Maybe it was prophetic that Dave Tippett was the last to speak.
Twenty-three minutes into the press conference unveiling the most bizarre front-office restructuring of recent memory, the highly-respected head coach had his say.
As newly appointed executive vice president of hockey operations, complete with a five-year contract extension, Tippett appears to have the final word.
Or at least the type of job security that keeps the similarly titled VP of hockey ops/head coach Patrick Roy employed in Denver.
But neither Tippett nor co-owner Gary Drummond, a pure businessman who slides in as president of hockey operations, is good click bait for this story — even if they’re the real shot-callers now.
The Arizona Coyotes hired, from within, the youngest general manager in the history of North American pro sports Thursday.
John Chayka is 26 years old, which makes him younger than 13 players on the Coyotes’ active roster and 16 years younger to the next-youngest active NHL GM, Chicago’s Stan Bowman.
The average age of the old boys club just plummeted faster than the Canadian dollar.
Ready or not, the humbled and grateful Chayka steps in after emerging as the best of 10-to-12 candidates ownership spoke to for the gig. This after just one season as an assistant GM in Arizona, where his work touched “all areas of hockey operations including NHL, minor league and amateur player evaluation as well as player development and coaching support.”
Experienced, life-long hockey men such as Paul Fenton, Mike Futa, Julien BriseBois, and Les Jackson (reportedly the one candidate Arizona could not come to terms with after “extensive interviews”) remain outside Club GM, while a whip-smart fast-tracker from Jordan Station, Ont., slipped through the velvet ropes faster than you can say “defensive zone start.”
Chayka is best known for co-founding and directing Stathletes Inc., a hockey analytics firm that tracks data through an intensive video analysis process and searches for objective insight into player and team performance tendencies.
Yet his HockeyDB page had more lines than his Wikipedia page Thursday morning. The guy was a star centre in Junior A, who exploded for 80 points with the Woodstock Slammers in 2008-09, then had his playing career stifled by injury.
“I had a playing career that wasn’t storied by any stretch,” Chayka said. “It would be silly to suggest it was a goal to be at this age a general manager.”
As it would be silly to suggest the Coyotes are Chayka’s team now. The new management structure prides itself on collaboration, communication and innovation to deliver, as Chayka says, “a sustainable winner that this ownership group deserves.”
The kid is open to new ideas and open to giving his bosses the rubber stamp. Read between the lines, and one must conclude Don Maloney wasn’t.
Despite his initials, J.C. is not the saviour here, but rather a willing team player and a pioneer for the emergence of youth and deep statistical analysis into NHL front offices.
His first order of business? A lunch date with captain Shane Doan, whom he’ll try to persuade to re-sign before the veteran is scheduled to hit free agency.
Chayka, by his own admission, will not be “authoritarian” in his approach, and Tippett praised the new GM’s communication skills and ability to make decisions after listening to an array of opinions. There will be no shortage of those, as Arizona also plans to bring an experienced assistant GM into the fold by the upcoming draft. The three top candidates, Drummond let slip, are all currently with playoff teams.
“The difference is, the coach will be in the initial discussion,” said Tippett, secure in the knowledge that he will help build the team. “Hopefully it helps our whole organization become better. Nobody spends more time with the players than the coaches do.”
Tippett and Chayka speak highly of each other. They’ll recommend major player decisions to ownership, which will approve them in hopes the Coyotes can start winning something more tangible than accolades for gathering a top-rated prospect pool.
“Some people you meet, you walk away and you think, ‘Hey, that guy is special,’ ” Tippett says of Chayka. “He’s going to be a difference maker.”
So will Tippett. So will ownership.