When it comes to the Toronto Maple Leafs, they appear to be the most complete team that we’ve seen in quite some time. The stars are producing, they’re getting great scoring depth from their bottom-six and they’re getting stellar goaltending.
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While their defense has been at its best, they could use an upgrade in that position. Specifically in the top-four. The pairing of Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl haven’t been as good as they were last season. If the Maple Leafs were to upgrade and bring in a top-four defenseman it would help them out tremendously.
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Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman mentioned that the Arizona Coyotes are looking to gauge the market on defenseman Jakob Chychrun. While it could be a massive asking price, it’s definitely something that general manager Kyle Dubas should think about to bolster his team’s defensive depth. If the Maple Leafs do show interest in Chychrun and throw their name in the running, he will definitely be a major addition as they’ll be even more of a threat on defense, offensively and physically.
Chychrun Will Be Worth the Price
Before last year’s trade deadline, Dubas did mention that he would be willing to part ways with one of their top prospects in order to make his team better. If you’re adding a player like Chychrun to your team you’re definitely going to have to pay up. Everything should be on the table including a top prospect. With the situation that the Maple Leafs are in, to try and take a major step forward, this might be that time as it’ll be worth the investment.
For one, Chychrun is a complete package defenseman that any team would love to have. After having a career-season in goals (18), assists (23) and points (41) in 2020-21, his production isn’t where it was last season with seven points in 26 games in 2021-22. That shouldn’t be a deterrent for any team as the Coyotes look to be in tank mode and rebuilding for the future. He’s only 23 years old and really hasn’t hit his potential. Gauging the market to add more pieces with their top defenseman is definitely a smart decision.
If you’re the Maple Leafs, you shouldn’t hesitate at the chance of adding a young and reliable two-way defender. The Maple Leafs have been taking a page out of the Moneyball playbook, finding valuable players on cheap contracts like Ondrej Kase, David Kampf and Michael Bunting. Chychrun is no different as he’s on an extremely great deal. With an AAV of $4.6 million over the next three seasons, it doesn’t get any better than that in trying to bring in a talented defender with great value with that contract. These are the kind of contracts that the Maple Leafs want given their cap situation.
In order for him to come in, roster players will be on the move. At the top of that list is Alexander Kerfoot as he carries a $3.5 million AAV. It would be best to move him before his modified no-trade clause kicks in next season and that his value is probably at its highest. He’s produced very well in a top-six role with 16 points in 30 games played and can move up and down the lineup.
Holl ($2 million) could very well move as Chychrun will be immediately playing in the top-four. Pierre Engvall ($1.25 million) or Ilya Mikheyev ($1.645 million) could be other players on the move.
While many will look to not trading a first-round pick after the Nick Foligno trade, it’ll definitely be worth moving for someone with Chychrun’s services. The same thing goes if the Maple Leafs do involve a prospect like Nick Robertson in a trade. If you want to make major moves to stay competitive, you’re going to have to pay a high price. The Maple Leafs have the assets to do so.
Chychrun is A Perfect Fit in Top-Four
There’s no doubt that Chcyhrun will be a welcomed addition on any team’s defensive unit, even on the Maple Leafs. With all the talk about Holl’s play and inconsistencies, as well as Muzzin’s, this seems like a good opportunity to make that improvement.
Among defensive pairs that have played a minimum of 150 minutes at five-on-five, Muzzin and Holl rank 58th overall in Corsi For percentage with 48.06. In addition, they’re sixth overall in the most goals allowed with 19 and 51st in scoring chances for percentage with 49.24. There’s even a stark contrast between when they’re with each other and without each other.
|Muzzin CF% W/O Holl||51.79|
|Holl CF% W/O Muzzin||53.95|
|Muzzin SCF % W/O Holl||52.08|
|Holl SCF% W/O Muzzin||54.55|
It’s clearly evident that both Muzzin and Holl benefit from playing apart from each other. Both saw an increase in shot attempts and scoring chances for. Muzzin has played with a more reliable partner in Timothy Liljegren and seems to be more comfortable playing alongside him than Holl. Holl’s numbers could be due to the fact that he’s not seeing better competition and has played with a more mobile defender like Rasmus Sandin.
When looking at the type of competition, Holl has struggled against elite and middle competition as he has a 45.1 and 49.4 CF% respectively and his goals for percentage is 40 and 28.6 for this season. Not the kind of numbers you would like to see from a top-four defender. Even with seeing lesser competition, Holl’s decision-making, positioning and turnovers have come into question quite a bit this season.
Chychrun on the other hand, will be a sizeable improvement over Holl. He handle 20 plus minutes a game, has the confidence, consistency, poise and work ethic that makes him a perfect top-four option. He’s very mobile for his size, has a booming shot from the point, has a very strong competitive edge and can be utilized on both the power play or penalty kill. He’s extremely physical making him tough to go up against. He’s everything that you would want and more to provide that consistency and what the team needs up front.
Chychrun’s possession numbers throughout his career haven’t been great, but the Coyotes have been in the bottom half of the standings since he entered the league in 2016-17. If you put him on a team that has great depth and is in a better position to succeed like the Maple Leafs, he will thrive and make a significant impact.
Considering that Holl hasn’t lived up to expectations since being protected in the expansion draft, his time is running out. Having a player like Chychrun can step in to provide the consistency and play needed that will boost the blueline and make them fiercer. The only question mark is that he’s a left-handed shot. Will he or Muzzin be comfortable and play on the right-side? If either are willing to do so, then great. We’ve seen how well two left shots have done with the top pair of Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie.
High Risk, High Reward
Given that last year’s trade deadline acquisition didn’t live up to expectations, fans will be wary of the team paying a high price for a deadline acquisition. However, if you want to go far and put your name into the Stanley Cup conversation, you need to make a major move like this.
There’s a lot of risk involved, but the reward will be beneficial if it pays off. With a young, promising two-way defender who hasn’t reached his prime yet, it’s definitely worth making the investment. The Maple Leafs have the assets if the Coyotes are serious about moving Chychrun as they have the prospects, picks and roster players.
The Maple Leafs shouldn’t have any doubts about inquiring or even possibly making a move.
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Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.