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This Is How The Coyotes Do Business

9:52 AM EST on March 2, 2023

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 10: Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun (6) looks on during an NHL game against the Chicago Blackhawks on February 10, 2023 at United Center in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It makes sense, if you take each piece individually. It makes sense that, after having been trade bait since the Earth was still cooling, Jakob Chychrun would fetch an underwhelming return compared to what was being discussed this time last year, since he's one season closer to his 2025 free agency. It makes sense that win-nowish teams, deeply interested in Chychrun's services, would abandon the race and look elsewhere for blue line help once it became clear that the Coyotes were not going to assume any salary. It makes sense that the Ottawa Senators, with no particular cap crunch and a roster trending in the right direction, would leap at the chance to acquire a No. 1-type defenseman for a paltry price. And it makes sense that Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong, with orders from ownership not to take on money of any kind, would accept said anemic return, and be forced to defend it publicly, to everyone's embarrassment. It's all logical enough if you consider the Coyotes an NHL franchise in only the most technical sense; everything else falls into place after that.

Chychrun, still just 24 years old, is headed to Ottawa for the shockingly low price of a first-round pick and two seconds. He is the jewel of the deadline, yet he didn't fetch that much more of a haul than Filip Hronek. That may be more an indictment of the Canucks than anything else, but the Senators still got a steal. Chychrun is a top-pairing skater whose two-way skills are such that he can be reliably paired with just about anyone. He moves the puck, and he loves to shoot, and he's good at it. His offensive skills perhaps overshadow his defending sometimes, but he's more than capable at that end too.

It's the sort of trade where fans of unaffiliated teams grumble "why didn't we make that deal?" You always want to be on the right side of trades like that. On the wrong side are the Arizona Coyotes, who vaguely have a plan and definitively have a lack of money that might help bring that plan to fruition. They want to get young, and cheap, as bad teams are wont to want; but they want to be very young, and very cheap. To the point where Armstrong said the team wasn't even seeking prospects in return for Chychrun, only draft picks.

Given how many teams overvalue picks, that necessarily took a lot of suitors out of the running. But not quite as many as the Yotes' insistence that any deal not include money headed back to Tempe. "Nowadays with the salary cap, as much as the Coyotes have made out from a flat cap, it also makes it hard to do deals because it's money in, money out with a lot of teams," Armstrong said. "To escape with no money taken back was huge for us."

This is a very funny thing to say for a team that is scraping the cap floor. It's also an instructive thing to hear when trying to figure out why teams like Boston, Edmonton, and Carolina, all known to be in on Chychrun but all working near the cap, bailed and acquired other defensemen. Armstrong is right in saying that in the modern NHL with its flat cap of the last few years, being willing to take on money is a frequent part of most big deals. It's one of the places where the bad, cheap teams have an advantage—facilitate the big boys staying cap-compliant, and you can get some nice pieces out of it. That's how it's supposed to work, anyway. When it doesn't work that way, you get things like Pierre Dorion putting in his hat for GM of the year. You also get things like the Coyotes squandering their leverage over the course of a year and a half, and getting worse and fewer draft picks than they might have, just because their ownership doesn't want to spend a few million bucks. Remember that last bit, and it all makes sense.

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