Under the hard salary cap, player movement across the NHL has stiffened as GMs on either side of a trade have to manage both the valuation of assets as well as balancing salary. Trade rumours can become quite long winded, as is the case in the current Jakob Chychrun saga. Officially, the player has requested a trade from his current team, the Arizona Coyotes. With three years left on his current contract, bearing a very economical $4.6 million dollar cap hit, the Coyotes have shown they are in no hurry to accommodate his request.
A brief synopsis of Chychrun as a player would be that he is a capable left shot, top pair defender, perhaps best deployed with a stronger partner, who might be better served playing a second pair role on a contending team. He has never eclipsed 68 games in a season and surpassed 60 just twice over his six year career, meaning there have been notable durability concerns that have informed his reputation.
Since being selected first overall in the 2014 OHL draft, it was quite obvious there was a lot to work with because of this. Despite falling in his draft, rumoured to be one of the top picks in the 2016 draft, he still found himself a first round pick.
Funnily enough, it was Ken Holland, then GM of the Detroit Red Wings, who sent the pick used to select Chychrun to the Coyotes as a sweetener in the Pavel Datsyuk cap dump. Now, more than six years ago (and several apocalypses), it is Holland, as Oilers GM, that has persistently been thought of as the front runner in the Chychrun sweepstakes.
Chychrun as a player
Even going back to his draft year of 2016, the foremost strength of Chychrun’s game has been his skating ability. From this basis he is able to build out his game, both offensively and defensively, ultimately a good option for a first pair role.
Offensively he uses his skating as a very effective rushing defenceman, and is quite adept at shooting in such opportunities. This shoot first mentality is reflected in his point totals going back as far as junior. In his most prolific offensive season (2020–21) Chychrun chipped in 18 goals and 23 assists in 56 games, both of which were career highs.
In some ways these numbers speak to his offensive limitations. 23 assists is not necessarily the career high one would expect from a top four offensive defenceman, denoting what some consider to be a lack of passing ability. The counter argument here would be levied at the quality of his teammates, or rather the Coyotes as a whole, but it’s clear that Chychrun favours carrying the puck up the ice himself to generate attacking opportunities for his team.
Chychrun is also able to leverage his skating skill defensively. He has the speed and the stick checking to defend well in transition, yet also possess the size and strength to be effective in battles along the boards and net front, making him a capable in zone defender.
At 24 years of age, there is still a long chunk of Chychrun’s prime ahead of him. Despite his current trajectory, there is still more upside to be had. Scheduled to become a UFA at 28 years old, it is unclear whether his next contract will warrant much of a raise. The source of his earning more might have to do with a rising salary cap than him becoming a significantly more impactful player than he has been.
How Chychrun will fit in with the Oilers
There are a few factors that make Chychrun an intriguing option for the Oilers. Off the top, a player of his skill level at his cap hit would be welcomed on any team. Perhaps the best of the aggressive long term deals that former Coyotes GM John Chayka signed. With three years left on his deal and already in his prime, Chychrun fits with the smallest and most conservative appraisals of the Oilers Cup window; the three years that Leon Draisaitl is still under contract (Connor McDavid is signed for four).
On the left side the Oilers have Darnell Nurse and Brett Kulak, where Chychrun would fit nicely between the two. Chychrun would likely benefit from a partner with strong passing abilities, meaning that Evan Bouchard or Tyson Barrie might make better partners than Cody Ceci. Chychrun has a respectable defensive quality that doesn’t require his needing to be paired with a strong defensive presence.
It’s highly unlikely that Chychrun would find himself a regular on the Oilers top power play, although his willingness to shoot from the point would fit in nicely with the Oilers. He would, more likely, factor into the penalty kill, although at this point he would find himself behind Nurse or Kulak, in such a role.
What is the cost of obtaining Chychrun?
At this point the Coyotes are believed to be asking for a three piece package: a first round pick, a great prospect, and a capable roster player. Time will tell if or how the Coyotes are able to broker such a deal. Specific to the Oilers, though, the deal is said to hinge on the package centering either Dylan Holloway or Philip Broberg.
To start, the Oilers are so tight to the cap that they would need to be sending salary back to the Coyotes. Tyson Barrie cost slightly less against the cap, enough that the Oilers would need to send more than just Barrie to make the fit. In such a case a player making slightly over $1 million might have to be included, or even still Warren Foegele at his $2.5 million hit. From here we get to more impactful options such as Jesse Puljujarvi or Kailer Yamamoto, even the newly signed Brett Kulak; all of whom are above the requirements of “a capable roster player” and might as well weaken the Oilers almost as much as Chychrun might help them.
The first round picks are of course valuable – if not for selecting a top player in a loaded 2023 draft class then for the trade flexibility they provide. This came to fruition quite clearly earlier this summer between the Oilers and Coyotes, with the draft capital being used to offload Zack Kassian’s contract. As a contender, it’s reasonable for the Oilers to feel free to part with such assets for the right return.
The foremost question is that of parting with either Broberg or Holloway.
