The Arizona Coyotes want to change their structure.
Co-owner Anthony LeBlanc said they will look at a “modernization of our entire processes, ” which is in part why they decided to fire longtime general manager Don Maloney on Monday.
“At the end of the day once you spend time together and see how people operate that it may be the for the best for us to move in a different direction,” LeBlanc told reporters in a Monday news conference.
A new general manager wasn’t named, but LeBlanc was hopeful someone will be hired before the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo in late June. A large amount of the Coyotes are pending unrestricted free agents or restricted free agents. Captain Shane Doan is a pending UFA.
LeBlanc didn’t go into a lot of detail about why the move was made, other than a difference of overall philosophy between the ownership group and Maloney, who just finished his eighth season with the team. LeBlanc did, however, speak glowingly about analytics and their growing role in the hockey landscape.
“We definitely want communication and collaboration and we’re a strong believer in new trends that are emerging in sports, analytics being a part of that,” LeBlanc said. “I come from the technology world. Most of the partners come from the finance world. This is a big part of our lives, and we believe in it.”
LeBlanc talked up John Chayka, the analytics wiz who was hired by the team last offseason at the age of 25 as an assistant general manager, but didn’t mention if Chayka would be a candidate to take over the position. Chayka and fellow assistant GM Chris O’Hearn are running the team’s hockey operations department until a new GM is hired.
“He has absolutely been a very impressive hire. A very poised young man – mature beyond his years. He’s been an incredibly positive addition to this organization. I really got to witness it first hand when I sat in the war room in Pittsburgh for trade deadline,” LeBlanc said. “Just the sheer amount of knowledge he brings. But at the end of the day it’s not like it’s a new thing in sports – it’s obviously been well documented, the importance of analytics. But it’s not the be-all-end-all. I’m not sitting here saying we’re going to turn ourselves into a Wall Street firm and have 25 kids here doing numbers, but I think there’s a fine balance and that’s what we’re trying to find.”
LeBlanc stressed that the Coyotes and Maloney aren’t parting on bad terms and called Maloney a “wonderful human being.”
But Arizona’s on-ice success spoke for itself.
In Maloney’s eight season, the Coyotes made the playoffs three times. The team missed the playoffs the last four years after making it three straight seasons. Also, Maloney was not hired by the team’s current group of owners who are looking to put their stamp on the team with this hire.
“It’s important to understand there are some new personalities in the ownership group. We’ve evolved. We’ve learned what it means to be owners,” LeBlanc said. “When we first got here we were a bunch of giddy school kids. We’re now finally in a place where we’re operating this as a business.”
There are a lot of positives from Maloney’s tenure. He did his best to keep the team competitive as it dealt with possible moves to Canada and ownership instability. Maloney also helped build up the Coyotes’ prospect pool to arguably the NHL’s best.
LeBlanc indicated some of the issues may have involved the contracts Maloney gave to veteran players. For example, declining goaltender Mike Smith is still under contract for another three seasons at $5.67 million per-year. The Coyotes also bought out center Mike Ribeiro two summers ago and are on the hook for $1,944,444 for their salary cap through 2020. Arizona originally signed Ribeiro for four years and $22 million. They bought him out after one season.
“There is an absolute difference between spending money and spending money wisely,” LeBlanc said. “We don’t think our track record has been particularly stellar on that front.”
Coach Dave Tippett will remain on board, and LeBlanc didn’t say that Tippett’s role would increase to having more influence over personnel decisions. He also squashed any rumors of a rift between Tippett and Maloney, but noted that Tippett will have some “input and advance” towards the new general manager.
Said LeBlanc, “At the end of the day, ownership has the right to make decisions on how they feel the organization should be managed.”
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