Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka - David Wallace/azcentral sports

Chayka’s Blue Line Makeover Important To Coyotes’ Potential

Published On September 21, 2017 | By Jason Harrison | Editorials

Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka has upgraded the team’s blue line from patchwork to one of the NHL’s best on paper.

John Chayka has remade the Arizona Coyotes blue line in just two seasons.

We’ve gone from names like Nicklas Grossmann, Klas Dahlbeck, and Jamie McBain to Niklas Hjalmarsson, Jason Demers, and Alex Goligoski.

In 2015-16 the franchise had just one legitimate top four defender in Oliver Ekman-Larsson. In 2017-18 they are set to ice at least four and possibly five depending on the growth of Jakob Chychrun upon his return from injury.

The acquisition of Jason Demers for Jamie McGinn was a heist. Chayka nabbed a right-handed top four defenseman for an extra forward who terribly underperformed the year prior.

“We heard the same thing last season with Goligoski,” you might be saying. “Why will Demers be any different?”

The simple answer is because everything is different.

Last season, Alex Goligoski suffered tremendously in Dave Tippett’s system.

In an article about Goose’s struggles, AZCentral’s Sarah McLellan had an interesting quote from Tipp.

“We put him in a lot of hard situations that have been hard on everybody, not just him,” Tippett said. “He’s a little bit like Oliver (Ekman-Larsson), up and down a little bit and a little bit of a byproduct of our team, but still a really good pro. It’s hard to find guys that chew up minutes like he does. So there’s lots to like about his game and hopefully as our team gets better, you’ll see improvement in his game.”

Tippett believed Goli was a top four defenseman, to be sure, but instead of emphasizing his strengths he inexplicably doubled down on the defender’s weakest attributes.

“We put him in a lot of hard situations,” Tipp said in that piece.

Goligoski played extensive minutes in his own zone and in defensive scenarios, and was never really consistently put in a position that matched his abilities. Why? Because Tippett saw him as a minutes-eater in the vein of Niklas Hjalmarsson, instead of as a man who is on the ice to move the puck efficiently from the defensive zone to the offensive end.

He went from being known for positively driving play throughout his career to a man who was constantly pinned in his own end. While it’s entirely possible Goli is slowing down in his thirties, the cause of his problems was likely rooted as much in the environment around him as in his own play.

The result? The first season in Goligoski’s career where he didn’t drive possession and a highlight reel of groan-worthy plays in the defensive and neutral zones.

It was a year to forget.

If Tocchet’s plans are any indication, it might be easier to forget than you would expect.

Up-tempo is the name of Tocch’s game.

He wants the team to press and possess the puck. Breaking out of the defensive zone is an important tenet of his system. These are all things that Alex Goligoski was brought here to do but never got the chance to implement. Those are his strengths.

Enter Jason Demers, who should find himself right at home in the new look Coyotes’ defensive corps. Demers is unlikely to face the tribulations Goligoski faced last season thanks to the franchise’s new approach. He needs only show up, learn the system, be responsible, and do what he does best.

A second pairing of Demers and Goligoski behind the top pairing of Ekman-Larsson and Hjalmarsson? Sign me up.

The Arizona Coyotes are more solid on the back end than they’ve been in years. That’s before accounting for the change in philosophy with the coaching staff.

If Rick Tocchet can get this team playing in the manner he envisions, “better on paper” could quickly become “better” period.