Senators Should Avoid Acquiring Chychrun

With the Arizona Coyotes stuck firmly in last place, defenceman Jakob Chychrun has been attracting some interest around the NHL. Despite the Coyotes just gauging interest, it’s no surprise that teams are starting to line up to inquire over the left-shot blueliner. He was the 16th-overall pick in 2016, is still just 23 years old, and put up a career-high 41 points in 56 games last season on a team that finished nine points outside the playoffs. Despite owning a league-worst minus-29, he’s easily one of the best players on his team and would bring the Coyotes a solid return if they chose to trade him.

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

While the Coyotes are entering into a full-scale rebuild, the Ottawa Senators are starting to see the end of theirs with management starting to shift their focus to the near future. One area that has routinely caused them problems is on defence; the team has allowed the fourth-most shots per game, averaging just over 33 shots over 60 minutes. Chychrun has been one of the Coyotes’ most consistent defenders in the desert, ranking in the top-five in blocks and scoring at least 20 points in all but one of his six seasons. It seems like a match made in heaven, but the Senators should be extremely cautious in pursuing a trade because making it happen could cost more than it’s worth.

Chychrun Wouldn’t Be On the Top Pairing

The Senators may not have great defensive depth, but they have an excellent blue-line leader in Thomas Chabot. Since 2018-19, no skater in Ottawa has played more minutes than him, and it’s not even close; for three seasons, he’s been on the ice at least four more minutes than the next highest average. The reason he’s utilized so much is that the coaches trust him to be able to handle any situation. While there’s an argument that he should be playing less, giving him more rest and enabling him to be more effective, there’s no way he’s ever coming off the top pairing.

Thomas Chabot Ottawa Senators
Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Also unlikely to come off the top pairing is his defensive partner, Artom Zub, who has been the team’s breakout star since arriving last season. This season, he’s been with Chabot 19 percent of the time, for a total of 321 minutes. The two have excellent chemistry and rank near the top in team possession numbers, and Zub’s defensive awareness allows Chabot to be more of the offensive player he is.

Then there’s Jacob Bernard-Docker, who’s also started seeing some minutes on the first pairing with Chabot and may end up as his permanent partner. He’s much more defensively skilled than Zub, but has yet to demonstrate it consistently at the NHL level. The 21-year-old has played eight total games and recorded just a single point thus far, but is starting to get more chances this season. He’ll have some competition with two-way defender Lassi Thomson, who also saw time alongside Chabot, as well as future star Jake Sanderson, who currently is playing with the University of North Dakota and sits second among all NCAA defensemen in points, despite his more defensive style.

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It’s clear that Chabot finds the most success when allowed to be in a more offensive role, which comes from having a defensively minded partner. That’s why Zub has fit so well beside him, and why many fans see either Bernard-Docker or Sanderson as the eventual heirs to the position. Chychrun, on the other hand, is more of a two-way presence with great hands and a powerful shot. Putting him on the top pairing with Chabot could result in hampering Chabot’s ability to break out and force one of the other to play more defensively, rather than where they’re more comfortable. Thus, Chychrun would have to settle for a second-pairing deployment, and although that would lower Chabot’s ice time, it’s likely not a role Chychrun wants to settle for.

Arizona’s Price is Too High

Not only would Chychrun be unhappy with the decrease in ice time and responsibility, but the cost for the Senators to acquire him would be far too great. At one point, it was rumoured that the Coyotes were looking for two first-round picks, and while that rumour was proven false, it gives an idea of the ballpark for a potential asking price. It’s almost a certainty that the Senators would have to part with either Sanderson or Bernard-Docker, plus a 2022 first-round pick, which is looking like it’ll be in the top-10, to even get the attention of the Coyotes.

At this time, trading Sanderson should be a deal-breaker. The young defenceman was selected fifth overall in 2019 and is on pace to set the highest point total from a North Dakota defenceman in 20 years. He’s an incredible skater, can log well over 20 minutes a night, and is incredibly intelligent in every zone. He projects to be a No. 1 defenceman in the NHL, and the Senators can’t afford to lose such a talented prospect, even if it means adding a talented, young star like Chychrun.

Bernard-Docker is easier to lose, but still not ideal for the Senators, as he projects to be a solid middle-pairing, shutdown defender who will anchor the penalty kill. There aren’t many high-profile defensive specialists out there, and the Senators need all the help they can get in that regard.

That leaves one of Thomson or Tyler Kleven, a 2019 second-round pick, as trade chips, and that likely won’t get it done for the Coyotes. Adding another player and a high first-round pick is just too much for the Senators to pay up, especially with their team still waiting to reap the benefits of their rebuild.

Ottawa Needs to Stay the Course

Since the infamous 2017-18 collapse, the Senators have been slowly and meticulously stripping their roster and bringing in highly rated prospects. Those efforts are starting to pay off now, with Drake Batherson, Josh Norris, and Brady Tkachuk emerging as top players in the NHL. Many of the players on this roster have been playing alongside each other for years already, having spent time in the minors together, and some were even teammates in junior. It’s formed an identity of a young, closely-knit team, giving them chemistry that is virtually impossible to manufacture in a short period of time.

While there still is work that needs to be done and not every prospect will pan out, the Senators need to be very careful before they add a top defenceman, forward, or goalie. Not only will the cost likely hurt their future, but throwing in a new personality may clash with the rest of the dynamic. Look at how many of the recent free-agent signings have faired: Derek Stepan, Cedric Paquette, Michael Del Zotto, Josh Brown, and Erik Gudbranson have all struggled mightily, and many of them never even lasted a season before being traded away. Chychrun is a significant step above those players, of course, but there’s still no guarantee that his skill will actually improve the team. Unless the team is manageable, it’s better for Ottawa to stick to the plan they have in place and continue to patiently develop their top prospects, rather than add a quick fix.

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