The Coyotes are expected to name 26-year-old John Chayka as their next general manager at a press conference on Thursday at 11 a.m. at Gila River Arena. Chayka takes over for Don Maloney, who was fired on April 11 after nine seasons with the club.
Coyotes president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc is also expected to announce the structure for the rest of the hockey operations department, which should include giving coach Dave Tippett an expanded role in personnel and other decisions.
An Ontario native, Chayka earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario in 2014. He played junior hockey for three seasons until a back injury ended his career at age 19.
Chayka, who will turn 27 next month, will become the eighth GM in franchise history and the youngest GM in NHL history. He was hired last summer as the assistant general manager for analytics. After his junior hockey career ended, Chayka co-founded Stathletes, a company that provided data analysis for NHL and minor league teams.
“Everyone has a different formula and a different way of doing it, but it’s really not about methodology,” he said at the time. “The real value is in how the data is utilized and implemented.”
At the press conference announcing Maloney’s firing, LeBlanc said the franchise was looking to modernize its hockey operations department and that is expected to include a greater emphasis on analytics, although that was not the sole focus of LeBlanc’s comments.
“This is about a few key points moving forward: collaboration, communication and the modernization of our entire process,” he said. “We have actually studied our neighbors, the Cardinals, and are looking to their structure as a model for success of how ownership, management, coaches and the team interact with each other.”
Tippett’s role has yet to be announced, but it’s possible he could carry a similar title to Avalanche coach Patrick Roy in which he is also the vice president of hockey operations.
It was no secret that a rift had developed between Maloney, Tippett and the owners because Maloney had increasingly cut off others from the process. This decision marks a move toward more collaboration and communication.
Some have wondered how Tippett would feel about an analytics-driven GM, but Tippett was a big fan of Chayka’s hire last summer. The idea that he is not an analytics guy is incorrect. Tippett doesn’t believe in a lot of the mainstream analytics such as Corsi and Fenwick, which he derisively calls “Corski and Fenski.” He does, however, keep reams of analytical data on his players and other teams.
Chayka offered some insight into how he feels about mainstream analytics vs. his own brand in an interview last year.
“I think to the average fan, these stats can be dangerous because everyone’s looking for that one option, and I don’t think that’s ever the way to evaluate anything,” Chayka said. “It’s how these numbers work together to maximize a team. Specific players bring specific attributes but might have weaknesses. It all affects the holistic view of how you build a team.
“There’s a mountain of data out there, so you have to be careful when using it and analyzing it and dissecting it because there’s a lot of noise. There are a lot of things we’ve tracked over the years that, intuitively you would think would be useful data but aren’t at all. I’m not trying to maximize one specific thing, so you can’t evaluate a player based on one thing. I’m trying to build balance and equilibrium to win games.”
It’s a surprising move for the Coyotes to name Chayka their GM with just one year of managerial experience in the NHL. Tippett’s increased role clearly factors into the decision, but LeBlanc will offer more insight into the process and the managerial structure on Thursday.
Sources told Arizona Sports that Dallas assistant GM Les Jackson was also interviewed for some sort of position on the management staff. It’s possible Jackson could still join the staff in some capacity, although the window for talking to Jackson has closed.
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