With the NHL trade deadline rapidly approaching, azcentral sports sat down with John Chayka, the team’s president of hockey operations and general manager, to discuss several topics ahead of the Feb. 26 deadline.
Question: At this time of year, with so many trade rumors afloat, what can you say about Coyotes’ philosophy as the Feb. 26 trade deadline approaches?
Answer: We’re looking to find ways to improve our team, both in the short term and the long term. Obviously that’s the ideal situation. I don’t think we have the pieces we’ve had in the past in terms of selling. We’re just trying to make hockey deals to make our team better. That’s pretty much it. Nothing brewing and nothing that’s imminent at the moment.
Takeaway: The Coyotes have made a number of small trades already this season, bringing in depth forwards such as Freddie Hamilton and Josh Archibald. Their big trade was sending Anthony Duclair to Chicago, and it doesn’t look as if another big one is in the works.
Q: How active have you been in the trade market over the last few weeks, and what sort of assets are the Coyotes looking for?
A: I’m always proactive. If there’s an area of our team we need to improve upon, then I’ll certainly try and be proactive and have as many discussions as possible. Having said that, just looking at where we’re at with our organization and its life cycle. … Over the last couple years we’ve had players who are pending UFAs (unrestricted free agents) or players who aged out on us that we felt we needed to take the opportunity to maximize the asset. … We like the way our group has come together and they way we’re headed in the future. I’m probably not going to do anything to disrupt that.
Takeaway: It doesn’t sound as if the Coyotes are jumping to move pieces at the deadline this season. Chayka gives the impression that the organization is happy with its core of young players, and are very wary of moving pieces away from it.
Q: How does the organization view Antti Raanta as a potential future asset?
A: It’s the same thing we’ve been saying all year: Antti is a good goalie and he’s been able to get in a good rhythm and stay healthy. He’s been good for us and gives our team a chance to win. Obviously a goaltender is a very important part of building a young team out where they need that stability on the back end. We’re going to make mistakes and we need somebody to clean those up from time to time. We’ve always had interest in talking to him about staying here longer-term, and that hasn’t changed.
Takeaway: The Coyotes acquired Raanta for a reason, which makes it hard to believe they would let him walk in free agency. The biggest wrinkle to all of this is how well the goaltender has played in the week leading up to the deadline. The Coyotes may be extended an offer they can’t refuse.
An extension for Antti?
Q: What has been the Coyotes’ approach on in-season discussions with Raanta regarding an extension?
A: We’ve had discussions at a high level and I don’t think much has changed throughout the year. We’ve always had a high opinion of Antti and thought he was a good goalie when, obviously, we went out and got him. It was one of those things where he’s going to come in and finally show what he can do as a starter. As a team, we were going to evaluate him and allow it to play out. That’s the same situation we’re in now.
Takeaway: Chayka makes it sound as if the Coyotes are still evaluating whether Raanta can be the goaltender of the future. He is 28 years old and got a relatively late start to his NHL career, but a case could be made that his trade value has never been higher.
New year, new team
Q: Given their struggles in October and November, has the team’s play in the second half of the season changed your view of the organizational timeline?
A: I’m not a big results-oriented guy. I think it’s great we’ve been able to get on a good streak here, and what that streak has come down to is for the last couple months we’ve been able to string together some consistent performances. … I think there’s a lot of progress that needs to occur with our young group here to avoid the ups and downs that we’ve seen with a lot of our young players. We just need to continue to trend upwards over the course of the season and multiple seasons to get to where we want to get to. … Our timeline will be determined by the growth of our young players and how quickly they can go from being good, impactful players to great players. If we can get a group of those players to add to the (Oliver) Ekman-Larssons, we think we have the chance to be a contender year after year.
Takeaway: Chayka isn’t blinded by the smokescreen of a four-game win streak or an 8-5-5 record since Jan. 1. It looks as if the organization remains fixed on its vision for the future.
Q: Given that you guys have recently acquired the likes of Derek Stepan, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Antti Raanta to add veterans to a roster of young players, do you envision a similar approach next offseason?
A: Yeah, I think that will be part of it. I think there will be areas where timing-wise and judging by the need of the team it will be addressed in order to supplement the draft and the development of our players. Again, a lot of our growth is going to be organic. We need our young players to take those next steps in their careers and riding our their game to play a more consistent, 200-foot game. I think those guys are going to be the guys who drive this team in the future. Other than that, we try to find ways to supplement the rest of our group but mainly it’s going to be organic growth here.
Takeaway: As much as the Coyotes value their young assets, they realize how important it is to maintain a balanced roster. There is no mistaking the impact that the team’s new veterans have had on the younger players.
Q: You’ve talked about the uniqueness of this year’s trade deadline. What have you seen from some teams — who have generally been contenders over the last several years — perhaps taking a different approach than they’re used to on the trade market?
A: I think a lot of teams are trying to adopt what we’re trying to adopt here, which is building a young core of great players. The league continues to trend younger and younger and those assets are becoming increasingly more difficult to acquire. I think a lot of teams that are outside the playoffs looking in are trying to get some young assets to grow their team. I think that’s the high-level philosophy of those teams.
Takeaway: Chayka is right to say the game is trending young, and in that department the Coyotes have the inside track on the rest of the NHL. The biggest intrigue at the deadline is what teams such as the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens will part with.
Vets for the taking?
Q: Would an already-youthful Coyotes organization benefit from teams shedding high-level veterans in an attempt to get younger?
A: I understand the question, but I don’t know if it’s as straightforward as that. We’re still looking for young players, too. I think Niklas Hjalmarsson is an example of us getting a more established veteran player but at the same time realizing you have a window with good, young players. You need to prioritize players who are going to be in that window. So, for us and other teams looking to grow their group, it’s still being realistic about where you’re at and where you need to go.
Takeaway: It really depends on the players that teams are willing to move. If a struggling team such as the Chicago Blackhawks are willing to move a big contract like that of top-line center Jonathan Toews, the Coyotes should be interested — although Chayka is certainly not in a position to deal in hypotheticals.