Michael Grabner

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.”

NHL on NBCSN: Coyotes need to develop killer instinct

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Arizona Coyotes and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Arizona Coyotes are off to a decent start this year, as they’re 9-6-2 through 17 games, but they’ve also been very streaky. From Oct. 3-12, the ‘Yotes went 1-2-1. They followed that up by picking up eight wins in their next 10 games and they’re now in the middle of an 0-2-1 slump.

The most disappointing part of Arizona’s three-game losing streak, is that they had a lead in each one of those games.

In last Tuesday’s loss to the Calgary Flames, they were up 2-0 and 3-1 before losing in overtime. In Thursday’s home loss to Columbus, they were up 2-1 late in the second period. In Saturday’s loss to Minnesota, again, they were up 2-0 and 3-1 before blowing that advantage, too. Teams with serious playoff aspirations don’t blow points away like that.

“It’s not so much about the percentages,” head coach Rick Tocchet said before Thursday’s loss to the Blue Jackets, per the Arizona Republic. “I go by the timely stuff. Like it’s 3-1 and can we make it 4-1? When you get that power play, you can put the nail in the coffin. But we were sloppy. That was the disappointing part to me. It definitely wasn’t good. We lost the specials team battle (in Calgary) and lost the game.”

Despite the advantages that they’ve held, the ‘Yotes are still just 21st in the NHL in goals scored, with 49. Their power play has also struggled, as it’s currently ranked 22nd in the league. So this team can’t play a run-and-gun style if they have to come back from a blown lead. That’s part of the issue. When the jump ahead in a game, they need to make sure they close it out before their opponent can come back.

“We’ve got to figure it out, we can’t let that happen,” forward Michael Grabner said after his team’s most recent loss. “Every point matters, and right now we’ve got to get back on track. I think if you told us two, three weeks ago that we had a 3-1 lead and we were going to lose in regulation, I don’t think we would have believed you, so we’ve got to get back to the basics and play our style of hockey.”

Things won’t get any easier for the Coyotes this week. They’ll start with two road games against the last two Stanley Cup winners. They get the Caps tonight and the St. Louis Blues tomorrow. They finish off this road trip with a trip to Minnesota on Thursday night. So that means they’ll play three road games in four nights before returning home on Saturday to take on the Flames.

Getting more offense out of Phil Kessel would certainly help Arizona’s chances of winning games. The 32-year-old has three goals and 10 points in 17 games this season. It’s important to note that two of those goals came in one game. He’s also failed to score in four consecutive games and he’s scored just once in his last 11 outings.

It’s still early enough that the Coyotes shouldn’t be overly concerned about the lack of production from their star winger, but he has to get going soon. If they had other players that were filling the net, it wouldn’t be as much of an issue, but the fact that they can’t produce much is a problem if Kessel can’t do more.

Nobody thought the ‘Yotes would be a slam dunk to make the playoffs, so the fact that they’re just one point out of a Wild Card spot with games in hand as we approach the quarter mark of the season isn’t such a bad thing.

John Walton and Pierre McGuire will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Ahmed Fareed will host coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Keith Jones and Anson Carter.

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.

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: Kuznetsov, Kempny lead improbable comeback for Capitals

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Three Stars

1. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Michal Kempny, Washington Capitals. With 10 seconds to play in the second period on Friday night the Washington Capitals trailed the Vancouver Canucks 5-1. They did not get a single point all night from Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, or John Carlson. And they still won, 6-5. They won thanks to a pair of two-goal efforts from forward Evgeny Kuznetsov and defender Michal Kempny to erase that four-goal deficit and send the game to overtime. Kuznetsov’s second goal came just before the buzzer in the second period to bring the Capitals to within three, setting the stage for their huge third period comeback that featured both goals from Kempny. Because of that they get to share first star honors for the night.

2. Linus Ullmark, Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres have only lost two games all season and they followed up both of them with a shutout win. On Friday it was Ullmark stealing the show as he stopped all 41 shots he faced in a 2-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings, handing them their seventh consecutive defeat. It is Ullmark’s first shutout of the season and already the third for the Sabres as a team (Carter Hutton already has two shutouts). You can read more about the Sabres’ win here.

3. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes continued their strong start with an impressive come-from-behind win on the road in New Jersey, erasing an early 2-0 deficit. There were a lot of stars for the Coyotes in this one, but their best player was probably star defender Oliver Ekman-Larsson with his second goal of the season, an assist, and some spectacular defensive plays to help secure the win. The Coyotes are now 6-3-1 through their first 10 games.

Other notable performances from Friday

  • Nick Leddy had a huge night for the Islanders, scoring two goals — including one on a penalty shot — to lead the Islanders to their sixth win in a row, so far the longest winning streak in the NHL this season. He thought he had a hat trick for a while until his third goal was taken away on a scoring chances and awarded to forward Matt Martin. Read all about the game here.
  • The Devils wasted a great performance from No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes. Hughes had three points (one goal, two assists) in what would become yet another blown multi-goal lead for a team that has already had entirely too many of them this season.
  • Nathan MacKinnon extended his points streak to 10 games as the Colorado Avalanche crushed the Vegas Golden Knights. Read more about the game here.
  • Patrick Marleau received a nice welcome back in Toronto on Friday night, but once the game began it was all Maple Leafs as they picked up a 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks.

