Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka’s first season as the youngest GM in the history of the four major sports has given him an understanding of why the job makes you old before your time.
Asked to grade his performance, the 27-year-old Chayka said: “We are 29th and that’s how we grade ourselves in this business.”
Despite the harsh, no-excuses self-appraisal, Chayka is far from discouraged by what has transpired this season. The Coyotes are 24-35-8 and set to miss the playoffs for the fifth season in a row.
“We did what we wanted in terms of integrating youth into our lineup,” Chayka told USA TODAY Sports. “We wanted to get better and better and I think over the last 20 games we’ve been a real competitive team that can win any night. The younger guys took longer than we hoped, but not longer than we expected.”
Despite having a 40-year-old captain in Shane Doan, the Coyotes are among the NHL’s youngest teams at about 26 years old. The Coyotes have used nine different rookies, including 2016 first-round pick Jakob Chychrun, this season.
“When you consider that you may have some of these guys 10 or 15 years, if they take an extra 15 games to get going, then that is the price you pay,” Chayka said. “I see (this season) as an investment in time. Now we have to see if we get a return on our investment.”
Chayka’s ability to swing a deal with the Detroit Red Wings (by accepting the retired Pavel Datsyuk’s contract) last summer gave them the ability to land Chychrun, an 18-year-old defenseman who played regularly this season.
“He has been everything we had hoped for,” Chayka said. “He is a specimen physically and he has been able to adapt his game. Our staff has done a great job of easing him into it, even though you want to put the gas pedal down. He will be better player for it in the long run.”
Chayka said the staff is focused into turning Chychrun “into that true No. 1-type defenseman.”
Chychrun has 17 points in 54 games and is averaging 16:20 of ice time per game.
“It’s not just about putting up points,” Chayka said. “It’s about playing against top competition, being reliable, being consistent.”
Chayka’s signature move this season could end up being trading Martin Hanzal and Ryan White to the Minnesota White for a first-round pick in 2017, a second-round pick in 2018 and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2019. The Coyotes also sent a 2017 fourth-rounder to Minnesota.
Hanzal and White have expiring contracts, and the Coyotes could theoretically re-sign both of them. The Coyotes also traded defenseman Michael Stone to the Calgary Flames for a pair of draft picks.
That gives Chayka plenty of draft picks to work with, including another lottery pick for the June 23-24 draft. Arizona’s top prospect, Clayton Keller, could be with the team next season, as will Dylan Strome, a 2015 first-round pick. He started the year in the NHL, then was sent back to the Ontario Hockey League where he has 70 points in 31 games.
“Managing is a long-term deal,” Chayka said. “Your results are sometimes three or four years out. I talked to (Los Angeles Kings general manager) Dean Lombardi (last week) and his team didn’t make the playoffs until his fourth year and then they won a couple of (Stanley) Cups. You have to have a longer time horizon in this business.”