Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan reportedly wanted defenseman Jakob Chychrun a year ago when the Arizona Coyotes put him on the trade market. He wanted the team to make a push for him, and despite his team-friendly salary, relatively low trade cost and overall production former general manager Ron Hextall was unable — and/or unwilling — to acquire him. The Coyotes ended up trading him to the Ottawa Senators for three draft picks.
New general manager Kyle Dubas might have a chance to revisit that idea.
With the Senators being one of the league’s biggest disappointments this season, combined with Chychrun reportedly not being high on the idea of re-signing with the team when his contract expires after the 2024-25 season, there is talk he could be moved before the early March trade deadline. The Senators are looking to make changes and teams have not been told that Chychrun isn’t available.
Should the Penguins re-visit this?
Adding another defenseman should be extremely high on Dubas’ to-do list over the next month-and-a-half, and Chychrun could be one of the best potential options available on the trade market. With Ryan Graves being a massive disappointment and the rest of the defense below him failing to take a step forward, the Penguins have a huge need for another top-four caliber defenseman, especially on the left side. Graves does not look to be the answer, while none of Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Chad Ruhwedel, John Ludvig or Ryan Shea are realistic options for a potential playoff push in a bigger role.
Chychrun may not be a dominant presence defensively, but he is still an extremely productive player that can bring a lot to any roster. He is on pace for 14 goals and 50 points this season, while also posting solid underlying and possession numbers on what has been an overall bad defensive hockey team.
He also still has a team-friendly contract and should, in theory, cost less in terms of trade assets than he did a year ago.
His salary cap hit of $4.6 million through the end of next season makes him a strong bargain given his production and age (he is still in his prime years at age 25), while the Senators did not have to give up anything other than draft pick assets to acquire him at the deadline with an extra year still remaining on that contract. Ottawa sent a first-round pick and two second-round picks to Arizonaa to acquire him. It required no other prospects or players.
All of that is very reasonable and should be again this season.
The biggest obstacles for the Penguins would be salary cap space, the (likely) lack of a 2024 first-round pick and whether or not Chychrun is what they need this season.
The Penguins’ 2024 pick is likely going to San Jose as part of the Erik Karlsson trade, but it is top-10 protected. Meaning if the Penguins miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs and end up winning a pick inside the top-10, it would actually be their 2025 first-round pick that goes to San Jose. That could complicate potential trade options.
They are also — as always — pressed to the upper limits of the league’s salary cap this season, but there are always ways around that from retained salary, to getting a third team involved, to the Penguins finding a way to dump salary either in a hypothetical trade with Ottawa or another team. The salary cap should never be considered a dealbreaker. Just a minor obstacle that sometimes needs to be cleared.
Then comes the question of fit and whether or not somebody with his skillset would be overkill on a roster that already has Kris Letang and Karlsson.
And honestly, I am not sure that it is.
The biggest thing the Penguins need on defense is simply more good players. Specifically another player that is good enough to play in the top-four.
I actually think he could work well alongside Letang on the top-pairing and allow the Penguins to comfortably leave Marcus Pettersson alongside Karlsson, a duo that has been extremely productive this season. Letang has always been at his best when he is paired with another player that has offensive skill and the ability too keep up with him, and Chychrun would absolutely provide that sort of presence. The fact he is still in his prime years and signed for a below market rate should only make him more attractive.
The Penguins are still very much a bubble playoff team at the moment, but it still seems way more likely that they will be buyers than sellers going into the trade deadline. At least as long as they are in a playoff position or close to it. While there is always a desire for more forward depth, adding another defenseman seems like the far more pressing need at the moment. The top two lines are still providing a lot of offense and the bottom-six is doing its job defensively. There is at least a path there for a competitive group. The defense, on the other hand, only has three players that you can confidently rely on right now in a top-four role. That is simply not enough.