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President of hockey operations and general manager John Chayka informed the Coyotes on Friday that he was terminating his contract, per an NHL source. That request has been granted. Chayka is no longer with the Coyotes and assistant GM Steve Sullivan has been named the interim GM.
The reasons for that termination are in dispute, however. One NHL source said Saturday that during the NHL season’s pause, Chayka asked the Coyotes for permission to pursue another “another professional opportunity” that was not with another team and had sought his release from the organization about six weeks ago.
But another source said Sunday that this account is not true, and that stance was later corroborated by another league source.
“John Chayka is a liar and a quitter,” the source said.
Per the source, about a month ago, an NHL owner asked if he could speak to Chayka about an opportunity and was denied that permission by Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo because Chayka had just signed the extension in November (for four more years per one source; for three more years according to another) and had told Meruelo that he and his family were happy in Arizona. Chayka tried to convince Meruelo by telling him that he had been allowed to do so in the past to build relationships around the league.
“As you can imagine, Alex was upset,” the source said. “He felt betrayed and felt lied to and said, ‘Absolutely not. I’m not going to even entertain it. I want you here.’”
Per the source, on multiple occasions, Chayka was told that this was not the appropriate time to explore such an opportunity or to discuss it, but it could be revisited at the appropriate time after the season. Still, Chayka wanted out.
“There’s this narrative that members of this organization started to take job functions away from John like talking to players and agents, but the reality is John abandoned the organization,” the source said.
The source said it was Chayka’s idea for president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez and others to speak to agents and take over some of the business Chayka would normally control because Chayka felt conflicted about doing work when he didn’t want to work for the organization any more. The idea that Chayka wasn’t invited to a dinner meeting with Taylor Hall is a lie, the source said.
Per the source, the Coyotes fully expected Chayka to be in the bubble in Edmonton for the Coyotes’ play-in round game against the Nashville Predators which begins on Aug. 2, but that will clearly not be the case now.
As for the general manager position, Sullivan is expected to serve as the interim GM for the rest of the season, after which the Coyotes will revisit whether to conduct a full search or elevate Sullivan permanently.
“You can imagine how incredibly disappointing this is for the Coyotes,” the source said. “A new owner comes in and is excited that his team is in the postseason for the first time in eight years and this is what you’re having to deal with.”
It is unclear if Chayka is free to pursue other opportunities now. The source said there is still a contract dispute that is being handled by each side’s legal team. Per the source, Chayka is not permitted to serve as president of hockey operations or GM of another team for the life of his contract.
John Chayka released this statement to me on Sunday afternoon.
”The past four years have been the most enjoyable of my life. In Arizona, I became a husband and a father, while working as hard as possible to make the Coyotes a Stanley Cup contender. I love our players, coaches, staff and fans and I very much wish I could be with the team in Edmonton. Sadly, the situation created by ownership made that an impossibility.
“That’s all I intend to say on this matter for now. A fuller, more detailed explanation may be necessary in the near future. Until then, I wish the Coyotes good luck in Edmonton, and thank every member of Our Pack for the support shown to Kathryn, our daughter and myself over the years. Also, I want to congratulate Steve Sullivan as he steps into a new role. We’ve worked side-by-side for years. He is a great person and a terrific hockey mind.”
Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter: @CraigSMorgan