Conservative is one way to describe the Winnipeg Jets’ organizational philosophy, though the term “risk averse” could be more accurate. Or, as some Jets fans might ask, would the word “chicken” better suit the Jets’ work in the trade market?
Of course, the new Jets haven’t brought a playoff series to Winnipeg yet. In fact, the franchise still has just one post-season series in 14 seasons dating back to Atlanta. It’s been seven years since the New York Rangers swept the Thrashers in Round 1, a modest highlight for a club that’s been kicking around the NHL since 1999.
Winnipeg has the No. 9 pick in the draft. Raise you hand if you think they’ll end up dealing it for some help right now.
So we ask the question: Has the time come for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to change his M.O., with the real National Hockey League trading deadline — i.e., the NHL Draft — just around the corner? He’s got trading chips in his top-10 draft pick; Dustin Byfuglien, who prefers to play defence, while head coach Paul Maurice sees him as a forward; and Evander Kane, who always has us wondering if any position will make him happy, so long as it is in Winnipeg.
Has the time come for some actual wheeling and dealing, to go along with all of that patient development in Manitoba?
“Maybe we’re the team that makes that blockbuster,” Cheveldayoff told Sportsnet this week. “You always have that zest, that desire to see if there’s that elusive deal that can help you. But when you do get on the phone, you quickly find out your counterparts are trying to find that same deal. It is a difficult thing.”
The free agent market used to be building tool.
Today, the July 1 market isn’t nearly as thick with talent as it once was, with everyone signing even their remotely valuable players to longer-termed deals. There is an inventory shortage on July 1, so players who do go UFA command contracts (especially term) that are not commensurate with their value.
That leaves you with the draft, where the Jets have proven to be adept. The problem is, a kid you draft in 2014 isn’t likely to help you win a playoff round until some time around 2019.
“There was a much bigger attitude for... free agency and to want to afford it. To not have to think about cap implications,” Cheveldayoff said. “With the length of the contracts that most players are getting locked up to, and now you’ve got the cap. It’s a little bit different.
“In a cap world, it doesn’t matter who you are. You need to have that infuse of younger talent that keeps on circulating through your organization.”
The Jets' top six forwards and top three defencemen are pretty good. Winnipeg’s troubles come when its depth is tested, however.
When Mark Scheifele went down late on March 4, it exposed the Jets weakness down the middle. That injury cured their playoff run, for sure. At 35, Olli Jokinen can’t carry the ball anymore, but as a UFA the Jets might have to bring him back simply because they don’t have a better option. But can you get a UFA on a one-year deal?
They’re stuck in goal with Ondrej Pavelec, whose .901 save percentage ranked 41st amongst regular goalies last season. His goals-against average (3.01) was 45th. The problem is, Pavelec's cap hit of $3.9 million ranks 18th among NHL goalies. If he doesn’t get better, he puts the Jets' cap right out of whack.
You can draft a goalie, sure. His first start at MTS Centre might come in 2020.
The Jets have decent size, worth much in today’s game, with 6-foot-5 centre Adam Lowry (Dave’s boy) cooling with the St. John’s IceCaps. They’ve got defenceman Jacob Trouba, 20, who could be a superstar one day.
But can you really speed up the process by trading Kane or Byfuglien? Here’s the deal: If you offer Kane, are you going to get a 23-year-old back who has already scored 30 goals in the NHL? Can you trade Byfuglien and get size up front and a power-play quarterback in return? Because he is both of those for the Jets.
Either would be a bold move, and that is one move the Jets haven’t figured out how to make yet.