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Penguins Front Office Search; Sizing Up John Chayka



John Chayka, Arizona Coyotes

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ front office search seems to be entering the next phase. Some candidates don’t believe they’ll get second interviews, others seem to be getting a good look, and others are John Chayka.

In 2016, Chayka became the Arizona Coyotes GM at just 26 years old, but the now-former GM has, to say the least, a checkered past in the NHL. He did some good things with Arizona but left in a cloud of acrimony and broken rules.

Sources confirmed to the Hockey Now network that FSG has at least taken a good look at Chayka. It is believed that he was interviewed and is still part of the process, though it is uncertain if he’s a candidate for the president of hockey operations position or GM.

When the Chayka news broke in multiple corners Tuesday (including PHN Twitter), there came a smattering of reactions from insiders. Given his history, there was a considerable reaction, some negative, which could play into the process.

The book on John Chayka is that he is bright and often the smartest guy in the room. He is into analytics and formed the analytics company Stathletes at home when he was just 16. However, in addition to being the smart guy in the room, multiple hockey sources expressed the same sentiment; he also wants you to know that he’s the smartest guy.

In Arizona, he resigned or was fired in 2020 for interviewing with the New Jersey Devils. Whether he was straight up with his employer seems to be the crux of the matter, and his official resignation took place one day before the start of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, which took place in the “bubble.”

Chayka also cost Coyotes their 2021 first-round draft pick and 2020 second-rounder after he held private workouts for prospects — basically, a Coyotes’ private scouting combine.

That’s a no-no in the NHL. In January 2021, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman suspended Chayka for the remainder of 2021.

He’s ruffled a few feathers.

However, he provided Arizona with its first competitive team in years and had the organization on the right track. In November 2018, he acquired Nick Schmaltz from Chicago for Brandon Perlini and Dylan Strome. Schmaltz, 27, had 58 points (23-35-58) in 66 games this season and remains with the Arizona organization.

In February 2018, Chayka traded with his division rivals, the LA Kings. He acquired then-backup goalie Darcy Kuemper for Tobias Reider and backup goalie Scott Wedgewood. Kuemper became a starting goalie and was with Arizona for three seasons before Arizona traded him to the Colorado Avalanche in 2021, following Chayka’s tenure.

On the negative, there was the Taylor Hall trade in December 2019. Chayka incorrectly believed his team was close and swung the big deal highlighted by 2018 second-rounder Kevin Bahl and a first-round pick to New Jersey for Taylor Hall (there were additional pieces to New Jersey). The first-round pick became Dawson Mercer, and Hall only played 35 games for Arizona.

Chayka also had pretty good taste in coaches. He hired Rick Tocchet as the bench boss in 2017 following the Pittsburgh Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup championships.

Chayka also has a mixed record on drafting.

With two first-round picks in 2016, Chayka selected Clayton Keller (seventh overall) and Jakob Chychrun (16th overall). Arizona selected P.O Joseph with their first pick in 2017 (23rd overall).

However, with the fifth pick in the 2018 draft, Arizona got the serviceable NHL center Barrett Hayton, who is still growing into his position. However, Quinn Hughes, Adam Boqvist, and Evan Bouchard were still on the board. Hayton had 43 points (19-24-43) this season, his second full NHL campaign.

2019 first-rounder Victor Soderstrom (11th overall) has bounced back and forth between the NHL and AHL, too. Chayka passed on the murderer’s row behind Sodersrom. Matthew Boldy, Spencer Knight, Cam York, and Cole Caufield were the players taken immediately after Soderstrom.

On the plus side, Chayka avoided giving long-term contracts to aging veterans, and his long-term deals with Keller and Chychrun proved to be shrewd.

On the whole, Arizona was better off for Chayka’s tenure, but it was far from perfect, and the penalties from his scouting combine greatly stung a team that struggles to compete on the free-agent market.

The personal judgments were of a man in his 20s. The professional results came from a different way of doing things; Chayka was at the fore of bringing analytics to the GM chair. There were mistakes, and there were successes.

Sources also confirm that FSG is heavily into using analytics going forward. In the meantime, whether Chayka is ready to return or wanted is drawing a lot of attention.