Saturday, June 24, 2017

John Chayka Comes up Big for Reeling Coyotes

Props to John Chayka.

The 28-year-old general manager of the Arizona Coyotes dug his heels in during a very turbulent time for the franchise and led the team into the second phase of its rebuild over the weekend.

With the 2017 entry draft looming the Coyotes were dealing with the aftermath of a horrible week that saw them deal their No.1 goalie and part ways with their longtime coach and longest-tenured player and captain on less than favorable terms.

It could have marked the beginning of a gloomy summer for the franchise.

Enter 28-year-old wunderkind Chayka, who proved this weekend that he can do more than crunch analytics and tick off his elders--he wheeled and dealed and gave the Coyotes and their fans some well deserved hope.

Chayka dealt the No.7 overall pick to the Rangers along with defenseman Anthony DeAngelo for No.1 center Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta.

Then less than an hour later he acquired Niklas Hjalmarsson for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin.

In a span of 60 minutes Chayka got his team a No. 1 goalie, a No.1 center and a top-pairing defenseman that will complement Oliver Ekman-Larsson on the Coyotes blue line.

Meanwhile, word spread like wild fire--the Coyotes were winning draft weekend.

The Coyotes began with a total teardown in Chayka's first year and have assembled one of the league's most impressive prospect pools (that prospect pool grew over the weekend as twice Chayka moved down in the draft, making deals to acquire multiple picks with the Flyers and Oilers) since. Many of those tadpoles have already cut their teeth at the NHL level, but the team was badly in need of some productive veterans who could lead both on and off the ice. No offense to the recently banished Shane Doan and Mike Smith, but both were past their primes and frankly not worth the salary that they would command. In Stepan and Hjalmarsson the Coyotes have a pair of veterans with playoff experience and character--but still a lot of mileage left in their tanks.

The Rangers soured on Stepan during the playoffs this year and Chayka swooped in and scooped up a player that was being undervalued by his current team. He'll be a key leader in Arizona, and if the Coyotes continue to improve he may end up as the perfect No.2 center.

In Hjalmarsson Chayka gets a blueliner with three Stanley Cup rings. The 30-year-old Swede wasn't a part of many trade rumors but Chayka went to Stan Bowman and the cap-weary Blackhawks with the perfect offer to lure him away. That's savvy dealmaking.

Arizona may not look like a playoff team yet, and the team still will see its arena deal expire at the end of the season, but as far as the on-ice product goes, the Coyotes are a lot further along than they were two weeks ago. Chayka's dealing has given a beleaguered franchise hope--and a shot of proven talent to boot.

With a few more deals and some more seasoning, we may finally see a contender in the desert. For now, at the very least, there's hope.