Interest in Jakub Chychrun has picked up where it left off as we near the deadline, with many teams, including the Ottawa Senators, asking after the Arizona Coyotes’ top defenceman. The cost of bringing in a player of his calibre will be high, but a recent SportsNet panel featuring Anson Carter offered an interesting trade proposal, suggesting that the Senators could give up Ridly Greig, Zack Ostapchuk, Mads Sogaard, and Tyler Kleven for Chychrun and goalie Karel Vejmelka.
This seems like a massive overpayment, especially after Greig’s performance in his first few games, but Carter, a veteran of 10 NHL seasons and owner of the Atlanta Gladiators, may have some insight. If that’s the price tag the Coyotes are looking for, the Senators need to look somewhere else to bolster their blue line. Thankfully, there are plenty of talented yet underrated options around the league. Here are three targets I think the Senators need to consider, along with a few honourable mentions.
The Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets have a lot in common this season; after going all out in the offseason, they have fallen well short of expectations. Columbus has been severely hampered by injuries; Jake Bean, Jakub Voracek, and Zack Werenski have been out since November, while Patrik Laine has missed nearly a third of the season. That’s put them in the “seller” category heading up to the deadline, and the Senators should take advantage of that.
While all eyes will be on Vladislav Gavrikov, the Senators should instead look to Andrew Peeke. Whereas Gavrikov is a left-handed shot who becomes a free agent at the end of the season, Peeke is three years younger, right-handed, and is signed for four more seasons at nearly half the price. Given his age and contract, the Senators would have a much better chance of helping him integrate and develop alongside the team’s young core.
Peeke is not simply a better option in terms of age and term. His advanced stats suggest that he’s a far more reliable defenceman, and with the Senators struggling to find consistency on the back end, he could bring some much-needed stability. He sits eighth on the team with a 2.65 expected goals-against per 60 minutes, first on the team among defencemen who have played at least 20 games. His 11.95 high-danger chances against per 60 minutes also rank first among the team’s regular defenders. That puts him on par with Jake Sanderson and Artem Zub, the two best defensive defencemen for the Senators this season.
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However, there’s a chance Peeke won’t be available; after all, the Blue Jackets just signed him to an extension at the beginning of 2022-23. But Columbus has one more intriguing option in Jake Christiansen, a 23-year-old left-shot defender who’s been very sound through 18 games. Although he has a smaller sample size than Peeke, he averages fewer high-danger chances per 60 minutes, a higher Corsi for %, and a lower expected goals-against per 60 minutes. If the Senators don’t want to pay top dollar for a defenceman, then Christiansen could be a viable option.
In the first few months of the season, Sens general manager Pierre Dorion was reported to be actively looking for a top-four defenceman. That flurry of activity led him to call the Chicago Blackhawks about Seth Jones. The Blackhawks will be selling everything they can leading up to the deadline, but even so, it’s unlikely anything happens in this situation. With his $9.5 million cap hit that extends until 2029-30, Jones isn’t going anywhere right now.
His brother, Caleb Jones, on the other hand, is a much more attractive option for the Senators. He is fifth among Chicago’s defencemen with 136 high-danger chances against, but only 8% of those chances have resulted in goals; his older brother, on the other hand, has faced 20 more high-danger chances this season yet has seen 16% of them become goals. Caleb also has a better Corsi for % than Seth, sitting second just behind Jake McCabe among defencemen this season. Add in the fact that the 25-year-old Caleb can play both right and left sides, and he is a restricted free agent at the end of the season, and the Senators could have a valid top-four defenceman target.
However, like Peeke, there’s reason to believe that the Blackhawks may prefer to hang on to the younger Jones, as he was part of the deal that sent Duncan Keith to the Edmonton Oilers at the end of 2020-21. If that’s the case, then the Senators may be able to look to McCabe, who’s been Chicago’s best defensive defenceman this season and has become a deadline trade target. His expected goals-against per 60 and high-danger chances per 60 are both lower than Jones’, but he is also best suited for a bottom-six role, whereas Ottawa needs a top-four option.
There’s also the issue of McCabe’s seven-team no-trade clause, which likely includes all the Canadian teams aside from the Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s unfortunate, as he’s having a breakout season and would likely gain interest from those clubs. He’s consistent when healthy, and at 29 years old, he is far from over the hill. His contract is also fairly attractive, as he’s signed for two more seasons at $4 million AAV. If Ottawa could swing a deal, though, he would be a candidate to take over Travis Hamonic’s spot on the second pairing.
It’s difficult to tell where the Vancouver Canucks are heading. A week ago, they finally traded their captain Bo Horvat, sending him to the New York Islanders for Aatu Raty, a first-round pick, and Anthony Beauvillier. But just before the trade, they signed pending restricted free agent Andrei Kuzmenko to a two-year, $5.5 million extension, essentially taking him off a market that would have paid top dollar for him.
Teams are undoubtedly scrambling to try and take advantage of the strange situation in Vancouver, and if the Senators want to get in on the action, they should be calling about Ethan Bear. After coming over from the Carolina Hurricanes in October, he’s been the Canucks’ second-best defenceman. His Corsi for is at 51.05%, just behind Quinn Hughes, and his expected goals-against per 60 minutes and high-danger chances per 60 are first among all players with at least 20 games under their belt this season.
Bear is likely one of the best options for the Senators. He’s 25 years old and is just starting to come into his own offensively but also has a very effective defensive game. At $2.2 million, he’s one of the cheapest options available that could come in and play 20 minutes a night – Bear’s season high is 21:30, and he averages around 18 minutes with the Canucks. His deal does expire at the end of the season, which does add a mild complication for the Senators, as they still have to get Alex DeBrincat under contract, but if they can move Nikita Zaitsev in the coming weeks, that won’t be an issue.
If the Canucks are adamant about keeping Bear, Luke Scheen could be an option, but it’s far less ideal. He’s been as defensively sound as they come this season and has two Stanley Cups on his resume, but at 33, he won’t be getting much better than he is now. Instead, he’d be another Hamonic or Nick Holden for the Senators: an aging veteran who will be gone in a season or two. That’s not what Ottawa needs. They need young stars nearing the top of their game, who can support their All-Star core already in place, and Schenn doesn’t fit that.
Senators Need to Be Smart at the Deadline
The Senators will be tempted to sell off their most valuable assets at the deadline, especially with the 2023 NHL Draft looking to be one of the deepest in recent memory. But if they truly want to be competitive as early as next season, they need to keep building their team up, not tearing it down. Right now, Dorion’s efforts need to be focused on getting DeBrincat signed to a multi-year deal and addressing the team’s weak defence. If he fails to do anything impactful in the coming weeks and months, then fans can expect to be in a similar place next season, which will result in much more drastic changes.
Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick and Hockey Reference