On the surface, news that the Arizona Coyotes hired the youngest general manager in NHL history would be significant itself. Sure, the appointment of John Chayka was momentous, but the overall decision to revamp the Coyotes’ hockey operations department was the most important determination that came out of Gila River Arena Thursday.
In addressing a hastily-called news conference, team president Anthony LeBlanc announced changes to the hockey side of the franchise. While the decision to elevate Chayka from assistant GM to GM appeared as the high-profile announcement, movement of coach Dave Tippett in a leading, decision-making role appeared to be the most important.
Based on the increasing emphasis of analytics and numbers in the overall assessment of team direction and personnel, there is no question Chayka, despite his age, brings important credentials to the table. Prior to his appointment as Coyotes’’ assistant general manager last summer, he co-founded Stathletics, Inc. in 2009, and served as their director of hockey operations. Armed with his calculator and spread sheet, Chayka was a key member of the Coyotes’ management group to complement on-site scouting reports with trends and history.
Yet, his age, at 26-years-old, is clearly a factor in his overall evaluation of personnel. For that reason, governor and director Andrew Barroway, along with LeBlanc, decided to restructure the Coyotes’ hockey operations. Gary Drummond, an alternative governor to Barroway, was named president of hockey operations, and Tippett, signing a new five year contract continuing to coach the team, was named executive vice president of hockey operations.
Given Chayka’s limited personnel experience in the game, Tippett now is involved in all personnel decisions, and, without an official title, he effectively becomes the general manager in charge of player personnel decisions.
“The lack of experience is one of my weaknesses,” Chayka said Thursday at a news conference in Gila River Arena. “I know that, so there is a process and method of communication in place to help us arrive at decisions that are best for the team.”
Since becoming an NHL head coach with Dallas for the 2002-03 season, Tippett preferred coaching over administrative positons. When former Coyotes’ general manager Don Maloney was fired two days after last season ended, Tippett said that time he had no desire to replace Maloney or pursue possible GM vacancies throughout the league.
Added Role For Tippett
At the same time, Tippett always kept keen observations on players and his judgments were also candid. Now, he expands his desire to influence personnel decisions, and, going forward, will likely make personnel judgments. That would leave Chayka to crunch numbers and worry about putting player profiles together. While the Coyotes hold both their amateur and professional scouting staffs in high esteem, Tippett will likely control construction of the roster as well as shuttling players back and forth from the minors.
Chayka said his first order of business was to meet with captain Shane Doan, an unrestricted free agent. Doan, who will be 40-years-old by opening night in early October, has been the heart, soul and face of the franchise since their days in Winnipeg. Chayka would not reveal the nature of their discussion, but starting and continuing a dialogue with Doan was not a bad first day.
For his part, Tippett said he’s used figures in game and player development since the 1990s, and believes numbers have a place in the game.
“Analytics is another tool to use,” Tippett said. “It’s a good tool is evaluate players, but also scouting is important. Look, to succeed in the game today, you need speed and skill. You need to make quick decisions, and depth is also important.”
If the Coyotes are going to raise their fortunes, the joint efforts of communications and sharing information are vital, Chayka pointed out. As part of the operation, there is still the on-ice evaluation which former GM Maloney believed was the greater priority than numbers. For that reason, he’s out looking for a job. At the same time, Barroway and LeBlanc now commence a movement to consolidate hockey operations, and begin the process of moving the Coyotes forward.
Mark Brown is a former sports editor for daily newspapers in the Philadelphia and Cincinnati markets. He was named Best Sports Columnist, honorable mention 2004 by the Associated Press Society of Ohio. He is a contributor to major daily newspapers, including the Chicago Sun Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Milwaukee Journal, Arizona Republic, Nashville Tennessean and the Associated Press. He was a Featured Columnist for bleacherreport.com and covered the Arizona Coyotes.