Everyone is fantasy trading Jakob Chychrun to the Leafs lately. This comes as news that Jake Muzzin in on LTIR, which means he’s not able to play for at least 24 days, but also that Timothy Liljegren and Jordie Benn are healthy enough to go on conditioning loans to the AHL for a few days. That last bit comes with no guarantees of an immediate return to NHL-level action, however.

In the interim, while the Leafs are in California, Filip Král has been recalled. This gives the team seven defenders, 14 healthy forwards (Kyle Clifford is also on IR now) and two goalies.

Does adding Chychrun right now make any sense?

The Price

Nick Kypreos, writing in the Star thinks that Arizona won’t demand Matt Knies, but would graciously take one of Rasmus Sandin, Timothy Liljegren or Topi Niemelä along with at least one first-round pick, maybe two. He does allow as how the Leafs should not trade right-shooting defenders. He’s worked in a Kerfoot trade too, like everyone does.

Michael Traikos typed something I’m not going to read, but the Hockey News did:

Meanwhile, Postmedia’s Michael Traikos proposed the Leafs offer up Robertson and a 2023 first-round pick as well as Kerfoot if Muzzin isn’t out for the season. He acknowledged Robertson’s potential as a top-six forward but felt the Leafs are already well-stocked at those positions while their defense is a more pressing need.

The Player

There is a sort of elegant efficiency to acquiring a defenceman who comes pre-injured. It saves so much time, and he’d fit in right away. This is Kypreos on the upside of Chychrun:

Chychrun doesn’t come without his flaws — his injury history for one. His body has been through a lot the last few years — surgeries on both knees, his shoulder, and most recently his wrist and ankle. But he is just 24 years old and youth is on his side. His feel for the game has also been questioned.

Okay, to be fair, Kypreos does mention that Chychrun plays a lot and scores on the power play.

Chychrun is entering his seventh season on the Coyotes, and the most games he’s ever played was 68 in his rookie year. He’s spent his career on bad teams, playing more and more minutes as the defenders with huge salaries above him on the depth chart were traded away, but he is yet to play a game this year.

He is a left-shooting defender, and his claim to fame has always been goals, not points. Kypreos compares him to Rielly, based, it seems, on Chychrun’s recent usage in Arizona. Comparing them over the run of the last seven years reveals this:

  • Rielly has played 2,700 more minutes and 88 more games
  • Rielly has a points rate of 1.76 to Chychrun’s 1.21
  • Their Individual Expected Goals per 60 is .36 and .3, but the Goals per 60 is .45 and .31 (Chychrun/Rielly)
  • Chychrun shoots the puck at a rate of 14 per 60, Rielly at 13.
  • Chychrun shoots slightly over his expected shooting %, Rielly right on it./

What that means is that to match Rielly’s points output, Chychrun has to play as much, and you have to believe that his low assist rate is due to poor teammates, and it would rise on a better team. Most of his fame as a top player is resting on his slight amount of shooting talent — not the most common skill in a defenceman, to be fair.

In their most recent three seasons, 2018 to 2021, Rielly is exactly what we know him to be by most measures — extremely gifted at generating offence, okay at shotshare and pretty bad at defending. His extremes are his hallmark. Chychrun is a blander, less able player offensively, with some average to good defending.

Just to remind everyone — including Kypreos, it seems — Rielly isn’t going anywhere. And the player a Chychrun trade replaces is Jake Muzzin now and potentially Rasmus Sandin in the future. His mildly good results on a terrible team at 24 (peak age of NHL performance) is not the kind of performance you want to see in someone you consider your number two or three defender.

They’re both named Jake, that’s the biggest similarity.

The Contract

Chychrun is under contract for three more years at $4.6 million per year. He has a modified no-trade in his next two years (the reason Arizona is hyped to trade him this season) which adds a 10-team no-trade list.

His contract is lower than Muzzin’s in real dollars and in % of the cap when signed, but not by very much.

Does it Make Sense?

No, of course not. The Leafs need another iffy left-shooting defender with a reputation bigger than his ability like they need another defender on IR.

Any team trading for Chychrun now, while Arizona can ask for two first-round picks or top prospects who haven’t had multiple surgeries on their knees, is taking a gamble. Gambling teams need to have a lot of things to gamble with, so they don’t value them as much, and they also can’t be in a position of actual need for the player.

The Leafs used to be gamblers like this. They used to take chances, and add contracts and it was fun and exciting and the stakes were nothing more than the risk some guy would type something in the Toronto Sun that was negative about your choice — after the fact, when it’s easy to be condescendingly smarter than that GM in the glasses.

The Leafs now put loonies in the slot machine over in the corner by the door to the garbage bins. They take their Michael Buntings and their David Kämpfs and they go home happy they got something that might work out. They don’t pour all their money out on the roulette table and bet it on “might actually play a full season someday”.

Ottawa seems to be out of the running for Arizona, and Los Angeles has been mentioned as a likely team because they tick those boxes on lots of assets and willingness to gamble on the player not working out.

At some point, once people notice Chychrun’s uncle is the head coach of Chicago, we’ll see the idea that Chicago will trade for him now, and then when he’s proven himself, flip him to a contender. But Arizona has zero reason to trade him now. That’s the part of this that makes it make no sense at all. They don’t need to worry about Chychrun’s trade demand, they’re in on this together — he gets in games, they play him huge minutes and every power play, he looks good as the obvious best player on the team, and they both walk away happy in March.

And it still won’t make sense for the Leafs then.

You know what does make sense right now, given that Muzzin could be out long term, and Liljegren is about to return? Ethan Bear. But that’s a story for another day.