Well, Pierre Dorion has gone and done it again. With the acquisition of Jakob Chychrun from the Arizona Coyotes, there can be no doubt that the Ottawa Senators are well and truly in their competitive window. It’s an open question as to whether the addition of Chychrun will be enough to jolt the team to a play-off spot this season, they remain longshots despite their two stunning routs of the Detroit Red Wings, but you no longer have to squint to see the outline of a quality team. Since the end of last season, the Sens have added Claude Giroux, Alex DeBrincat, and now Chychrun to their young core — all without giving up any of their most promising young players and prospects. If the goal was to turbo-charge the rebuild, then it’s mission accomplished.
Chychrun has long been rumoured to be on his way out of Arizona, who at this point seem less and less like a functional NHL organization every day, and the Sens have been linked to the rugged defender for almost the entire duration of said rumours. There’s a lot to like in Chychrun’s game: the 2016 first round pick is a rugged defender who skates well, moves the puck sharply, and has a big shot to boot. He’s racked up 28 points in the 36 games he’s played this year, and his underlying shot and chance metrics look good. He’s been one of the lone bright spots in Arizona for years now, and the team has been capable when he’s on the ice and a disaster when he’s off it this season. Micah McCurdy’s model at hockeyviz views Chychrun as a positive contributor, if not a world-beater, on both the offensive and defensive end:
For most of his time behind the Ottawa bench, DJ Smith has had to try to make the best of a bad situation on the backend. Now, seemingly all of sudden, he finds himself with a surplus of talent and virtually no bad choices — except for sitting Erik Brännström, that would be a bad choice. No matter how you arrange the presumed top four of Chychrun, Thomas Chabot, Artem Zub, and Jake Sanderson, you’re going to end up with two quality pairings. I cannot think of a time that the Sens could had two pairings of this calibre since 2006; to say it’s a breath of fresh air would be a massive understatement.
The acquisition of Chychrun also signals the definitive “end” of the rebuild, if there was any doubt about such a thing before. One could have argued the acquisitions of Giroux and DeBrincat were the actual end, but there was still a gaping hole on the right side of the defense and the Sens had mostly (DeBrincat trade aside) resisted moving key draft picks. The eventual price to acquire Chychrun was by no means unreasonable, one might even say Dorion got a pretty good deal, but the Sens are now without picks in any of the first three rounds of this year’s draft. Teams that are trying to win now make trades to improve their current lot at the expense of potentially weakening their future. You don’t trade all of these picks for DeBrincat and Chychrun if you’re not trying to win today. All of the top prospects except for Ridly Greig have graduated to full-time NHL duty. The cupboards aren’t quite barren, but the future is now; that’s also a good thing.
Rebuilds are supposed to end eventually, and the teardown that the Sens went through was particularly brutal at times. This is the reward: a talented, young-ish core, with almost all of the key parts locked up to long-term deals. There’s no more waiting, no more building, now it’s winning time. Is this team good enough to actually contend beyond a wildcard spot? That’s a question to be answered in time. That it’s even a question is a sign of just how far the Sens have come. The Ottawa Senators are going for it.
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