Does A Jakob Chychrun Trade Make Sense For the Buffalo Sabres?

Derek Gee / Buffalo News

The Arizona Coyotes have been trying to trade Jakob Chychrun for an eternity. He first made his request before the beginning of the 2021-22 season, and the Coyotes have been trying to find a partner ever since.

“The team approached me a couple of times, one before the [2021-22 season], one early in the season and we just had discussions about where I was mentally and where the team was at,” Chychrun said prior to the 2021-22 season. “Knowing the type of competitor and person that I am, they indicated if this rebuild was going to be hard or difficult on me that, if I wanted to be in a different situation, they were going to be willing to make that happen.”

“[I] decided to take them up on that offer and try to move on to a better situation [because of] my desire to win in this league. Careers are so short, the time flies by, and I’m in my seventh year in the NHL. It’s just crazy. 

“I don’t want these years to keep going by and be 10, 12 years in and not had a real good chance at not only the playoffs, but winning the Stanley Cup. That’s really my mentality and where I’m at and I think the team understands that, to get moved to a situation with a chance to win and a team that’s fighting for the Stanley Cup.”

With his trade request still looming, the Sabres were recently linked to Chychrun by Jeff Marek on Hockey Night In Canada, where he said the Sabres could be a “dark horse” for Coyotes defensemen. Before this year, I felt a trade for Chychrun would not be the best for the Sabres’ future, but I have since switched my thinking and would be on board if the value makes sense.

My reasons for originally not wanting the Sabres to give up significant assets for Chychrun were:

  1. I wasn’t convinced the Sabres had a deep enough forward core to give up significant assets to help a different area of the team.
  2. I wasn’t sure that they needed another high-level defenseman with Owen Power and Rasmus Dahlin already in the lineup.
  3. I wasn’t comfortable giving up the assets that the Coyotes would ask for in return.
  4. The similarity to moves made by Tim Murray to accelerate a rebuild that ultimately failed.

The first concern has been alleviated by the steps taken forward by the Sabres’ young forwards. I believed Tage Thompson could be a good second-line center, but I wasn’t convinced he could carry the responsibilities of a first-line on a contending team. Thompson’s play since the start of this season has me now believing he is a legitimate top-line, difference-making center. Through 26 games this year Thompson has put up 21 goals and 40 points. As for counting stats, the Sabres’ 5v5 xGF% with Thompson on ice is 50.77% according to NaturalStatTrick, an improvement from last year. Top-liners Alex Tuch and Jeff Skinner are also on pace for career years. The Sabres have a legitimate top-line force.

Down the lineup, the Sabres have seen positive results. Rookies J.J. Peterka and Jack Quinn and center Dylan Cozens have been the Sabres’ second-best line this season. In a limited sample, the line is putting up a 64.48 xGF%. While this is not a sustainable rate and will likely regress, it makes for a successful second line with plenty of youth. Peterka is 20 years old and Quinn and Cozens are both 21. This line will likely improve as the players age and mature.

My second concern was the lack of need for defense, as Chychrun would be a luxury in presence of Dahlin and Power. While the move remains a luxury move, it would have lasting effects up and down the pairings. Dahlin is currently averaging over 26 minutes a night and handling it well, but a decrease in minutes is smart in preventing injury. Power is averaging over 23 minutes a night, unheard of for a 19-year-old defenseman. Both players are shouldering heavy loads with Mattias Samuelsson and Henri Jokiharju out with injuries, but that could be lessened with Chychrun to take some pressure off. The Sabres’ bottom pair of Jacob Bryson and Ilya Lyubushkin has also struggled this year after acquiring Lyubushkin in free agency. Adding a player of Chychrun’s caliber allows Bryson to transition to a seventh defenseman role and could give Lyubushkin a lift.

My next concern was the cost of acquisition. It was originally rumored that the Coyotes wanted a Jack Eichel-esque package for Chychrun, the equivalent of two first-round picks, a second-round pick, and a good roster player. I was not comfortable with this price, and still wouldn’t be, but it has been rumored that less could get the trade done.

The Sabres can meet a smaller demand, and I think they would be smart to do so. They could give up either their first-round pick with top-ten protection this year or their first-round pick in 2024, one of their young prospects such as Noah Ostlund (16th overall, 2022), Isak Rosen (14th overall, 2021) or Peyton Krebs (21 years old), and a less-essential roster player like Casey Mittelstadt or Victor Oloffson. Buffalo can then sweeten the deal with a late-round pick or the rights to Ryan Johnson and Erik Portillo, two college players who look like they won’t sign in Buffalo.

The last concern questions whether the Sabres are ready for a move of this caliber. Does a pricey trade speed up the rebuild too fast? In 2015, for example, the Sabres experienced such a situation when previous general manager Tim Murray traded away picks and prospects to win immediately after drafting Jack Eichel.

However, there are key differences between this team and 2015’s team. The current team possesses a depth of prospects, better preparing them for a trade. At the NHL level, there are currently four forwards and one defenseman playing on entry-level deals. In addition, the Sabres also have a plethora of prospects in the AHL, and below. Trading away a few pieces won’t dry the well.

Another element that cannot be overlooked is the Sabres’ organic improvement, an element the 2014 team lacked prior to gaining Eichel. The 2014 Sabres were not trying to succeed. In fact, management intentionally fielded as bad of a team as they realistically could. Thus, a move directly from failure into contention wasn’t realistic. This iteration of the rebuild has improved organically after bottoming out in 2021. A move to boost their potential wouldn’t be out of line.

If the Sabres do end up trading for Jakob Chychrun, it will arguably be the biggest gamble that Kevyn
Adams has taken as General Manager, but I believe it is a gamble worth taking. Chychrun has the potential to push this team that much closer to finally ending the league’s current longest playoff drought.

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