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There is a hallway through which every Coyotes player, including Jakob Chychrun, must pass on the way from their dressing room to the Ice Den Scottsdale’s APEX rink where they practice. It is closed off by double doors on either side and it is heated, making it the place to be for cowardly media members who don’t want to brave what may be the coldest arena in the Valley.
When Chychrun walked through that hallway on his way to practice on Tuesday – his first time on the ice with teammates since Feb. 10 in Chicago — I spotted him.
“Uh-oh, big news here!” I said in an exaggerated tone.
“Better get on Twitter, Craig,” he quipped with a smile.
When he came off the ice after practice, I had a tripod set up to record an interview with coach André Tourigny so Chychrun got back in character. He held up his arms to block the camera, shook his head vigorously and said, ‘No interviews! No interviews!”
It’s been quite a fortnight for the Coyotes defenseman. Ever since he left the lineup for what the team called “trade-related reasons,” media and fans have speculated on what it might mean, and what might be coming.
Some thought a deal was imminent.
When it didn’t materialize, others criticized the Coyotes for pulling Chychrun from the lineup so early in the process, using the occasion to pile on the franchise for its long list of past transgressions.
If you follow the NHL, you probably have an opinion on Chychrun.
“There’s obviously been a lot of coverage on it of late,” teammate Lawson Crouse said, “but we just try and tune it all out.”
That is easier said than done. When former Coyote Keith Yandle was the subject of trade rumors for several seasons, he also tried to tune it out. The truth was that it preyed on his mind.
“Oh, yeah,” Yandle said. “Big time.”
Chychrun hasn’t been subjected to rumors for as long as Yandle was, but there are two factors working in the Coyotes’ favor here. First, they know that Chychrun wants a trade so it’s not like they are losing a teammate who wants to stay, as Yandle did.
The other is that with the increased prevalence of social media and media in general, players are at least versed in every possible narrative that might be spun.
“Probably in your world, there’s a lot of chatter, but not in our world,” Tourigny said. “It’s business as usual.
“It’s not like it’s a situation that happened last month. It’s been a trade situation for a year and a half now or a year and some, so guys were aware of it. We’ve been through it. This year, the attitude of everybody — him and everybody else — is as good as it can be.”
There is no doubt that the market for Chychrun remains robust as the NHL’s March 3 trade deadline approaches. He has done everything in his power to keep it that way by playing some of his best hockey since returning to the lineup from a wrist injury.
Now it’s up to GM Bill Armstrong to find the right deal in a difficult and suddenly flooded marketplace where unexpected teams such as Washington and St. Louis have become sellers.
I spoke to Armstrong on Wednesday night before the Coyotes lost to the Flames. Here are some key takeaways:
Armstrong said that Chychrun will not be in the lineup for any of the three remaining games — Nashville, Chicago and Dallas — before the March 3 trade deadline.
“One of the reasons we held him out so soon was he played a ton of minutes in his last game (at Chicago),” Armstrong said. “After that, we thought we were so close to a deal that we just had to make a decision. It turned out we were not, and then one day led to the next day and here we are today.”
There has been plenty of speculation that Chychrun might have injured himself in those nearly 30 minutes in Chicago. Armstrong quashed that rumor.
“He’s 100 percent healthy and he’s ready to go,” Armstrong said.
The Coyotes made the decision for Chychrun to return to practice so that he would remain as close to game shape and game sharpness as possible, but at every step of the process, Armstrong said that the decision has been a mutual one.
“We’ve had a great understanding on both sides of it and I think Jakob has been a tremendous professional about it,” Armstrong said. “He understood the whole process.”
As for the state of trade talks regarding Chychrun, Armstrong said that there is still “a lot of interest.”
While Armstrong wouldn’t divulge any details on the trade front, a high level of interest doesn’t mean that a deal will get done. Aside from the suddenly flooded market, there is also the reality that most teams are bumping up against the cap and most teams likely want the Coyotes to take back salary to make a deal work.
Team president Xavier Gutierrez has made it clear that the Coyotes are going to run lean during these rebuild years for the franchise — on the ice and off of it. If the Coyotes take on a big salary in a trade such as Chicago did with Nikita Zaitsev, it could handicap what other deals they are able to make at the deadline because there is only so much cash to spend. If they take on a contract with term, it could handcuff them behind this season and stunt the rebuild because they wouldn’t be able to acquire as many assets as they want to stock the cupboard with prospects.
If teams need the Coyotes to take on that sort of salary, it may require bringing in a third team as a broker to make it happen. That further complicates the deal and multiple sources around the league have said that there aren’t as many of those “brokerage houses” available as in past years.
Armstrong doesn’t believe he is asking too much for Chychrun and if you look at recent deals, you understand why. When the Ducks traded Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins, they got Urho Vaakanainen, John Moore, a 2022 first-round pick, and second-round picks in 2023 and 2024. When the Blackhawks traded Brandon Hagel and a fourth-round pick to the Lightning, they got forwards Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh and top-10 protected first-round picks in 2023 and 2024.
Remember, Armstrong does not need to trade Chychrun. He could wait until the draft in Nashville this summer when more teams might enter the fray. He could wait until the 2023-24 season, or he could keep Chychrun for the length of his contract. His short history as GM has been one of patience and firmness. He is candid about his asking price but he doesn’t back down from it.
“I’m really comfortable with the situation and him coming back if we end up on the other side of it,” Armstrong said. “We don’t have a gun to our head. It’s business as usual the next day, whether he’s here or not.”
Armstrong also dismissed any notion that it would be hard for Chychrun to return to the team if a deal does not take place, given all that has transpired.
“It is what it is,” he said. “That’s part of the process with what happened. We had a conversation and he asked for a trade so here we are.”
Tourigny strengthened that sentiment.
“He’s a good guy. He works hard. He’s a good pro,” the coach said. “You saw it in the practice [Tuesday]; he was fine. The guys like him so it’s not like there’s any tough situation or ambiguity or whatever.”
Top photo of Jakob Chychrun via Getty Images