Arizona general manager John Chayka has taken the Coyotes’ rebuilding process a step forward this season with a new look at nearly every level.
It was announced in early June that owner Andrew Barroway was buying out minority owners, and his first move as the sole proprietor was reportedly telling the 28-year-old Chayka -- the youngest GM in NHL history -- that longtime captain and beloved Arizona player Shane Doan was not welcome back to the team.
Doan, should he head to a contending team in search for his first Stanley Cup, is coming off a year in which he scored six goals in 74 games. The desert dogs have focused on both youth and the future, which meant not involving the near 41-year-old in their business strategy.
Shortly after the announcement of the team’s departure from the fan favorite Doan, who was offered a front office job, the team let go of another longtime cog in head coach Dave Tippett.
Tippett was brought in in September of 2009 to replace Wayne Gretzky and had been at the helm for the previous eight seasons. Tippett’s resume showed success at nearly every level, and he led the financially struggling franchise to three straight playoff berths and the Western Conference Finals in 2012, where it fell to the eventual champion Los Angeles Kings.
The 2010 Jack Adams winner is among the most accomplished coaches on the market and will likely be a leading candidate when the first round of firings happen in 2017-18.
With the 2017 NHL Entry Draft just days away, the inexperienced Chayka, who was hired in May of last year, was heading into draft weekend amid the organization’s shakeup and was proverbially staring adversity right in the face.
On eve of NHL Draft, Coyotes have no coach, no captain (yet), no president/CEO, no starting G, no No. 1 C (still), no prez of hockey ops.— Craig Morgan (@craigsmorgan) June 23, 2017
Chayka put the wheels in motion by trading starting goalie Mike Smith to the Calgary Flames for pending free agent Chad Johnson, defensive prospect Brandon Hickey, and a conditional 2018 draft pick.
He then pulled yet another savvy move in his short tenure and landed both a legitimate No. 1 center and Smith’s replacement from the New York Rangers for the seventh overall pick and defenseman Anthony DeAngelo. In exchange, Chayka brought in Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta, who has showed the capabilities of being a No. 1 netminder in recent years as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup.
Chayka followed it up with another deal, bringing in defensive stalwart and three-time Stanley Cup champion Niklas Hjalmarsson from the Chicago Blackhawks for defenseman Connor Murphy and center Laurent Dauphin. A stay-at-home blue-liner, Hjalmarsson is expected to slot in alongside fellow Swede Oliver Ekman-Larsson to act as a safe haven for the offensively inclined defender.
The Coyotes were also among the fortunate teams in the expansion draft, losing AHL stud and NHL fringe player Teemu Pulkkinen to Vegas. Things have been going right for Arizona this summer, even after its planned deal with Arizona State University for a shared arena fell through.
The trade-off of youthful promise for established talent means Barroway and Chayka are in win-now mode and want to pull the franchise away from the bottom dwellers and endless relocation rumors.
Chayka has put together a solid lineup that appears ready to push for a playoff spot in the near future. However, the team will be up against division opponents Los Angeles, San Jose, Calgary, Anaheim, and Edmonton, each of which has taken significant steps forward in recent years.
Chayka will likely search for another depth signing at forward before the season begins. The loss of leadership, experience, and production between Doan, Smith, Martin Hanzal, and Radim Vrbata will be a hit to the lineup.
That doesn’t include the loss of Ryan White, Peter Holland, Alexander Burmistrov, or Josh Jooris, who played significant time for the team last season.
Too many changes can be a bad thing, but the Coyotes remain focused on the end goal of injecting youth into their lineup and being a fast, skilled team for years to come.
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