WINNIPEG — When it comes to heading out on a scouting trip, or drafting and developing a young player, Winnipeg general manager Kevin has never taken a Cheveldayoff. (Man, I’ve got to quit hanging with Gene Principe).
When it is time to augment his Jets lineup from the outside however, here’s something you might not believe about the Winnipeg GM: In three seasons (plus this off-season just past), Cheveldayoff has yet to engineer his first “player for player” trade in the National Hockey League.
That’s right. Cheveldayoff has made plenty of alterations to his roster over three seasons, but none by way of player-in, player-out. It’s amazing, really.
“Trades that we’ve made have all (involved) draft picks and players going the other way. We brought in Michael Frolik (for third- and fifth-round draft choices), Devin Setoguchi (for a second). We traded some players to get draft picks … But as far as roster player for a roster player it hasn’t happened yet. And it hasn’t been by design.”
Problem No. 1? Sorry Winnipeg, but no-trade clauses were invented for towns like yours. So Cheveldayoff is shopping off the lower part of the trade market — those players who do not hold an NTC. That means everyone below the top 200 players in hockey, give or take, are unavailable to Winnipeg by trade.
Ditto for free agency, where small market Canadian clubs have found that their only reasonable targets on July 1 are players like a Mathieu Perreault, or depth guys like the ones Craig MacTavish focuses on in Edmonton on July 1.
So Cheveldayoff’s Jets become the perfect example of how the latest collective bargaining agreement has made drafting and developing the sure-fire route to a lasting rebuild, and how, in a Canadian market, sold out buildings can make for a painfully patient GM.
Every ticket is sold on every night. So, what’s the hurry?
The Jets aren’t like the Toronto Blue Jays, who play in a sport where teams tend to have a finite window to win. Seemingly every time a baseball team gets close to contending for the World Series, it routinely empties its farm system for veterans who can help with the pennant drive. Inactivity could cause Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos his job. It already cost him much cred in his own clubhouse.
In Chevy’s world, it works the other way around. The good youngsters make veteran players expendable.
“If you can have young kids who … push you to maybe move somebody, because a person is ready to step in,” he said. “But as many good young players we have, they’re only slowly turning pro.”
Nic Petan, Nikolaj Ehlers and Josh Morrissey are all “really good young prospects,” who could all return to junior. It would be heresy to trade any of them in the NHL’s economy. Nor would you trade a 23-year-old Evander Kane, a physical specimen who appears to have matured to the point where off-ice distractions can be replaced by on-ice success.
On the other hand, considering the Jets have finally reached the precipice of being a playoff team in the Central Division, perhaps the time has come to part with one of those prospects for a mid-20’s player who can help right now.
“Ask any GM,” Cheveldayoff said. “When you do make trades, it is when you have a stockpile at one position, and you’re able to move something from a place of strength to help a place of weakness.
“I don’t think you’re going to trade a 21-year-old for a 32-year-old. I don’t think we have the luxury in this organization to say, ‘We’re one player away from making this happen today.’ (But he would deal) a player that has higher potential for a player who is more ready.”
Say, a 19-, or 20-year-old for a 25-year-old.
With the consensus best crop of prospects at the four-team rookie tournament in Penticton earlier this month, Cheveldayoff could just sit back and wait for the prospects to develop. But it’s been seven years since this organization has been to the post-season, and this is their fourth season in Winnipeg.
Tomorrow is bright enough. He could probably borrow a little bit of sunshine for today.