John Chayka is taking a proactive approach to his pending restricted free agents. In doing so, his vision for the team is taking shape.
The Arizona Coyotes general manager signed forward Clayton Keller to an eight-year contract extension on September 4, marking the latest move in his plan. The extension, which carries an average annual value of $7.15 million, will keep the 21-year-old forward in the desert through the 2027-28 season. The deal also includes lockout protection, a full no-trade clause in 2024-25 and 2025-26, and a no-movement clause in 2026-27 and 2027-28.
The Coyotes have five players under contract through 2024, four of whom are under the age of 24. Keller could have become a restricted free agent at the end of the season. Rather than let that happen, Chayka worked to lock up Keller, just as he did last season with RFAs-to-be Christian Dvorak, Jakob Chychrun and Nick Schmaltz.
“It’s something we’ve done with a number of young players now,” Chayka said. “We wanted to make a proactive decision. We wanted to make that decision on our terms and we wanted to make sure that it was one that would allow us to keep our core of young players together for a long time and also allow us to build a team.”
Keller said the desire to remain in Arizona played a role in foregoing unrestricted free agency years at the back end of the contract.
“It was a priority of mine to be here for a long time. I love playing here,” Keller said. “I love the fans and I love the direction that we’re going.
“It’s a special group to be a part of, coming into the league together at a young age and growing and getting better each year. I think I just really wanted to be a part of that and I think we have great days ahead.”
After a terrific rookie campaign where Keller finished third in the Calder Memorial Trophy (rookie of the year) voting for the 2017-18 season, Keller had a much tougher go in the 2018-19 season, scoring 47 points in 82 games. Despite his struggles, Chayka looked at the entire body of work.
“You can either frame it as a player that struggled last year or you can frame it as a player that broke a lot of records with the U.S. National Development Program, was one of the top players in college hockey, won a World Juniors (Championship), came in first year and broke all of our franchise records in terms of offensive production and is learning to grow and still has a lot of room to grow,” Chayka said.
“I drafted Clayton Keller seventh overall. Some questioned that at the time as well and I think that’ll be proven to be a good decision. … I feel the same about this decision.”
Along with Keller’s deal, the Coyotes added key pieces this offseason in forward Phil Kessel, who has topped 30 goals six times in his career, and first-round draft pick Victor Soderstrom.
Chayka acknowledged the risk inherent in signing Keller to an eight-year deal with just two seasons of NHL experience.
“In order to try and win a Stanley Cup, you’ve got to take risks and you have to do some things that sometimes, short term, make you a little uncomfortable, but long term, you believe (are) the right thing for the organization,” Chayka said. “I just know that following the herd will ensure that you’ll never be No. 1.”