By Scott Wood | Follow me on Twitter @ScottHoHPodcast
On Elliot Friedman’s most recent “32 Thoughts” (19:30 in), he speculates that the last-place Arizona Coyotes could be gauging interest in young superstar defenseman Jakob Chychrun. Among the possible suitors? The Boston Bruins.
When the Bruins selected Charlie McAvoy 14th overall in the 2016 Entry Draft, many lamented that Chychrun was passed over. The slick-skating LD from the Sarnia Sting had just put up 49 points in 62 games in his draft year, and he was ranked as high as 6th by Future Considerations. Hindsight being what it is, no Bruins fan could be disappointed in their selection of McAvoy instead, but Chychrun has been a top-tier player in his own right.
The Coyotes chose Chychrun two spots after the Bruins, and months later, he had cemented his place on their roster as an 18-year-old. One month into his third season with the team, he had agreed to a six-year contract extension worth over $27 million. He had become an inarguable part of the Coyotes ‘ core by scoring at a nearly 40 point pace and over 20 minutes a night at just 21 years of age. The following two seasons were breakout years. In two Covid-shortened campaigns, Chychrun would score 30 goals in just 119 games, the highest tally among defensemen over that span.
Comparably, this year has been a disaster. Largely a product of the Coyotes’ roster teardown that saw the exits of veteran defensemen Oliver-Ekman Larsson and Alex Goligoski, goaltender Darcy Kuemper, and forwards Connor Garland and Derick Brassard, Jakob Chychrun has struggled to find success this season. His two goals and nine points in 26 games have him nowhere near the scoring pace he set in his previous two years, and his -29 is bottom-of-the-league by a wide margin (second-lowest is Jordan Eberle at just a -15). Chychrun has recently been on IR for an Upper-Body injury sustained on December 10 in a contest against the Florida Panthers to add injury to insult.
Considering how this year has gone for the Coyotes, between a lack of success on the ice and controversies surrounding their standing with the Gila River Arena in Glendale, it is little wonder that Bill Armstrong would be taking calls on his number one trade asset.
Despite a down year, there is no question what Chychrun’s addition could mean to the Bruins’ blueline, both for this season and in the future. The Bruins have been reeling in 2021-22, with free-agent signings that have yet to work out, Covid mangling the team, rumors of in-fighting between the team leaders and coaching staff, a public trade request winger Jake DeBrusk, and a call from pundit Mike Milbury to trade-off Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand to jump-start a rebuild. Being on the positive end of a multiple-piece deal that brings in a star like Chychrun would be a significant positive in a year starved of it.
Whether one would pair Chychrun with McAvoy to ice one of the dynamic puck-moving duos in the league or split them up to strengthen two pairs individually is a matter of opinion. At a very reasonable $4.6 million cap hit for the next three seasons, it’s a luxury the Bruins would be able to afford. Chychrun would add an air of legitimacy to this defense core and be arguably a stronger scoring threat than any of the Bruins’ bottom-six forwards. He’d be an instant addition of a core player and could help avoid a strip-down rebuild as the Bruins transition away from Patrice Bergeron in the coming years.
Now comes the hard part. What would such a deal cost the Bruins? Friedman mentions (not by name) someone he spoke with who had inquired about the return the Armstrong would be looking for, and he didn’t like the answer. Sweeney and the Bruins probably won’t either. Friedman mentions the Oilers, Canadiens, Flyers, Senators, and LA Kings as potential competition for the Bruins in this trade pursuit, so Sweeney would have to out-bid his competition.
This is merely a suggestion about what it would take, so feel free to take umbrage with the proposal. One would have to think that Jake DeBrusk would be going the other way, killing two birds with one stone in opening up Cap room to bring Chychrun aboard while fulfilling DeBrusk’s request. With Grzelcyk, Reilly, Forbort, Zboril, and John Moore all on the left side of the defense, one of them would likely be moving across as well.
It only starts to hurt after this, though, as this is where the Coyotes would be looking to make bank. The Bruins’ top prospects today are Ohio State defensemen Mason Lohrei, center Jack Studnicka, goaltender Jeremy Swayman, and 2021 First Round Pick Fabian Lysell. Of these, it would be easiest for Bruins fans to accept Studnicka as the selection here, but a 2022 First Round Pick would likely have to be added for this to entice Armstrong. On top of this, one more minor piece would likely have to be added, such as a Jack Ahcan, an Oskar Steen, or a Second or Third Round Selection.
The final thing I would expect is that if the Coyotes take salary on, they would want the Bruins to even the score by eating some money, whether that means retaining the NHL salaries or taking back a bad contract.
Would it be worth a deal of (say) Grzelcyk, DeBrusk, Lysell, and Ahcan to bring a talent like Jakob Chychrun aboard? Would Sweeney have the courage to make the big play and trade up to nab the best player in a deal, even if it meant giving up his best draft assets in the last several years? Would the Coyotes even want to take on this much-proven talent instead of vying for lottery tickets in the form of multiple first-round picks?
While it’s an obvious long shot, it’s also exciting to think about.