The Minnesota Wild defense is finally getting healthy. On Saturday night, Jared Spurgeon returned to the Wild lineup and immediately put up four points in two games. Jonas Brodin is skating again and could be back in action as soon as this weekend.
To say their presences are welcome is an understatement. Minnesota sorely missed their two best defenders, who have been in and out of the lineup with injuries and illness. Their return will allow the Wild to reclaim their status as having one of the best blue lines in hockey.
Spurgeon, Brodin, and Matt Dumba are Minnesota’s core, all capable of excelling with 20-plus minutes of ice time. Alex Goligoski may be aging out of that role but still is racking up assists this year. Dmitry Kulikov and Jon Merrill are a solid third-pair when they are able to play that role. Despite losing Ryan Suter, the Wild blue line ranks fifth in the NHL in points.
So when general manager Bill Guerin goes shopping at the trade deadline, no one thinks he’s looking for a defenseman. And with salary cap hell rapidly approaching, even fewer people believe Minnesota’s targeting a player with term.
Therefore, Jakob Chychrun, the Arizona Coyotes defenseman whose availability is drawing hype around the league, shouldn’t even be discussed, right?
Wrong. It may sound insane at first, but Chychrun would be an amazing upgrade for Minnesota in the short-term while also fitting in their long-term plans.
Chychrun is having an incredibly rough start to the season. Coming off back-to-back seasons with double-digit goals, including 18 in 56 games last year, Chychrun only just two goals and eight points in 30 games. His underlying metrics aren’t much prettier. He’s been a drag on the Coyotes’ offense and has cost them a point in the standings this year.
Sure, Arizona definitely doesn’t need that point. But still, Chychrun is a great player excelling on a dumpster fire team. He’s one of the flames this year.
But there’s reason to believe this year is a one-off. First of all, Chychrun’s defense has been significantly better than his minus-31 suggests. He allows 2.33 expected goals per hour at 5-on-5, which is 79th among 199 defensemen with 200-plus minutes. Considering that’s on the Coyotes, that’s pretty good.
The problem is that his goalies are putting up an .871 save percentage behind him. That’s dead last among defensemen, who don’t have much control in whether their goalies make a save or not. So that 4.01 goals against per hour, that’s not on him.
Frankly, nor is the fact that his play is sagging on a moribund Coyotes team. Face it, he’s been there for six years, and all he knows is losing. Arizona (rightfully) went into full tank mode last summer, and they’ve got 10 wins through 41 games. Can you blame the guy for having a bad season?
No, especially when he’s been outstanding recently and is only 23 years old. Chychrun finished in the Top-25 in Evolving Hockey’s Standings Points Above Replacement in 2019-20 and 2020-21 and was worth a combined 6.3 points in the standings.
In Expected SPAR, which accounts for the fact that his teammates shoot worse than Kyle Brodziak on a cold streak, he’s even better. He finished 10th in 2019-20 and first last year, with his play expected to be worth 5.9 points in the standings. Even accounting for his subpar play this year, his previous three seasons are incredible. The guy drives the bus offensively; it’s just that his bus is empty.
A healthy Wild may not have a pressing need for Chychrun, but he’s no doubt an upgrade. The Wild’s left-side defensemen are Brodin, Goligoski, Merrill, and Jordie Benn. When Brodin is injured, that group gets exposed big-time. Chychrun would provide Minnesota insurance along that side while giving them star-caliber play throughout their top-4.
To put it another way, if you like Goligoski as your No. 4 defenseman, wait till you see him as a No. 5.
But as much as Chychrun would be an upgrade for this year, the real prize is how seamlessly he fits into Minnesota’s long-term plans. He delivers elite play on a $4.6 million cap hit, which is precisely the kind of value that Minnesota is building their roster around.
As for the term, it’s perfect. Chychrun is signed through summer 2025, meaning that he stays affordable until the Wild’s cap hell subsides. There’s no other young, elite player on the trade market who lines up this perfectly. Minnesota can eat up 22-24 minutes a night with an elite player for the price of two Kulikovs.
Trading for Chychrun also takes a lot of pressure off the Wild’s development of their young defensemen. Minnesota selected Carson Lambos, Ryan O’Rourke, Jack Peart, and Daemon Hunt in the last two drafts. All play the left side and are developing well, but they may still need years of seasoning. Chychrun allows them to not rush any of those defensemen into the NHL.
Of course, this would come with a pretty big cost. Arizona’s asking price is reportedly the familiar “Young player plus prospect plus pick” trope. Basically, what the Buffalo Sabres got for Jack Eichel. Like Buffalo did with Eichel, Arizona’s starting from an insanely high ask. Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek speculates that they’d want Spencer Knight, Anton Lundell, and a first from the Florida Panthers, for example.
But as we saw with the Eichel saga, those prices never get met. Teams don’t trade elite, NHL-ready prospects, and certainly not two of them. The New York Rangers are apparently centering their offer around Vitali Kravtsov, a former first-round pick who’s underperformed and fallen out of favor in the organization.
That kind of prospect hoarding could take many teams out of the running, but Minnesota’s prospect pool is remarkably deep. They can offer the Coyotes any of the four defensemen, for example. Lambos would be a fairly obvious pick. He’s putting up over a point per game in the WHL and made Team Canada’s World Junior team. There’s a lot of upside there.
The Wild may not have an Alex Tuch to offer but does a 24-year-old like Jordan Greenway or a 25-year-old Kevin Fiala, who’s one year away from UFA status, really fit Arizona’s plans, anyway? Probably not.
But what Minnesota can offer is a second higher-end prospect. Adam Beckman, a shooting machine in Iowa who nearly made the Wild out of camp. Despite being buried in a deep SKA lineup, Marat Khusnutdinov is also developing well in Russia. Either Beckman or Khusnutdinov could join Lambos and a first-round pick for an attractive package.
There’s no indication that the Wild have entered the Chychrun Sweepstakes. Their defense is a strength, and they may want to address other needs this year. But making a play for Chychrun would bring them yet another top-level talent in the organization and does so while helping Minnesota compete through the dark salary cap days ahead. It’s the exact kind of outside-the-box thinking that can keep the young Wild’s momentum going.
All data from Evolving Hockey unless otherwise indicated.