Herein lies much of the debate and nuance around whether the Oilers, or any team, should play such a high stakes game. The Crosby-Malkin era that has brought three cups to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and often referred to as the model the Oilers should look to follow, has seen them trade picks and prospects without much regard for some hypothetical potential future, instead focused on maximising the present.
An argument of this nature would be, “why hang onto Broberg/Holloway, who might be as Chychrun one day, when they can net you Chychrun himself right now?”. There is a simplicity to this line of thinking that is hard to ignore. The Oilers are firmly about the here and now, are they not? Is now not the time to push the chips to the middle of the table, go all in on surrounding McDavid and Draisaitl with as much talent as possible?
All this said, the Oilers and their fans are familiar with their prospects. Attachments might cloud player evaluations one way or another, but it should be noted that the potential upside of both Broberg or Holloway could be higher than that of Chychrun, especially over the remainder of their careers. One might be passing up the opportunity for greatness, which is ultimately the goal, in order to secure a more certain commodity.
Is there a need for Chychrun?
There is no doubt that Chychrun would be a strong addition to whichever team acquires his services, the Oilers included. Though the timing and value of his contract match up quite favourably to the Oilers window, the idea that the Oilers should be the front runner in the Chychrun sweepstakes seems outdated.
When the trade request from Chychrun was made, circumstances were quite different for the Oilers. Harkening back to the early days of last season, the Dave Tippett coached Oilers were reeling. After losses to the Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets in subsequent postseasons, the whispers of doom were starting to gather. At the forefront, the Oilers performing at under 50% in flow of play metrics, like xGF%, was particularly concerning. It seemed it was only by the grace of outstanding individual performances that the Oilers seemed to achieve anything.
With two MVPs up front, the biggest areas that could be targeted were goaltending (debatably, but I’ve got to let that one go eventually), which would do nothing to improve the Oilers control of the game flow, or building up the blueline. From this perspective, adding a player of Chychrun’s calibre was seen as the franchise’s only hope at rectifying their flawed play. It was at this point that the Oilers being the top name in Chychrun trade rumours made sense.
Of course so much has changed since then. Under coach Jay Woodcroft the Oilers took the step towards a dominant possession team, outplaying opponents most nights before factoring their supreme individual talents. The team as a whole improved, specifically the results of the blueline. Bouchard’s emergence, Nurse’s redefined role, Kulak’s addition, and quite frankly better breakout plans, support, and execution have raised the results across the board. The frozen depths of despair the Oilers came across in January 2022 have been reborn into the redefinition and redemption of the legitimate contender before us today.
Not to mention another year has made the Oilers bargaining position more powerful. Chychrun is coming off of a disappointing and injury plagued season, while Broberg and Holloway are coming off of strong seasons, into their primes, and all but assured roster spots. The pair might not be top prospects in the Oilers eyes any longer. Instead they have become something much more valuable and that is contributing players with upside on entry level deals.
What lies ahead for the Oilers
The Oilers path to contention, as it stands, lies in having one or two defencemen challenging Nurse for the mantle of best in the lineup. Bouchard is primed to venture such an appraisal sooner rather than later, so the question might be whether one believes Broberg or Chychrun is more likely to join Bouchard here.
With the Oilers lack of quality options behind Barrie on the right side, even the upgrade in personnel might not help the Oilers blueline as a whole if it were Barrie’s cap hit sent out. If Chychrun was paired with Bouchard on the second pair, the Oilers would be looking at a third pair consisting of Kulak and either Philip Broberg or Dmitri Samorukov as rookies on their weak sides. Neither Kulak, nor Broberg or Samorukov, would be put in a position to succeed with such an arrangement. Were Broberg himself included in the deal, it’s almost impossible to say the Oilers blueline would be any better off. There might be temptation to suggest that Chychrun be the one to switch sides, an idea that doesn’t help him either, and would put one of Chychrun, Bouchard, or Ceci on the third pair.
If Barrie is not traded, the salary discrepancy would require the Oilers to deal forwards with substantial cap hits. Of course, Puljujarvi is often part of such rumours, though his salary alone would not cover the cost. Adding in another forward to the deal, Warren Foegele let’s say, brings the deal cap balance, but greatly thins the Oilers’ depth. Holloway might fill either of their roles quite well, which makes his inclusion in the deal all the more unlikely.
In all, the current parameters of the Chychrun to Edmonton deal are both risky and costly. The logistics of the deal becomes convoluted and ultimately it’s hard to come up with anything that would fit both the Oilers’ and Coyotes’ needs. Upon examination, it would be unwise for the Oilers to consider trading for Chychrun with any package that involves Broberg or Holloway.
The mock trade
The best deal for the Oilers I can conjure under these parameters is Chychrun for Holloway, Barrie, Ryan, and a first. The Oilers would still be too tight to the cap to carry a full 23 man roster when healthy, so perhaps Foegele could be an option in Ryan’s stead. Admittedly, this specific deal might be the only one that both sides could agree to, although it won’t be a popular one considering Holloway’s superb preseason performance.
What say thee? Deal or no deal?