Only the most astute Cowichan Valley Capitals fans will remember, but the youngest general manager in NHL history did spend a tiny portion of his playing career with the B.C. Hockey League team.
John Chayka, who just wrapped up his first season as GM of the Phoenix Coyotes — a job he was named to at the age of just 27 — played just four games with the Caps at the beginning of the 2009-10 campaign, and although he got off to a good start, recording three points in that brief stint, it also marked the beginning of the end of his playing days.
In addition to his four games with the Caps, he also skated in four contests with the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior A Hockey League before he had to pack it in.
“I was dealing with some significant back problems that didn’t allow me to continue playing,” Chayka explained in a recent email to the Citizen.
Chayka put up 80 points in 51 games with the Woodstock Slammers of the Maritime Junior A Hockey League in 2008-09, and things looked promising as he came west for his 20-year-old season. He made the Caps under then-head coach Scott Robinson out of training camp, scoring one goal and assisting on two others in his four appearances.
“My time in Cowichan was a short one, but I enjoyed the city and organization,” Chayka said. “We had a good staff in place with good teammates. It’s always the people that you remember along the way.”
As young as he is Chayka’s job with the Coyotes is the culmination of a life dedicated to hockey.
“I’ve been involved in the hockey industry my whole life,” Chayka said. “I believe everyone in Canada has a passion for the game of hockey and I’m blessed to have the opportunity to work in this industry. Having said that, luck and timing are always important components of any success, and I’m grateful things have worked out the way they have to date.”
Chayka is among the first hockey executives to come out of the study of analytics, the statistics that go beyond goals, assists and penalty minutes. He founded an analytics company called Stathletes prior to becoming the Coyotes assistant GM, which in turn led to his current position.
“I became interested in analytics while I was playing,” Chayka said. “I always had a desire to have a more concrete, fact based discussion with staff and teammates. There are a lot of unknowns in the game of hockey, and the ability to quantify the sport allows for a deeper discussion on strategic level thinking.”
In his first season on the job, Chayka’s Coyotes put together a record of 30 wins, 42 losses and 10 overtime losses, finishing just ahead of the seventh-place Vancouver Canucks in the Pacific Division standings, but Chayka is looking farther into the future.
“As a manager, my job is to have a long-term outlook on our decision making processes and building up organizational infrastructure,” he said. “Having said that, you want to get there as soon as possible, without rushing through things. Our goal is to build a consistent winner here that is able to sustain itself over the long-run.”