John Chayka out as Coyotes GM; Steve Sullivan takes on interim role

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As the Coyotes head to Edmonton Sunday, they’ll do so with a new general manager.

John Chayka has terminated his contract as general manager of the team. Assistant GM Steve Sullivan will take over on an interim basis.

Here’s the Coyotes’ statement, which has a different tone than what you normally read in these situations:

“John Chayka has quit as the General Manager and President of Hockey Operations of the Arizona Coyotes.

“The Club is disappointed in his actions and his timing as the Coyotes prepare to enter the NHL’s hub city of Edmonton, where the team will begin post-season play for the first time since 2012. Chayka has chosen to quit on a strong and competitive team, a dedicated staff, and the Arizona Coyotes fans, the greatest fans in the NHL.

“The Club is moving forward and has named Steve Sullivan as Interim General Manager. He has the full support of the entire organization including team ownership, executive leadership, players, and coaches.”

The move comes eight months after Chayka signed a “long-term” extension.

A recent unraveling

According to Coyotes Insider Craig Morgan, the relationship began to deteriorate during the pause. One source told him Chayka asked for permission to pursue a job outside of hockey. Another had a different story to tell.

Per the source, about a month ago, an NHL owner asked if he could speak to Chayka about an opportunity and was denied that permission by Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo because Chayka had just signed the extension in November (for four more years per one source; for three more years according to another) and had told Meruelo that he and his family were happy in Arizona. Chayka tried to convince Meruelo by telling him that he had been allowed to do so in the past to build relationships around the league.

In statement to Morgan, Chayka said “the situation created by ownership made [traveling to Edmonton with the team] an impossibility.”

Chayka became the youngest NHL GM at age 26 when the Coyotes promoted him in 2016. They did not make the postseason in his first three seasons in the job. At the time of the March pause Arizona was four points out of a wild card spot with 12 games to play.

The Coyotes added heavy cap hits under Chayka’s reign with little to show for it. The team is right up against the $81.5M cap ceiling for next season already, per CapFriendly. The organization is interested in keeping Taylor Hall, but there’s plenty of work ahead for the next full-time to make the money work and ice a competitive roster.

Sullivan played over 1,000 NHL games with six teams. He joined the Coyotes’ hockey operations department in 2014 as a development coach and has since risen in the organization from Director of Player Development to Assistant GM to now, interim GM.

The Coyotes will face the Predators in the best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifier series beginning Sunday, Aug. 2.

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2 p.m. ET – USA Network
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.