Highlights of the Night

Coyotes forward Michael Grabner is FAST and it helps him create a ton of chances on the penalty kill. Here he is scoring yet another shorthanded goal.

The first of what will probably be many goals for Avalanche defender Cale Makar.

They may have let a four-goal lead slip away, but the Canucks made a lot of highlights on Friday night. This is one of the better ones as Tim Schaller scores by batting the puck out of mid-air.

Blooper of the Night

Do not anger New York Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss!

 

Factoids

  • The Capitals’ win on Friday was the fifth time in franchise history they have won a game after trailing by four goals. It is the first time they have done it since the 2008 season. [NHL PR]
  • Nick Leddy’s penalty shot goal on Friday was the first time an Islanders defender has ever scored on a penalty shot in franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Grabner’s shorthanded goal for the Coyotes was the 22nd of his career, the second-most among active players. He trails only Brad Marchand (26 goals) of the Boston Bruins. [NHL PR]

Scores

Colorado Avalanche 6, Vegas Golden Knights 1
Toronto Maple Leafs 4, San Jose Sharks 1
Arizona Coyotes 5, New Jersey Devils 3
New York Islanders 4, Ottawa Senators 2
Buffalo Sabres 2, Detroit Red Wings 0
Washington Capitals 6, Vancouver Canucks 5 (SO)

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.

NHL Fantasy Hockey: Preseason standouts who could keep it up

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Welcome to the second fantasy hockey preview column before we start doing proper Add/Drop columns next week. This week we’re going to focus on some of the standout performers in the preseason who could carry that success into the 2019-20 campaign.

Before we do that, it’s worth conceding that preseason statistics can’t be taken at face value. For a quick and easy example of that, we need look no further than Boston’s 8-2 victory over Chicago on Saturday. In that game Jake DeBrusk and David Pastrnak each had a hat trick and registered an assist, but Chicago put forth a team of largely AHLers against them. In net for Chicago was 25-year-old Matt Tomkins, who spent last season in the ECHL, and 24-year-old Kevin Lankinen, who split 2018-19 between the AHL and ECHL. Now we already know that DeBrusk and Pastrnak are talented players anyways, but can we really read anything into them excelling against that level of competition?

That doesn’t mean the preseason can’t help provide insight though when coupled with some context. With that in mind, let’s dig a little deeper into some interesting cases.

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Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights – Pacioretty has been one of the most dominating players of the 2019 preseason with four goals and 10 points in four games. He used to be one of the league’s most consistent scoring threats, but his last two seasons have left something to be desired, so the question now is if there is reason to believe 2019-20 might be a bit of a comeback campaign for him. The addition of Mark Stone at the trade deadline should help here because Vegas seems set to roll out a line of Stone, Pacioretty, and Paul Stastny (who was limited to 50 games last season due to injury). That combination has a ton of potential and puts Pacioretty in a position to succeed. That along with Pacioretty’s preseason success and the hope that he’s fully adjusted to Vegas now that he has a year there under his belt, gives plenty of cause for hope.

Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators – Tkachuk had a solid rookie campaign with 22 goals and 45 points in 71 games and he should be able to take a step up this season. If nothing else, he’s going to get significantly more than the 16:01 minutes he averaged in 2018-19. After all, the Senators no longer have Stone, Matt Duchene, or Ryan Dzingel on the roster, so this is a team that pretty much needs to revolve around Tkachuk offensively. We saw a preview of that at the end of last season with him scoring eight goals and 13 points in his final 16 games while averaging 17:59 minutes. The preseason has offered further evidence of that. Tkachuk has scored three goals and six points in four exhibition contests while averaging 19:35 minutes.

Connor Brown, Ottawa Senators – Sticking with Ottawa for the moment, Brown is another player who is in a position to benefit from playing for the offensively depleted Senators. Brown had 20 goals as a rookie back in 2016-17, but his role with the Toronto Maple Leafs quickly declined as their offense got deeper. Brown had eight goals and 29 points in 82 games last season while averaging just 13:48 minutes. By contrast, he could end up playing regularly with Tkachuk on the Senators. Brown had two goals and four points in four games while averaging 20:58 minutes in the preseason.

Adam Gaudette, Vancouver Canucks – If you’re looking for players who made a big impression during training camp, Gaudette would have to be high on the list. His work in the preseason has even been singled out by NHL’s Twitter account on a few occasions.

