The Contrarian: Analyze This

by Demetri Fragopoulos on May 8, 2016

Could the Coyotes' new GM approach the Leafs about their first overall pick?

So the Arizona Coyotes promoted their analytical whiz to be their new GM this past week. Congrats to John Chayka. I hope he does well.

As part of the hire, the Coyotes are forming a different kind of management structure. One where coach Dave Tippett will have more input as to what will be done.

Some people ask who will really wield the power when moves have to be made.

Some people wonder if the young stats kid will be devoured by the rest of the NHL GMs simply because of his age (26 years old).

Some people doubt that he will be able to succeed. Their common theme is that he will rely solely on analytics or other non-traditional hockey methods when assessing his team and will blunder because of it.

Time will tell if this turns out to be a brilliant move or a horror. But I would like to point out that similar comments were made about the Toronto Maple Leafs when Kyle Dubas was hired, which was prior to Lou Lamoriello being brought on board.

It is not the first time someone representing a different thought process or movement was hired in the NHL. You may remember May 2000 when GM Mike Smith hired Alpo Suhonen as the Chicago Blackhawks’ head coach. It was the first time in 50 years that there was a European-born head coach in the league.

Even though Suhonen had been an assistant coach with the Jets and the Maple Leafs for a total of four seasons, the experiment in Chicago did not last past the 2000-01 season.

If you also recall, Mike Smith was a bit of an anti-establishment character too, often thought as favoring Russian talent over North American. It was a big thing at the time.

Smith’s tenure as the Hawks’ GM did not last long either when at the end of October 2003 he was relieved of his duties. Vice-president Bob Pulford said, “It had become apparent to me toward the end of last season and the beginning of this year that our general manager and head coach were not on the same page.” (CBC article)

Seeing as Chayka and Tippett have already been working together for one season, it is hard to imagine that everything would dissolve between the two of them just because the “assistant” part of Chayka’s title was removed.

If the Coyotes’ group look to mimic what the Leafs have already done, they will go out and get an experienced NHL guy to fill in as their assistant GM. As per Luke Fox of Sportsnet comments, “The new management structure prides itself on collaboration, communication and innovation to deliver, as Chayka says, ‘a sustainable winner that this ownership group deserves’”.

What is interesting is a question posed by the Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek. Should Chayka and the Coyotes go after the first overall pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft?

We all know where Matthews comes from and that he is a generational talent. So the question is posed in the context of it being a marketing move, which is greater than just being a big hockey deal.

The slant comes from the eyes of Arizona. How much would they be willing to give up in order to get Auston Matthews? Duhatschek tosses out a few items: their seventh overall pick this summer, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Max Domi, and even Mitch Marner.

I am not saying that each and every one of these pieces would be involved in a potential swap with the Leafs. But it is tempting if the Coyotes are willing to part with a combination of some of those players/picks and other pieces not mentioned.

Why it is interesting is that for over a year we have been hearing about how the Leafs need to get Matthews. What happens if the Coyotes come to them and say that they want the pick, just name the price?

At this moment, fans in Leaf Nation believe that for once the stars have aligned, ping pong balls have bounced the right way, and the Shana-plan is working beautifully. How will they react if a deal is made and their dream of Matthews dies?

Something else will be coming back, but it would not be a generational player. Nothing can replace a generational player but a generational player.

Is one of those players or picks in the return package going to be that?

If you think in terms of the 1992 draft, maybe the Leafs could come out with even more than they wished for. It would be a big gamble on their part. Even bigger than pinning their hopes on some bouncing bingo balls.

This is where their analytics guru Dubas and director of player personnel Mark Hunter would have to really do their homework.

Like the Quebec-Philadelphia deal, both teams could come out winning. But if either side falters, the anti-analytics critics will pounce.

Even though the thought Duhatschek provided us was very tasty, it is too risky and as such I do not think the Leafs would consider making such a move no matter how tantalizing an offer Chayka brings them.

That is my prediction in regards to the real NHL. But what about your fantasy keeper leagues? If you have the first overall pick, do you keep it and draft Matthews or do you consider an offer from one of your competitors?

How sweet does the offer have to be for you to deal the pick away? How much would you be willing to part with in order to get Matthews?

I bet you’ll be hearing the word “no” a lot.