For months, the Ottawa Senators have been pursuing Jakob Chychrun to be a big piece of their future as a contending team.
Only the huge ask from the Arizona Coyotes kept the Sens on the sidelines.
Until this week.
Senators general manager Pierre Dorion waited long enough for the Coyotes’ price to drop. And instead of giving up a top prospect and two first-round draft choices to land Chychrun, Arizona settled for a *conditional 2023 first-round pick, a conditional 2024 second-round pick (formerly Washington’s pick) and a 2026 second-round pick.
During their trade discussions, Arizona had been seeking a young player along the lines of centre Ridly Greig, defenceman Tyler Kleven (still at the University of North Dakota) or top goalie prospect Mads Sogaard. But in the end, Ottawa did not have to give up a player on its roster or in the system.
“It’s a great day for the franchise,” Dorion said from MSG on Thursday morning, where the Senators are preparing to meet the New York Rangers tonight.
“For us to add a player the calibre of Jakob Chychrun, I think it’s exciting for our fans, exciting for the players in that room.”
After flying to New York from Phoenix on a red-eye, Chychrun did not participate in the morning skate but is expected to be in the lineup versus the Rangers.
The Senators' ace in the hole on the deal? – they were willing to take on Chychrun’s contract without the Coyotes eating any of the salary or taking back a bad contract. Other teams in the running for Chychrun either wouldn’t or couldn’t do that.
For a 24-year-old (25 on March 31) top-pair defenceman who is on a reasonable contract ($4.6M) for the next two seasons, Dorion didn’t just hit a home run here. It was a bases-clearing grand slam. He says the deal came together quickly, although the buildup was more than a year in the making.
“I’m not sure I would have told you a week ago this would be achievable,” Dorion said. “The process was fairly simple – we’ve been talking to Bill (Armstrong, Coyotes’ GM) over the last pretty much 18 months or so. And it all happened, I would say, in the span of 24 hours.”
Dorion called Armstrong around 5 p.m. on Tuesday, and Armstrong called back with a counter-offer. The two spoke again Wednesday morning and Dorion received approval from the Senators board of directors to go ahead on the deal.
“From then on, it was just a bit about the language (of the deal),” Dorion said. “By about 5:45, 5:50 (Wednesday afternoon) we had the trade call.”
The Senators love the fit with the team’s young core.
“He can grow with them,” Dorion said.
Dorion added that he believes Chychrun is “motivated to be one of the top defencemen in the league. And with us, it gives us a real healthy competition.”
Adding Chychrun means the Senators boast three top-flight defencemen with Thomas Chabot and Jake Sanderson already entrenched.
Chychrun’s agent, Andy Scott, has said numerous times that the Coyotes approached Chychrun nearly two years ago about moving him to a contending team while Arizona gathered assets for a rebuild. The Senators have had Chychrun on their radar throughout.
Later in his availability, Dorion joked that he had promised veteran centre Claude Giroux, his big off-season free-agent signing, that he would add a defenceman before the end of this season. Did he ever. In Chychrun, Dorion scooped the biggest name left on the trade board prior to Friday’s trade deadline.
Drafted 16th overall by Arizona in 2016, Chychrun has a booming shot from the point and was an 18-goal scorer just two years ago, before injuries slowed him down last season. Moreover, he is big (6-2, 220 lbs), mean, and adds a robust element badly needed on Ottawa’s blueline.
Likely, Nick Holden gets bumped from the starting six and Travis Hamonic drops down to the third pairing with Erik Brannstrom while Chychrun slots in alongside Sanderson. Head coach D.J. Smith will sort that out this evening, once he determines that Chychrun is OK to play after travelling through the night.
“It helps us in every facet,” Smith said. “He’s a big guy that can play in all situations, he’s played in the league for a number of years now and he’s at the point where he’s a difference-maker every night. With our group, his age, he fits in and he’s certainly going to help us.”
Just two weeks ago, the GM couldn’t be certain he could be a buyer at the trade deadline. Consecutive victories, in resounding fashion, over the Detroit Red Wings helped convince Dorion his team could make a charge. The Sens sit five points back of a wild card spot in the east.
Chychrun will help Ottawa take its best shot. While Chychrun has had ankle and wrist injuries over the past year, he is healthy now and ready to take on a workload after being a trade-related healthy scratch for the Coyotes over their past nine games. He last played on Feb. 10, logging nearly 30 minutes in an overtime loss to Chicago.
Winger Alex DeBrincat, another recent acquisition of Dorion via trade with Chicago last summer, said the trade sends a positive message to the group as it strives to reach the top eight.
“We’ve got to keep battling and we’re definitely in this race,” DeBrincat said, from MSG. “He (Dorion) believes in us, that we can get there. It’s for the future, too, but it’s exciting to bring him in and get this push . . . it’s fun playing meaningful games.”
Not only is Chychrun a good fit for the young core in the Senators room, he has numerous ties to the Ottawa area. His father, Jeff Chychrun, grew up in Nepean and went on to become a tough defenceman for the Philadelphia Flyers, LA Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Edmonton Oilers. In 262 games played, Chychrun produced 25 points and 742 penalty minutes.
Jakob Chychrun already has 60 goals and 170 points, with a more reserved 240 PIM in 373 NHL games.
Chychrun still has relatives in the area and visits a family summer cottage on White Lake, near Arnprior.
In a way, the young D-man is coming home.
And the Senators could not be happier.
*The conditional first-round pick acquired from Ottawa is top-five protected and would become an unprotected first-rounder in 2024. If the Senators reach the Eastern Conference final this spring, the conditional second-round selection next year becomes a top-10-protected first, and if that condition happens would then move to an unprotected first in 2025.