In the end, he finished the preseason with four goals and six points in six games. At the time of writing Vancouver’s roster hadn’t been finalized so it is possible that the Canucks will send him down because he wouldn’t have to clear waivers, but given how well he’s done, it’s more likely that he will start the season on the third line. That would allow him to take a significant step up from his rookie campaign. He had just five goals and 12 points in 56 games last season, but was averaging a modest 10:57 minutes. He showed he has a lot of offensive potential when he scored 30 goals and 60 points in 38 games with Northeastern University in 2017-18 as well as his 11 points in 14 games stint in the AHL last season. With him seemingly climbing up the depth charts, he’ll be someone to keep an eye on.

[For more fantasy sports analysis, check out Rotoworld.]

Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders – Like Pacioretty, Eberle has usually been a consistent scorer, but he struggled last season with 19 goals and 37 points in 78 games. Part of that was Eberle needing time to adjust to coach Barry Trotz’s system and slowly earning the trust of his new bench boss. Once Eberle did that and developed chemistry with Mathew Barzal, he really started to shine. Eberle had five goals in his final seven regular season games and followed that up with four goals and nine points in eight playoff contests. He’s looking to build off that success and has gotten off on the right foot with four goals and seven points in five exhibition games.

Ethan Bear, Edmonton Oilers – Bear has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2019 preseason. The 22-year-old defenseman had two goals and five points in four exhibition games and he impressed Oilers coach Dave Tippett with the work he put in to get stronger over the summer.

“You like to see it,” Tippett said, per Sportsnet. “He put the work in. He’s changed a lot of his diet, he’s changed his mind set on how he wants to live, and how he wants to play. You love to see guys who do that have success, because it’s a model of how it works. He’s a good ‘today’s style’ NHL defenseman.”

Bear has always had offensive potential and we might start to see a bit of it show up in the NHL this season. That said, he’s one I’d rather keep an eye on for now than pick up in standard fantasy leagues.

Carter Verhaeghe, Toronto Maple Leafs – Verhaeghe certainly didn’t seem destined for big things early in his career. The Maple Leafs drafted him in the third round back in 2013 and two years later he was thrown in as part of a five-player deal to acquire Michael Grabner from the Islanders. Two years after that the Islanders shipped him to Tampa Bay in exchange for depth goaltender (and current KHLer) Kristers Gudlevskis. Verhaeghe took a huge stride forward last season though with 34 goals and 82 points in 76 AHL contests and he continued that strong player with two goals and five points in six preseason games. All that work has put the 24-year-old forward on the cusp of playing in the NHL for the first time.

“You look at the stats, he led the team in scoring in the preseason but that really wasn’t it,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper told The Athletic. “It’s how his game has evolved and he has been a pretty pleasant surprise from watching him in camp two years ago until now. You look at guys who have inched their way forward and really shown growth and improvement and he’s definitely one of them. He’s made a good case for himself.”

Of course, even assuming he’s on the Lightning’s opening game roster, he’s not guaranteed to stick with them. Part of the reason he’s in this position is due to injuries, so Verhaeghe is very much in a position where he’ll have to keep competing for his spot. It is worth noting though that he would be waiver eligible, so even if the deep Lightning ultimately don’t have room for him, it wouldn’t be shocking to see another team give him a shot.

[MORE: Under-drafted players who could help your team]

William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs – For Nylander, the fact that he had a training camp at all is a huge step up from last year. He didn’t even make his season debut in 2018-19 until Dec. 6 because he was a contract holdout and went on to record just a goal and three points over his first 19 games last season.

“I felt I was ready, but what I discovered was that other players were a step ahead of me,” Nylander said, per The Globe and Mail. “I fell behind. The transition was harder than I expected.”

This season he won’t have to deal with that and he’s poised for a major bounce back campaign as a result. He was solid in the preseason with a goal and four points in four games.

Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils – Not that you needed a solid preseason from Hughes to know he had potential going into 2019-20, but it doesn’t hurt. He had three goals and four points in four exhibition contests. The bigger point of interest with him going into training camp is who he’s likely to open the season alongside. Right now it appears he’s likely to play alongside Nikita Gusev on the second line. That’s a pretty interesting combination given Gusev is also a mix of high potential with an unknown factor. He’s attempting to make the transition from KHL star with 82 points in 62 games last season to NHLer. Both Hughes and Gusev could be significant factors in fantasy leagues this season.

Sammy Blais, St. Louis Blues – Blais went into training camp with a shot of making the roster and managed to secure his spot in part thanks to his strong play in the preseason. He had a goal and six points in five exhibition contests. He has just three goals and seven points in 43 career NHL games, but his lack of offensive production was at least partially due to the role he had. He averaged just 10:05 minutes per game whereas this time around he’s got a shot at serving in a top-nine capacity. It’s also worth noting from a fantasy perspective that even if Blais doesn’t do that much offensively this season, he would probably be one of the league’s top players in terms of hits if he plays regularly. Given that Yahoo leagues now use hits as a default category over penalty minutes that alone gives him some notability.

If you’re looking for more fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld has got you covered. Recently Michael Finewax released his first “The Week Ahead” of the season where he previews all 31 teams.

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