Carl Soderberg

Coyotes sign GM Chayka to long-term extension

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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — John Chayka arrived in the desert with an analytics background and made a big splash when, at 26, he became the youngest general manager in North American sports history.

As Chayka started to rebuild the Arizona Coyotes into playoff contenders, the recognition grew.

On Monday, the Coyotes rewarded Chayka, signing him to a long-term contract extension.

”I think the key thing is we’re on the right track. We’ve had a solid process and that’s always the main thing,” Chayka said. ”Obviously, you’re never satisfied until you reach your goals. We want to win a championship here, but it starts with making the playoffs and getting your foot in the door.”

Chayka was hired in 2015 as assistant general manager, analytics after co-founding the hockey analytics firm Stathletes.

Chayka was elevated to GM when Don Maloney was fired in 2016. He began rebuilding Arizona’s roster in hopes of revitalizing a franchise that was among the NHL’s worst in both attendance and wins.

The Coyotes struggled with injuries early in Chayka’s tenure, but were in postseason contention a year ago, finishing four points out of the final Western Conference playoff spot. With an added scoring boost to go with its staunch defense, Arizona has opened this season 9-6-2, right in the thick of the Western Conference race.

”John is one of the brightest and hardest-working general managers in the entire NHL and over the past four seasons, he has done an excellent job of rebuilding our franchise and transforming the Coyotes into a contender,” Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo said in a statement. ”I am fully confident that John is the right person to lead us moving forward and help us bring the Stanley Cup to Arizona.”

Chayka has been praised for revamping a team that had been one of the NHL’s best defensively and worst offensively.

Through trades and free agency, Chayka has brought in players like Nick Schmaltz, Derek Stepan, Carl Soderberg, Antti Raanta, Darcy Kuemper and Michael Grabner. Arizona also drafted Clayton Keller, Jakob Chychrun and Barrett Hayton under Chayka.

The Coyotes made the big splash of the 2019 offseason, acquiring productive winger Phil Kessel in a trade with Pittsburgh.

All-Star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Keller, Schmaltz, Chychrun and forward Christian Dvorak are all under long-term extensions, putting Arizona not only in position for success this season, but for many to come.

”We’ve got a good young group and we’ve got a lot of good veterans that have helped along the way and are helping develop these guys and are good players themselves, which is tough to find those types of quality people and quality players that can come in and help support the youth,” Chayka said. ”It’s one of those things where until you achieve your goals it’s tough to be too reflective on things, but ultimately we feel like we’re in a good place, we’re on the right track and still lots to go in terms of achieving our goals.”

Oilers, Coyotes following different paths to surprising starts

In a lot of recent years a matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and Arizona Coyotes would have been viewed as a battle over draft lottery odds instead of a meaningful regular season game with an impact on the standings.

But things are finally looking up for both teams this season as they enter Monday’s game in Edmonto as not only two of the biggest early season surprises, but two of the Western Conference’s top teams (the Oilers are second in points percentage, while the Coyotes are fourth).

The two teams meet for the first time this season on Monday night in Edmonton.

Two teams following two very different paths

In terms of the actual results their early performances are strikingly similar in both the standings and their overall offensive production.  The Oilers’ points percentage is .700 entering Monday’s game (a 114-point pace) while they are averaging 2.87 goals per game. The Coyotes are at .654 (107 point pace) and averaging 2.85 goals per game.

They are also both among the top-10 in terms of goals against. All good signs.

The path in which they have reached those results, however, has been very, very, very different, in terms of both style and the players that are doing the heavy lifting for them.

Superstars vs. Balance

The Oilers are totally dependent on star power to carry their offense with the duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl factoring in on more than 50 percent of the team’s goals so far this season. Their roster beyond the top handful of forwards is still lacking in talent and offensive production, and they have not yet shown they can consistently win games when their two best players do not take over and single-handedly dominate.

They remain a poor possession team and get badly outshot every night, putting further pressure on their goalies (Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen) to carry them. This is the same recipe that has failed them the past two years and for the majority of the McDavid-Draisaitl era, which has to be at least a little concerning for Oilers fans.

The Coyotes, on the other hand, do not have anywhere near the same star power at the top of their lineup and are relying on a more balanced attack offensively. Not one player on the team has contributed to more than 32 percent of the team’s goals, while they already have six different forwards with at least three goals through the first 13 games (Phil Kessel, Conor Garland, Christian Dvorak, Nick Schmaltz, Carl Soderberg, and Michael Grabner) all of which are on pace to score more than 18 goals this season.

The Oilers only have three forwards on pace for more than 15 goals this season.

