Friedman: Devils Could be Behind Chayka Drama

Yesterday, Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka abruptly stepped down from his position with the team as the Coyotes were preparing for their Stanley Cup Playoff Qualifying Round against the Nashville Predators.

It got so bad, the Coyotes issued a strongly worded press release saying that Chayka “quit” on the club as they were getting ready to take a step and compete for the Stanley Cup.

Now it seems that the Devils may be at the center of all of the chaos.

In an article today by Mike Rosenstein of NJ.com, it was reported via ESPN that “according to Sportnet [sic], the relationship between Chayka and the Coyotes became fractured when he sought a new opportunity outside the organization and then the team “resisted.” According to a source, that opportunity may no longer be available to him.”

Rosenstein then said that Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet is now saying that that “new opportunity” just might have been in the New Jersey Devils organization.

More specifically with Harris and Blitzer Sports and Entertainment, the parent company that owns the Devils as well as the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and Crystal Palace of the English Premier League. The group is also “serious bidders for the New York Mets.”

Friedman said that the job was a “major position at an organization that owns teams in more than one sport. The leader in the clubhouse is New Jersey.” He continued that his “theory is that this is some kind of analytics/sports science/leadership position across some or all of those (potential) platforms.” Friedman finished by saying “I’d be lying if I claimed I knew the exact role.”

Rosenstein pointed out that Chayka was in charge as Arizona GM when the Coyotes traded for Taylor Hall. Rosenstein cites AZcentral.com as saying that Chayka “wasn’t involved in contract talks” with Hall.

AZcentral.com says “Coyotes General Manager John Chayka, who signed a contract extension last November, is no longer leading negotiations to re-sign forward Taylor Hall, according to an NHL source with direct knowledge of the situation. The source also confirmed reports that Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo, his son Alex Jr., and team president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez had a dinner meeting last week with Hall …At the meeting the Coyotes made Hall a “low-ball” offer, according to the source. “John wasn’t at the meeting, he wasn’t the one who set it up and he wasn’t the one making the offer,” the source said.”

Rosenstein says that Friedman thinks “the Coyotes’ offer to Taylor Hall was five years, $7.25-million AAV. That’s not a final offer from what [he] can tell, and we’ll see if they become more aggressive.”

One of the draft picks the Devils received in the Hall deal is contingent on the Coyotes winning a playoff round and Hall re-signing with Arizona. The Devils would receive a first round pick this year from Arizona should both those conditions be met. Otherwise, it would default to next year.

Former Devils player Steve Sullivan, the Coyotes’ assistant general manager, will take over on an interim basis for them.

Devils’ Website Gives Insight into Ruff

In an interesting article posted yesterday on the Devils’ official website, writer Peter Robinson spoke to two of Lindy Ruff’s former NHL players and discussed what he brings to the Devils’ bench. The interviews appeared in an article entitled “Reflections on Ruff.”

The two players Robinson spoke to via text were Jay McKee, who played under Ruff with the Buffalo Sabres, and Dave Lowry, who played under Ruff when the latter was an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers. One of Ruff’s players at that time and Lowry’s teammate? None other than current Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald.

Both men have gone into coaching at the junior level. McKee was “most recently the head coach of the Kitchener Rangers” of the Ontario Hockey League, where, Robinson points out, he coached Devils prospect Michael Vukojevic.

Lowry is the coach of the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League and his son, Adam, currently is playing for the Winnipeg Jets.

Both men had fond memories of Ruff as a coach, with McKee telling Robinson that “Lindy is a great communicator and his Xs and Os are great too.”

Lowry said “Lindy came along for us at a time when coaches didn’t really associate (off-ice) with the players. Lindy would play golf with us and take part in the occasional card game… that was unheard of at the time.”

But despite that, McKee told Robinson that he didn’t “want to call him a players’ coach (necessarily), because he was never afraid to crack the whip. What he is, is he’s an excellent person, just a good human and he can connect with guys, especially young players.” This is especially appealing to Devils fans’ ears with their core of good, young players and system of prospects.

Another interesting wrinkle that Robinson explores is that McKee played for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009-10, a year following their Stanley Cup win in 2009. That was the year that Fitzgerald moved “into a player development role” for the Pens “after serving an assistant to Dan Bylsma on the Cup-winning squad in 2009.”

McKee said: “I don’t really know Fitzy other than as a player, I played against him a lot, but I will say this, that it’s usually guys like him who make the best GMs.”

McKee also makes mention of Ruff’s ability to adapt, citing the Sabres major playoff runs while Ruff was there. He told Robinson: “the first time, 1999, we got to the Final and really only had one star player and that was our goalie, (Dominik) Hasek. Then in 2006 we had Max (Afinogenov), Chris Drury, Danny Briere, Derek Roy…had we not had four defensemen injured (in the playoffs) and Tim Connolly the (outcome) could have been different (than losing in the Eastern Conference Final). That was all Lindy being able to adjust like he did as a head coach (and have success) with different teams and (installing) two completely different systems.”

Lowry likened it to technology, saying “you need to know the latest, greatest (piece), but sometimes you pick it up just by watching your own kids.”

This information bodes well for fans who were skeptical of this hiring, myself included. Ruff seems, from what his former players say, to be able to connect with the younger players while still maintaining discipline and adapting his coaching as the league changes. You do not last as long as Ruff has in the NHL as a coach – almost 26 straight seasons – and not be good at your craft. This perspective makes things a little more exciting.

In other Devils news, Amanda Stein is reporting on her “Inside the Devils” blog on NewJerseyDevils.com, that Nico Hischier is skating with the Swiss National Team this week.

Starting today (Wednesday), Nico and “Devils goaltending prospect Gilles Senn will join a group of 22 for the” summer Prospects Camp being run by the Swiss National Team.

There are “strict social distancing and sanitation guidelines” being adhered to and “all players involved will be tested for COVID-19 and asked to respect a 1.5-meter distance whenever possible.”

The camp will be bringing in “the best young players in the Swiss player pool, 25 and under, as well as young players from the junior teams.” Hischier, while an NHL player, has competed at the IIHF World Championships with Switzerland and will “help integrate the younger generation” along with Senn and Pius Suter, who recently signed with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Stein said that “the camp will mostly involve practice sessions, as well as a scrimmage at the end of camp.”