also likely having knowledge that draft-pick sanctions were coming from the league, Chayka received interest from another club (reportedly from the New Jersey Devils) and decided to abandon ship and save himself, so to speak.
A coach or executive getting out of Dodge before sanctions are levied for an infraction isn’t completely unprecedented in sports. Pete Carroll, the current head coach of the National Football League’s (NFL) Seattle Seahawks, coached at the University of Southern California (USC) from 2000 to 2009. Near the end of his tenure there, allegations surrounding former USC player Reggie Bush gained steam, and it looked as if the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) would come down hard on the school’s football program.
As a result, Carroll bolted to the NFL in January 2010, and, sure enough, severe sanctions were levied upon USC in June of that same year. While the school hasn’t been in serious contention for a national championship since, Carroll escaped relatively scot-free, as he won a Super Bowl in Seattle and has earned a reputation as one of the NFL’s better coaches.
In Chayka’s case, it’s probable that he caught wind of the consequences that were to be handed down, and elected to leave his position in Arizona rather than stay and attempt to rebuild while also potentially damaging his future job prospects.
The Coyotes had already missed the playoffs in each of Chayka’s first three regular seasons on the job before making it as a No. 11 seed this year, and it’s unlikely they’ll be able to keep pace with the rest of the league in the near future after losing the majority of their draft picks via the sanctions or trades.
Now, let’s imagine that the Coyotes suffer through two more rough seasons with Chayka at the helm in 2020-21 and 2021-22, and he’s fired as a result. After what would be six fruitless years in Arizona, I can’t imagine that many suitors would be lined up to offer Chayka another high-level hockey operations gig in that scenario. Instead, after leaving Arizona when he did, Chayka will probably get another job somewhere in the league once the dust from the Coyotes divorce settles.
Coyotes Up Against It
With Wednesday’s news, the Coyotes now own just four picks in the upcoming 2020 Entry Draft, with the earliest coming in the fourth round.
For 2021, the Coyotes own six selections – if they re-sign Taylor Hall, their earliest pick will be in Round No. 3. If Hall leaves via free agency, they’ll keep their second-round pick while sending their third-rounder to New Jersey to complete the trade.
Obviously, the quality of prospects drops off as the rounds progress, so it’ll be tough for Arizona to build through the draft in the next two offseasons. Picks in the first two or three rounds generally can be counted upon to reach the NHL, but, after that, it becomes much more of a crapshoot.
In the five draft classes from 2008 to 2012, 150 players were selected in the fourth round. Only 69 of those prospects (46 percent) reached the NHL, while just 30 of those (20 percent) have played more than 100 regular-season games through 2019-20.
When it comes to the fifth, sixth, and seventh rounds, these numbers, as expected, drop off even further. Of the 450 prospects selected in these rounds from 2008 to 2012, just 70 have played 100 or more regular-season contests (15.6 percent).
When it comes to the Coyotes, they’ve had very limited success with their late-round selections over the years, with 2019-20 leading goalscorer Conor Garland and former backup goaltender Louis Domingue being selected in the fifth rounds of the 2015 and 2010 drafts, respectively. Before that, there was offensive defenseman Keith Yandle in the fourth round in 2005 as well as 798-game veteran Daniel Winnik in the ninth round in 2004.
Other than that, though, the team hasn’t had much success with their late-round choices, as just 14 of 66 (21 percent) prospects selected in the fourth round or later from 2000 to 2015 made it to The Show, while just six of those reached the 100-game mark (9.1 percent).
Obviously, the ‘Yotes have had trouble with drafting, scouting, and prospect development in recent years, and losing these high draft picks will make it all the more difficult to build up organizational depth or to bring in talent by trading draft picks.
It’ll be interesting to see how the franchise deals with these sanctions during the offseason. Will the dearth of high-end draft picks scare off potential candidates for the general manager position, resulting in the team removing the interim tag from Steve Sullivan instead of hiring an external candidate? If head coach Rick Tocchet isn’t able to earn a contract extension from the team beyond 2021, will an experienced candidate like Gerard Gallant or Peter Laviolette even consider taking this job, or would the team have to hire another inexperienced bench boss?
As we said after the Coyotes’ elimination at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche (who have looked very mortal and beatable in their second-round series against the Dallas Stars after absolutely steamrolling Arizona in the opening round, by the way), there are a lot of questions left to be answered for this franchise, and Wednesday’s draft-pick sanctions have the possibility of further complicating the answers to those questions.
A lifelong Phoenix resident, Louis has been following hockey since 2010, has covered the Arizona Coyotes since 2015, and has been playing hockey since 2020. So far, Louis has visited eight NHL cities, and one of his personal goals is to eventually make it to all 31 NHL arenas. For any questions or concerns, contact the writer via Twitter @LouisPannone.