But the most encouraging thing for the Coyotes is probably the fact they have shown an ability to push the play and dictate the pace of games on their terms. Yes, they are getting great goaltending from the duo of Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta and that definitely helps. But they are not dependent on them to win games. The Coyotes are a top-10 team in shot attempt differential, demonstrating an ability to tilt the ice in their favor, while they are also on the positive side of the scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance differentials.

They may not have the superstars that Edmonton has at the top, but they seem to have have the necessary depth, balance, and playing style to overcome that.

Old faces in new places

You have to go back to the 2011-12 season to find the last playoff appearance for the Coyotes, and the duo of coach Dave Tippett and goalie Mike Smith played a key role in what turned out to be a shocking run to the Western Conference Final. It was all downhill for the duo (and the franchise as a whole) after that, and over the past couple of years they moved on from both Tippett (replacing him with Rick Tocchet two years) and Smith (trading him to Calgary the same offseason).

Now that duo is reunited in Edmonton and hoping to lead a turnaround for the Oilers.

For Tippett, this will be his first game behind the bench against his former team. He spent eight years as the Coyotes’ coach, compiling a 282-257-83 record with three consecutive playoff appearances between 2010 and 2012. He helped guide them through a rocky team in the franchise’s history when their long-term future was as unsettled as ever.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Garland, Kuemper boost Coyotes; Canucks rout Panthers

Three Stars

1. Conor Garland, Arizona Coyotes

Garland scored Arizona’s opening goal and assisted on Carl Soderberg‘s tying goal on the power play with 3:28 left to play during a 3-2 shootout win over the Sabres. This was the second straight game the Coyotes erased a multi-goal deficit to win and only the second time they have done so in Coyotes/Jets franchise history. Garland leads the team in goals with six.

2. J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks

A five-goal first period led to a 7-2 rout of the Panthers Monday night. Miller did his part with two goals, while Elias Pettersson and Alex Edler chipped in three assists apiece. The goals were Nos. 100 and 101 in Miller’s NHL career. Pettersson, meanwhile, broke the 80-mark in his career during the game, with only Pavel Bure requiring fewer games to reach 80 points in his Canucks career. The loss snaps Florida’s eight-game point streak.

3. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes

Kuemper made 24 saves in regulation and overtime and stopped two more in the shootout during the Coyotes’ victory. He’s now allowed two goals or fewer in 14 of his last 15 starts.

Highlights of the Night

• Birthday boy Jack Eichel potted his seventh of the season:

Carter Hutton, who made 42 saves, nearly lost the game for the Sabres in overtime with this oopsie:

• Nifty little give-and-go here between Micheal Haley and Brandon Sutter:

Factoids

• All 12 Canucks forwards recorded at least one point vs. the Panthers.

Scores
Coyotes 3, Sabres 2 (SO)
Canucks 7, Panthers 2

————

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.

Avs a trendy pick for deep playoff run after busy offseason

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DENVER — New arrival Nazem Kadri wasn’t with his Colorado Avalanche teammates very long before making a quick observation.

Definitely contenders.

”I’ve been around some good teams and this is certainly one that I think could compete to go the distance,” Kadri said. ”We’ve got a good mix of veteran leadership and youth and I think that’s a lethal combination.”

That lineup should be even more potent once forward Mikko Rantanen returns. The restricted free agent is away from the team as he tries to work out a new deal.

”We’re excited to have him here soon,” linemate Nathan MacKinnon said.

Following a second straight playoff appearance, general manager Joe Sakic decided to reshape his roster. Kadri was acquired in the deal that sent defenseman Tyson Barrie and forward Alexander Kerfoot to Toronto. In other trades, Sakic acquired defenseman Kevin Connauton from Arizona and left wing Andre Burakovsky from Washington.

Sakic also added veteran center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare as a free agent and right wing Joonas Donskoi. They also selected defenseman Bowen Byram with the No. 4 overall pick in the draft.

”Joe said it fairly early on in the offseason process that we’re going to be smart but aggressive,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said. ”That’s what we were. We went out and got some really good pieces.”

That’s in addition to already having one of the top lines in hockey with Landeskog, MacKinnon and Rantanen. Not only that, but a talented blue line buoyed by youngsters Cale Makar and Samuel Girard.

No wonder the Avalanche are on everyone’s radar as a team to watch.

”It’s nice to have some pressure,” MacKinnon said. ”We’re not just the bad Avs or whatever anymore. We’re a contender and that’s fun. We all want pressure. It’s no fun coming in as an underdog. The best teams have pressure on them.”

Here are things to know before the Avalanche open the season Oct. 3 against Calgary:

WHO’S HERE: Connauton, RW Valeri Nichushkin, Bellemare, Byram, D Calle Rosen, Kadri, Donskoi and Burakovsky.

