Five Thoughts For Friday: Jakob Chychrun is an Ottawa Senator
What a week to be a fan of the Ottawa Senators
The best defense we’ve had in years?
Well, this season has been a bit of a rollercoaster, hasn’t it?
Chychrun feels like the last big piece the Sens needed. The roster they’ve constructed may not be ready to compete for the Cup just yet, but they look poised to be a playoff team for years to come. They looked legitimately good against the Rangers last night.
And wow, does it ever feel good to finally say that they’ve sorted out the defense - something we’ve been waiting for since the days of the pizza line.
Sanderson’s emergence as a legit top-4 defenseman and Brännström’s solid play on the third pairing has already given this team a very good left side, but the drop-off after Zub on the right side was noticeable. Having your 3 best defensemen all being left shots isn’t ideal, but it’s hard to complain when you have that level of talent on the back end.
Based on what I’ve been reading about Chychrun, it sounds like he fits into the Thomas Chabot category of “probably won’t ever win the Norris trophy, but still definitely a #1 defenseman.” You might not want to build your entire defense around a guy like that, but having two of them - possibly even three, if Sanderson keeps this up - is fantastic. Add in Zub, who’s a great complimentary piece and makes everyone he plays with better, and Brännström on the third pairing, and the only thing you’re missing is a guy to play on the right side of the third pairing. That’s a much more reasonable ask of Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson than what the Sens have expected from them up until now. I can’t believe I’m actually writing these words, but that is a legitimately good defense lineup.
The Ottawa Senators have a very good - and very deep - group of defensemen. I won’t lie: there were times when I thought I’d never see the day.
Well well well, look who was right about the Detroit Red Wings.
Avid readers of this site will know that I love a good rivalry, and that I’ve been trying to make a Sens vs Red Wings rivalry happen for months now.
The two teams’ rebuild timelines have more or less coincided. About a year ago now, there was a lot of talk about how similarly they were built as well - you could compare Raymond to Stützle, Chabot to Seider, Sanderson to Edvinsson, and Tkachuk to Bertuzzi (lol). Larkin and Chabot are also close in age and play similar roles on their teams. When you go up and down the lineup like that, it’s pretty clear that the Sens are better on paper, and yet because of basically everything about the two franchises, the Red Wings tend to get the benefit of the doubt. Fair enough, I guess.
This week’s mini-series between the two teams showed us just how much potential this rivalry has. It felt so good to watch the Sens pummel a team that was supposed to be at their level - especially since so many people seemed to think the Red Wings were farther along in their rebuild. It also felt great to revel in the anger of Detroit fans. The Sens had fun, and so did we.
After adding DeBrincat during the summer and Chychrun on Wednesday, the Sens are now set to go two consecutive years without drafting in the first round, and won’t have any selections in the first three rounds of this year’s famously deep draft. Those are valuable picks, and I definitely think there’s reason to be nervous about the Sens giving up so many picks so willingly when they still aren’t completely out of the rebuild phase. In the cap era especially, you need to keep drafting young players so that you have a few guys on ELCs all the time. I also think it’s important to consider the Zaitsev trade as part of the Chychrun deal, because the latter doesn’t get done without the former. That’s a first, two seconds and a fourth for the upgrade on defense, which to be honest is still pretty fantastic.
Really, it’s hard to complain when you look at the quality of player they got in both trades. While other teams are throwing around first rounders for good-but-not-great veterans or depth pieces, the Sens landed the best forward and the best defenseman on the market. They would have been lucky to get a player of Alex DeBrincat’s calibre at the top of the 2022 draft, and even the 2023 draft isn’t guaranteed to give them a defenseman as good as Chychrun - especially one ready to play in the NHL right away.
This is good asset management, and it’s exactly what the team should be doing. They had their years of accumulating as many draft picks as possible. The last few years have been about figuring out which players are going to stick around and where they’ll slot into the lineup. Going into the 2022 offseason, they knew exactly where the holes in the lineup were, and they went out and got the players they needed. They’ve now pretty much constructed the roster for the next few years, and that’s assuming none of their prospects take off! I don’t think we need to worry about draft picks.
The other big concern about this trade is the addition of another contract to a team that’s already getting kind of close to the salary cap. With DeBrincat and Pinto needing new contracts this summer and Sanderson with just one more year left on his ELC after this one, there is actual reason to be worried about the Sens’ cap situation moving forward. It’s not as bad as you might think, though.
CapFriendly projects the Sens to have $16,150,953 in cap space this summer, assuming the cap goes up the expected $1M. Most of that will go to DeBrincat, and we don’t know exactly how much that will be. When the Sens first traded for him, we expected something in the 9 to 10 million dollar range, but this season might have driven his asking price down to something closer to the $8M the rest of the core has signed. We don’t know. Pinto will sign for less than that. Brännström will also need a new contract. Seven other (less important) guys are free agents, so the Sens will need to either give those players new contracts, or replace them with guys on ELCs (and they won’t need to replace all of them, as they don’t need all those roster spots). It’s going to be tight, but I managed it on CapFriendly Armchair GM.
Personally, I’m not worried about DeBrincat. Dorion has been negotiating with him since the summer; he must have an idea of what the player is asking for, and he must think he can sign him if he’s bringing in Chychrun as well.
I think that if the Sens do end up in salary cap trouble, Pinto is much more likely to be the odd man out. Pinto has been good this season, but the Sens can replace him internally if they need to, with Greig looking NHL-ready and still on his ELC. It would suck, but if they do have to trade him I’m sure they could get really good value.
It’s also way too early to be worrying about the cap situation in 2024. They’ll have dead money coming off the books and the cap is supposed to go up anyways. They should have a bit more money to work with by then.
Brady Tkachuk is the ultimate Ottawa Senator
As expected, Brady Tkachuk stole the show in those two games against Detroit, and not just on the scoreboard. On Monday, he made a big show of challenging the entire Red Wings bench to a fight, for reasons only he can understand. On Tuesday, he celebrated a goal by flexing on the opposing players. He is the funniest man in the world.
It got me thinking about how it’s kind of impossible to deal with him when he starts goofing off. If any of the Red Wings players had taken Brady up on his challenge, he would have gladly fought them. They didn’t, so he got the last word. Yes, he looked very silly, but do you think Brady Tkachuk of all people cares about looking silly? You simply can’t win against him.
It’s perfect because that’s exactly the energy the Sens fanbase has. You can’t hurt us, because we know the team has nothing to brag about. We have fun chirping other teams, whether they’re above or below us in the standings. Brady gets it.