Coyotes’ Chayka becomes youngest GM in NHL history
GLENDALE, Ariz. —In 26-year-old general manager John Chayka and 54-year-old coach Dave Tippett, the Arizona Coyotes believe they have the leadership team that can lead them to sustained success over the long haul.
The Coyotes introduced Chayka on Thursday as their new general manager — the youngest in NHL history — and also announced that Tippett, their coach of the past seven seasons, had signed a five-year extension to coach the team and take on the the role of executive vice president of hockey.
Chayka and Tippett shared the dais with co-owner and alternate governor Gary Drummond, who is taking the role of president of hockey operations — essentially an overarching liaison among ownership, management and the coaching staff. Drummond introduced Chayka as a "generational superstar."
Chayka joined the Coyotes last June in the role of assistant general manager for analytics and becomes the league’s first general manager with a primarily analytical background — a pattern that has become more commonplace in a major league baseball.
"My expertise is in recognizing talent, establishing relationships," said Drummond, who has a business background as co-founder, chairman and CEO of two Canadian energy corporations. "In the business world, there are generational superstars, and in my years I’ve come across three who qualified as being that.
"John Chayka, in my view, he’s of that quality, and that’s why he’s being appointed at such an early age.
Drummond said the team will hire a "very seasoned, well-respected senior assistant GM" to work with Chayka and Tippett in a more collaboratively structured organization. He said there is a short list of three candidates for the position, but the hiring timetable has been complicated by the ongoing playoffs.
Chayka, Tippett and Drummond all stressed the collaborative nature in making personnel decisions that would also include other members of the front office and Tippett’s coaching staff.
"This isn’t a unique approach in terms of a more flat hierarchy," Chayka said. "At the end of the day the buck stops with me in terms of player personnel decisions, obviously with Tipp’s input on that as well, but certainly I’m not someone that’s going to be authoritarian in my views.
Just as Gary (Drummond) eluded to, we all get to meet a lot of people in the world, but there’s some that you walk away and just strike you as, ‘hey, that guy is special.’ And I think Gary saw that in John, and over the last year, I’ve seen those things in John that really said this guy is going to be a difference maker. When you have a difference maker on your team, that makes everybody better.
"At the end of the day, they key for me is the best idea wins. We’re all about winning up here. That’s the end goal, whether it comes from our most junior staff or our coaching staff, our medical staff, those different departments, they’re not segmented. It’s one whole, and that’s the approach we’re taking."
Chayka replaces Don Maloney, who was fired in April after nine years on the job. He co-founded the hockey analytics firm Stathletes in 2009 — before he turned 20 — and served as its director of hockey operations before being hired as Arizona’s assistant GM under Maloney prior to last season.
He co-founded Stathletes with a friend after playing junior hockey for three seasons — manually tracking games through exhaustive video analysis.
"There’s a lot of toods for people that want to be open-minded, who want to be progressive, and that one of the pillars of our approach here," he said. "We all have to pursue opportunities to make better decisions and find competitive advantages, and that’s what we’re about. Finding any edge or unique way that fits our system, our organization and helps us win."
If you think Chayka’s approach sounds at odds with an old-school coach like Tippett, think again. Tippett has been a practitioner of statistical analysis since before it became fashionable — it’s just that he’s a sticker for making sure he’s got the right data to analyze.
Having worked with Chayka for the past year, it’s safe to say he wouldn’t have agreed to his contract extension without believing they can be a successful pairing.
"Because of his age and the company he started, he gets painted with a very analysitc brush, but what people are going to find out about John as he becomes better known is he’s a very intelligent guy, but that intelligence leads him to make sure that he has a balance — where there’s an analytical approach, but there’s a common sense approach," Tippett said.
"Just as Gary (Drummond) eluded to, we all get to meet a lot of people in the world, but there’s some that you walk away and just strike you as, ‘hey that guy is special.’ And I think Gary saw that in John, and over the last year, I’ve seen those things in John that really said this guy is going to be a difference maker. When you have a difference maker on your team, that makes everybody better."
The Coyotes improved by 22 points over 2014-15 last season. The roster features already established young talents like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Connor Murphy and Tobias Rieder, plus a prospect system rated No. 1 by the Hockey News. But they still fell nine points short of a playoff berth, and Tippett and Chayka both acknowledged a lot of work to be done.
"The reality is we’re picking seventh (in June’s draft) for a reason," Chayka said,"and that’s not good enough. We’re going to be aggressive, we’re going to pursue as many opportunities as we can to improve our group, and of course, we’re not going to sacrifice the long term."
Added Tippett: "My message to the team at the end of the year was we made a huge step, but you have to remember where we came from. Where we came from wasn’t very good. So that was the easy step, the next step is the hard one.
"We want to do our own thing here and build a team we think can be competitive, not just year to year, but for a long time."