WHO’S NOT: Barrie, Kerfoot, F Carl Soderberg, F Derick Brassard, G Semyon Varlamov, F Sven Andrighetto, F Gabriel Bourque.

KEY PLAYERS: Landeskog, MacKinnon and Rantanen combined for 106 goals and 155 assists a season ago. The team was 24-6-5 when they each collected a point in a game. Philipp Grubauer enters the season as the primary goaltender after going 7-0-2 in his final nine starts of the regular season to get the Avalanche into the postseason. He was 7-5 in Colorado’s playoff run.

OUTLOOK: Colorado is a pick by some pundits to make it to the final of the Western Conference. Kadri already sees something building. ”I love the expectation and love the standard these guys hold themselves to,” he said. The Avalanche stunned the top-seeded Flames last season, winning the series 4-1, before falling in Game 7 to San Jose. ”It’s like every new season, you look back in the rearview mirror and learn from things, but you can’t dwell on them,” Landeskog said. ”You have to move forward. It’s a new year. It’s a new group. We’re super-excited what we have here.”

PREDICTION: The Avalanche stressed consistency as an important ingredient in taking the next step. Colorado was tied for the most points in the Western Conference after games on Dec. 7 and then went through a rough stretch that nearly cost the Avs a playoff spot before bouncing back. ”The guys that were here last year, we definitely learned from that,” Landeskog said. ”Because from Dec. 1 through whatever, we weren’t playing good enough. I don’t know how many games we managed to win, but it wasn’t enough. It nearly ended up costing us a playoff berth.”

Previewing the 2019-20 Arizona Coyotes

(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)
 
For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Better. The Coyotes made a splash when they acquired Phil Kessel from the Pittsburgh Penguins this off-season. Assuming he comes in with the right attitude, Kessel alone makes the Coyotes a better team. The ‘Yotes haven’t had a sniper like him in a long time and head coach Rick Tocchet’s ability to get the most out of Kessel should help Arizona in a big way. Let’s not forget, this Coyotes team is young, too. So, there should be some internal progression as well.

Strengths: Arizona has quietly built up some solid depth down the middle of the ice. When healthy, Nick Schmaltz produced offensively, as he accumulated 14 points in his first 17 games with his new team. If he can keep that up, the Coyotes will be that much tougher to stop. They also have veterans like Derek Stepan and Carl Soderberg that will make important contributions this year. We’ve already talked about Kessel and what he brings to the table, but they also have other dynamic forwards on the wing like Clayton Keller and Christian Dvorak, too.

The Coyotes also have a deep blue line with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jakob Chychrun and Jason Demers. And their goaltending is stable with Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper.

[MORE: Under Pressure: Kessel | X-factor | Three questions]

Weaknesses: Overall depth might be an issue up front. Do they have enough players in the bottom-six that can contribute offensively when their offensive-minded players go quiet? Overall, this is a well-balanced team that could use more depth, but which team doesn’t need that?

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Let’s go with a four for Rick Tocchet. He’s not really on the hot seat going into the season, but his team also has to show some significant signs of improvement this year. They finished ninth in the Western Conference last year (they missed the playoffs by four points), so they have to improve this year or the seat will get hotter for Tocchet.

Three Most Fascinating Players: You can’t have a fascinating players section on the Coyotes roster and not talk about Kessel. We know what Kessel is capable of doing on the ice, but how will he mesh with his new teammates off the ice? Can he be the leader Arizona needs him to be? We’re starting to hear more and more about his fractured relationship with some of his old teammates in Pittsburgh. The Coyotes have to be hoping that something similar doesn’t happen to them.

Schmaltz is also an intriguing name. After being acquired from Chicago, he nearly scored at a point-per-game clip. Can he post similar numbers over an 82-game stretch? Schmaltz has all the talent to succeed at the NHL and now he has a golden opportunity to be one of the offensive catalysts on an up-and-coming roster that should push for a playoff spot this year.

The goaltending situation will also be something to keep an eye on. Raanta was limited to just 12 games last season after he had a career year in 2017-18. But once he was forced from the lineup Kuemper came in and did a nice job of keeping the Coyotes competitive. Does Raanta bounce back? Does Kuemper keep rolling? It might be a little bit of both.

Playoffs or Lottery: This is a tough one. It would be amazing to see the Coyotes sneak into the playoffs. The issue is finding which of the top eight teams they’ll finish ahead of this season. If the Rantanen hold out lasts long, can they sneak in ahead of Colorado, who finished in the last Wild Card spot last year? Maybe, but that’s still not a given. I think the Coyotes will miss the playoffs by less points (four) than they did last year.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.