BUFFALO – A week from Friday night, we’ll almost certainly find out what the future holds for Steven Stamkos. But when all the dust settles, don’t be surprised if it turns out the fact that Jakob Chychrun’s stock plummeted in the draft had a huge effect on the situation.
Here’s why. With Chychrun still available when the Detroit Red Wings were picking 16th, Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka finally found a trade partner willing to give up his pick so Chayka could choose Chychrun. The Coyotes are thin on defense among their prospects, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take Clayton Keller with the seventh overall pick. Chayka was convinced Chychrun wouldn’t still be available when they picked next in the first round in the No. 20 slot.
And the ringer in the deal? The contract of future Hall of Famer Pavel Datsyuk and his $7.5 million cap hit. With Datsyuk announcing he is returning home and turning his back on the final year of his contract, it became an albatross for the Red Wings and a potential lifesaver for the Coyotes. And now that Datsyuk’s deal is off the books for the Red Wings, they’re free to pursue Stamkos and have instantly become a major player in the proceedings, along with the likes of the Lightning themselves, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres.
“I had two or three things, but I didn’t love them,” Red Wings GM Ken Holland said of the Datsyuk situation. “(Chayka) called at pick 13 or 14 and asked if we’d trade pick 16 because a player was dropping. And I said, ‘Yeah, what are you thinking?’ and he brought up Datsyuk.”
Holland had gone into the draft thinking he wasn’t going to be dealing Datsyuk’s rights this weekend because the cost of doing so was too high. The offers he was getting was either for players whose teams wanted to unload their contracts or a price that included at least a first-round pick and a prospect. The name Andreas Athanasiou kept coming up. And Holland was probably unwilling to give up that much in a deal for just a chance to get Stamkos, one that might not be successful. But to essentially move down four spots in the draft to get the Datsyuk contract off the books, plus add veteran center Joe Vitale and a third-round pick is why Holland demonstrated why he is one of the most highly regarded GMs in the game.
“It’s got to be a win-win,” Holland said. “They’re happy, we’re happy.”
It has long been the opinion of this corner that if the Red Wings were able to get their cap situation sorted out, they would emerge as the frontrunner to get Stamkos. Holland did not mention Stamkos by name, mindful of the fact that the league is dealing with a tampering complaint against Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning for his words about P.K. Subban, Stamkos and Milan Lucic. But you don’t have to read too many tea leaves to know that Holland will be going hard after Stamkos.
“I don’t know, I have to get on the market and find out,” Holland said when asked what flexibility this move gives him. “Maybe nothing. I don’t have a crystal ball. There’s 30 teams in the game and it gives us the flexibility to get into the game. I don’t know what that means until the dust settles.”
When the dust settled after the first round, Chayka walked out of the First Niagara Center with a smile on his face. And with Datsyuk and Chris Pronger in the organization, the Coyotes have $12,441,492 in dead contracts and somehow are still almost $7.7 million below the salary cap floor. Mind boggling.
Just over a year ago, Chychrun was being touted as a possibility for the first overall pick. Instead, he ended up being the fifth defenseman picked. But the Coyotes have a ton of skilled and talented forwards oozing with potential, but have a dearth of young defensemen in their prospect system. And they have only three under contract for next season, so there is an opportunity there for him.
The disappointment for Chychrun of tumbling down to No. 16 was offset by the encouragement of knowing that the Coyotes traded up to get him. “All along, I just wanted to go to a team that wanted me and really believed in what I can bring to the table,” Chychrun said. “And when a team trades up for you, I don’t think there’s a better way of showing that. It made it a lot more special for sure.”
And Chychrun knows there is an opportunity there that might not exist with other players. As far as making the team in 2016-17, he has identified that as his goal. From a physical standpoint, Chychrun is already a man. His game might not be at that level yet, but there are reasons to believe he could seriously compete for a spot in training camp.
“It’s always been a goal of mine to play in the National Hockey League at 18,” Chychrun said. “I really believe if there’s anyone who can do it and is physically and mentally ready for it, it’s me.”