Maple Leafs’ Blue Line Could Really Use Chychrun

Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakub Chychrun has been a marquee name for the last two seasons in regards to the trade deadline. Many teams, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, have expressed interest in acquiring the 24-year-old defender. There was some uncertainty regarding Chychrun’s health heading into this season, but he’s now showing that whatever was ailing him is not a factor. His stock is at an all-time high and his value is going to be beneficial wherever he lands.

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A top-six forward is definitely at the top of general manager Kyle Dubas’ wish list. When a name like Chychrun continues to be available, you have to think that given their execution as of late defensively, should you give the team the benefit of doubt, or bring in some reassurance on defense? While forwards might be the bigger priority, Dubas shouldn’t rule out bringing in Chychrun as it makes sense. He can be a difference maker on the backend and would make them stronger. 

Chychrun Offense Would Bolster Blue Line

Chychrun was plagued with injuries last season where teams became hesitant to make a deal at last year’s deadline. After undergoing ankle surgery to remove a bone spur and wrist surgery, he appears to be back to his playmaking, goalscoring self as he’s been on a tear since he returned in late November. 

For the Maple Leafs, while bringing in Chychrun would bolster their blueline, especially in their top-four. While he does bring a steady defensive presence, it’s more his offensive game that they could benefit from. 

Related: Maple Leafs Need Boone Jenner, But Price Would Be Steep

Since returning, Chychrun has 27 points in 35 games played. He’s already surpassed his point total in 2019-20 and he’s on-pace to beat his 41 points in 2020-21. Even looking at his five-on-five production on a Coyotes team that’s at the bottom of the standings, he’s still having an impact. With a minimum of 500 minutes played, he is first in Corsi for percentage (50.13) and goals for percentage (57.14) and third in scoring chances for with 49.28. Even when playing against elite level competition, he owns a GF% of 57.1 and a 59.6% overall this season. 

Jakob Chychrun Arizona Coyotes
Jakob Chychrun, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

That’s still decent results. Imagine if he’s on a deeper and more talented team that’s in a playoff spot, those numbers could be higher. 

While the decision-making from the Maple Leafs defense has been questionable, they have also struggled to produce and score goals. Offense from the defense has usually been pretty consistent in the past. This season, it’s been minimal as Morgan Rielly is first in points with 23, second is Mark Giordano with 19 and Timothy Liljegren is leading the team in goals with four. 

Rielly was producing before his knee injury but has struggled as of late. Considering what we’ve seen from Rielly in the past, the expectation is for him to at least have five goals or lead that category. The fact that he has one, plus the inconsistencies on the powerplay and not shooting when he should be is concerning for the team’s top defender. Though, the hope is that he does get back on track. 

If Chychrun was on the Maple Leafs, he would be leading the team in goals (seven) and points. Bringing him in would jump start the offense a little more as he has known to be a presence on the rush and getting shots on net. Giordano leads Maple Leafs defensemen with 77 shots, while Chychrun has 111 even though he missed close to two months. 

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The defense has been prone to poor puck management as of late, they could use the steady play and the offense that Chychrun brings as he has the mindset to drive the play with confidence. That could be a key factor why they might acquire him.

Muzzin’s Replacement

With Jake Muzzin’s return still in doubt, we’re expecting an update later this month on his cervical spine injury. While there’s still no word, the Maple Leafs should plan as if he isn’t returning. 

It’s obvious that if the Maple Leafs acquire Chychrun, he will be his replacement as he has the same qualities to his game that made the Maple Leafs go after Muzzin in 2019. He has the size, strength, intensity and work ethic that Muzzin displayed on a nightly basis before the injuries started to affect his play. 

Chychrun can make a timely hit, he can block shots and can eat minutes at even strength. His powerful shot would be an improvement as well as he has the ability to get pucks on net. He would be an ideal power play specialist as he can get pucks on net and has the power for a one-timer opportunity, something this team lacks compared to others.

Jakob Chychrun Arizona Coyotes
Jakob Chychrun, Arizona Coyotes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Having that kind of defender to step up at crucial moments, like Muzzin had in the past, could be a big reason why the Maple Leafs would bring him in. He also brings versatility as he can play on either the right or left side, giving head coach Sheldon Keefe plenty of options.

Piece to Put Them Over the Top

Given how Chychrun has two more years at $4.6 million per season, that is definitely enticing for the Maple Leafs as they like to go after players with term. Having a steady, two-way defender who can put up offensive numbers at under 5 million is definitely a great addition. There’s no doubt that the asking price for him is going to be expensive. 

The Maple Leafs have scouted the Coyotes as of late. The only way that this would work out is if the Maple Leafs are willing to move a prospect like Matthew Knies, another prospect and a first-round pick as a starting point. Considering how well Knies has played in college the last two seasons; would it be wise to move a potential top-six forward for help on defense for two more seasons? There’s no guarantee that Chychrun would re-sign with the Maple Leafs when his contract is up, but it would be better to move a top prospect for term than for a rental.  

Related: Coyotes Need to Pounce on Maple Leafs Trade Interest

No matter the price, Chychrun could definitely be the missing piece to help solidify the defense and put this team over the top. He has the power, strength and the edge to play in the playoffs. We saw how well Hampus Lindholm has helped the Boston Bruins after the trade and signed an extension. Could this very well happen for the Maple Leafs down the road?

No matter how you look at it, if there’s a big move to be had at the trade deadline for the Maple Leafs why not invest in a top name like Chychrun and bring in a steady and reliable defender who can produce. Yes, there is a need for a top-six winger. But you know the saying, defense wins championships. The Maple Leafs can score, to get defensive help and a shooter from the blueline will be a boost for a deep run in the playoffs.

Statistics from Natural Stat Trick, Puck IQ, Hockey Reference and NHL.

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