President of Hockey Operations Jeff Gorton put his stamp on the Montreal Canadiens when he claimed Kale Clague off waivers earlier this month. As a mobile puck-moving defenseman, Clague had been struggling to establish himself at the NHL level. Many called the move insignificant, and rightfully so. Claiming a player another team no longer wants is not exactly an earth-shattering move. It’s possible Clague amounts to nothing more than a bottom-pairing defenseman and has no significant impact on the Canadiens’ future whatsoever. It’s a subtle move, but it hints at a theme and change in direction that goes beyond the move itself.
Speed, mobility, offense — all things Montreal has lacked on the back end since the P.K. Subban trade — could now be coming back to the forefront of the team’s priorities. Clague was Gorton’s first move, but there could be more significant transactions on the way, with Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun being one of them.
In Elliotte Friedman’s ’32 Thoughts’ this week, the Sportsnet analyst mentioned a handful of teams were interested in Chychrun’s services, including the Canadiens. Friedman confirmed the demand was massive, with the Coyotes’ price likely being a package of picks and prospects. Montreal has the assets to make this deal work, and acquiring the 23-year-old defenseman could make sense, given the team’s situation.
Canadiens’ Need for Puck-Moving D
The Canadiens’ salary cap situation is not ideal. The team has a large chunk of players signed through the 2024-25 season. Many fans are advocating for a full rebuild, but with the number of long-term contracts Montreal has, there’s a strong chance the team’s management will not be able to scrap everything and start fresh. In fact, it’s likely this will be more of a slow retool rather than a full rebuild.
With that in mind, it’s logical to inquire about a player like Chychrun, who is under a cap-friendly contract with a $4.6 million average annual value (AAV) through the 2024-25 season. This would not break the bank, nor would it be a quick fix. Chychrun is young, dynamic, and could be a key piece in the Canadiens’ core moving forward. Looking at the team’s defensive depth, the team lacks speed, agility, and that offensive punch on the back end, all areas Chychrun could help in.
Right now, Jeff Petry shoulders the offensive burden for the Canadiens’ defense core. In the past, he has done a phenomenal job, but he’s felt Shea Weber’s absence this season. At 34 years old, Petry is not getting any younger. With the American native well into the back nine of his NHL career, he would be better suited in a more sheltered second-pairing role rather than the top-pair role he currently occupies. The Canadiens don’t have any top-pairing defensemen right now. It’s a glaring hole they need to fix.
That’s where Chychrun comes in.
Chychrun’s Playing Style
Chychrun is a puck carrier. He is not going to wow with his defensive prowess. He is a defenseman who likes to jump up on the rush and be active in the offensive zone. The 23-year-old works well with defense partners who can complement him — the type of defenseman who positions well and gets the puck out of the defensive zone and up the ice. The Canadiens have plenty of stay-at-home defensemen who can complement his game. Chychrun also possesses a strong shot. Per MoneyPuck, his shooting talent ranks 8.2 percent above the league average. Adding a shot like his to the man advantage could open up more seams for players like Cole Caufield and bolster a power play in dire need of help.
Chychrun could stand to improve his creativity on offense (passing), as well as his zone-exit ability, but under an effective support system, his numbers could rise organically when surrounded by the right players. It’s safe to assume Chychrun hasn’t experienced much of that with the Coyotes, making it difficult to evaluate his numbers and realize what his full potential could be on a better team.
While Chychrun would not fix all of the Canadiens’ problems, he would be a good start. He has a reasonable cap hit and would fill a void the team has been yearning to fill for years. Former general manager Marc Bergevin has clogged up the Canadiens’ offense with immobile stay-at-home defensemen for a while now. It’s about time that script flipped.
In reality, the price to land Chychrun may be too high, but even though it’s unlikely he winds up in La Belle Province, it is encouraging to see Gorton trying to take steps to change the identity of this team.
Ryan graduated from the Ryerson School of Journalism in 2015 and contributes to the Montreal Canadiens section. He has also previously worked for STATS LLC as a Hockey Reporter and the Rant Media Network as a Copy Editor.