John Chayka displaying some chops as new Coyotes GM

Oct 4, 2016, 6:35 PM | Updated: 6:36 pm
Newly appointed Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka speaks at a news conference announcing ...
Newly appointed Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka speaks at a news conference announcing his promotion as head coach Dave Tippett listens, Thursday, May 5, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. Chayka is the youngest GM in NHL history. (AP Photo/Matt York)
(AP Photo/Matt York)

When the Coyotes broke the mold last spring and hired 26-year-old John Chayka as general manager, the biggest concern from an outside perspective was Chayka’s lack of experience. With just one season in the NHL under his belt as Coyotes assistant GM, did Chayka have the chops to handle contentious negotiations with other GMs and agents?

Tobias Rieder’s new, two-year contract won’t provide the definitive word on that question, but it’s a good start.

Throughout negotiations with Rieder’s agent Darren Ferris, Chayka held firm to a dollar value he believed Rieder was worth on a bridge deal. There were discussions of a longer-term deal, and Chayka was willing to budge on those for the opportunity to lock Rieder up for more years, but the Coyotes believed a two-year deal was worth an average annual value in the neighborhood of $2.2 million to $2.3 million. That is exactly what they paid Rieder when he agreed to a two-year, $4.45 million contract Monday night that he signed electronically on his phone.

“When you’re going through a negotiation you try to be as unbiased as possible and just ask yourself if it’s a fair deal based off the market and the player’s performance,” Chayka said Tuesday on a conference call. “That’s kind of the reality. We’re not the ones that dictate the market. The player’s output and performance … that’s what the market bears.”

As training camp crept closer and closer, there were cries from the fan base that the Coyotes were playing cheap again in failing to bridge what ultimately became a $300,000 gap.

The Coyotes spent a lot of money this summer. They signed free-agent Alex Goligoski to a five-year, $27.375 million deal. They signed free-agent Jamie McGinn to a three-year, $10 million deal. They resigned defensemen Connor Murphy (six years, $23.1 million) and Michael Stone (one year, $4 million), along with a number of other smaller signings like Radim Vrbata, Luke Schenn, Ryan White, Kevin Connauton and Klas Dahlbeck.

They also beefed up their scouting department, their development staff (with additions like Dawn Braid and Mike Van Ryn) and they gave coach Dave Tippett a five-year extension and promotion to executive vice president of hockey operations that carried with it a hefty chunk of change.

The notion that they were playing cheap over $300,000 was absurd. What Chayka was doing was holding fast to a thorough analysis of the market while setting the precedent for future negotiations. If you overpay one player, others will want the same down the road and you’ll end up destroying your salary-cap structure.

“We’d love to pay everyone whatever they would like but we have a bottom line here and we’re trying to put a competitive team on the ice,” Chayka said.

The rhetoric from Rieder’s camp ramped up considerably over the past month while the compensation requests kept falling. That was Ferris’s job: to strike the best deal possible for his client and to use whatever leverage he had at his disposal to strike that deal. There was talk of a trade and there were threats of two KHL offers that ultimately rang hollow when Rieder addressed them on Tuesday.

“There were offers there but like I said, my No. 1 priority is to play in the NHL,” he said. “I wasn’t really considering it a whole lot because I always thought something was going to work out over here.”

Without that possibility, Rieder’s only other choice was to sit out. If he had done so past Dec. 1, he would have been ineligible to play this season. The Coyotes never believed it would get that far. They know Rieder too well. Chayka wasn’t spewing hyperbole when he said everyone on the staff and all of Rieder’s teammates like him. They do because Rieder is a genuine, humble, hard-working kid whose 200-foot game meshes perfectly with what Tippett likes to do.

“I’m just really excited and really happy it’s done,” said Rieder, who joined the team on Tuesday in Calgary. “It was a long process, but that is the business side of hockey and everybody is just happy that it worked out.”

There will be myriad challenges ahead for Chayka as he continues to shape the roster into what he hopes will be a Cup contender. All the same, it’s startling how quickly he has quieted concerns with his methodical, dispassionate and frank approach.

“All negotiations are different,” Chayka said. “Some are shorter, some are longer but at the end of the day, we got the player done so that’s all that matters for me.”

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