Four centres the Winnipeg Jets could target on the trade market

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Through most of his tenure as GM of the Winnipeg Jets, Kevin Cheveldayoff hadn’t been overly active on the trade market. From his first year on the job in 2011 through Feb. 10, 2015, Cheveldayoff had only acquired three players who spent more than half a season with the Jets — Eric Tangradi, Devin Setoguchi and Michael Frolik. His reputation around the trade deadline was that of a GM who would more likely than not stay quiet.

The first big trade Cheveldayoff made was moving Evander Kane on Feb. 11, 2015 in a package that brought back Tyler Myers plus three other players and first-round pick. But even that move was born out of an untenable situation after Tracksuit-Gate. They were sellers in 2016 and made a few other minor deals, but you could argue the first big trade Cheveldayoff made that didn’t have any extenuating circumstances surrounding it was last year’s deadline-day deal that brought in Paul Stastny. By acquiring a rental player, Cheveldayoff made a definitive signal that his Jets had arrived as contenders.

Sitting first in the Central Division, Winnipeg is in the same situation this season. This time, there may be even more incentive to go in on a Stanley Cup push, with a cap crunch on the way this summer when the Jets owe new contracts to RFAs Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Jacob Trouba, among others.

The centre position again appears to be their primary area of need, though the Winnipeg Sun‘s Ken Wiebe recently wrote that the Jets may also go after a winger. If that happens, the likes of Mark Stone or Artemi Panarin could be on the table.

Focusing just on the centre position and using last year as a precedent, here’s our look at four pivots the Jets may go after before the Feb. 25 trade deadline:

1. Derick Brassard, Florida Panthers

Already moved once this season, Brassard could go again before the deadline. Florida is well out of the playoff race and already have two centres for their top lines. They are using Brassard as a winger right now.

Brassard’s point totals this season in Pittsburgh (15 in 40 games) are underwhelming, but that may have had something to do with the fact he was filling a third-line role. After Pens GM Jim Rutherford made the trade with Florida, he talked about Brassard’s fit in that spot.

“When you make deals, sometimes players fit in and sometimes they don’t,” Rutherford said. “Derick could never get accustomed to going from the role he played in Ottawa to being a third-line centre here. We knew that was a possibility. As it turned out, that’s what happened.”

The Penguins acquired Brassard at last year’s deadline and beat out Winnipeg to get the deal done, so the Jets have recently been in on the 31-year-old. Vegas retained $2 million of Brassard’s salary in last year’s three-way trade so he comes at a discount against the cap, which could have the added benefit of leaving Winnipeg a little more room to pull off a separate trade. Stastny filled the second-line centre spot for Winnipeg last season, bumping Bryan Little down to the third line, and that blueprint could be followed again with Brassard.

2. Brayden Schenn, St. Louis Blues

The Blues are a real wild card around the trade deadline, given they are right back in the thick of the playoff race with an 8-4-1 record since the start of January. Meanwhile, the teams above them are having a harder time right now. At one point in the season the biggest names on this roster were potentially on the table, but now that’s becoming a little harder to envision.

If St. Louis becomes a seller willing to move pieces, beyond just their expiring contracts, Schenn could be an interesting target for the Jets. First, these two teams have a trade history after coming together last February, plus Schenn plays both the wing and centre which would give the Jets more lineup flexibility. On top of that, he’s signed through next season as well with a $5.125-million cap hit.

Although Schenn is playing on the left wing right now, he has taken 648 faceoffs this season, second-most on the Blues. He has a physical aspect to his game that would fit in well with the Jets, too, plus he scored 70 points last season. He’s well off that pace this season and closer to the 50-point rate he scored at prior to 2017-18, but still well within what you’d hope to get from a second-liner. He’d cost a little more given the control Winnipeg would have, but the stability may be worth it.

3. Matt Duchene, Ottawa Senators

If Duchene is traded instead of re-signed, most of the league’s contenders would be after him. In fact, Winnipeg’s divisional rivals in Nashville could be interested in the speedy Duchene.

With 48 points in 43 games, Duchene is on pace for the best offensive season of his career and is nine goals away from hitting 30 for the second time ever. The speed he brings is something every team would like to add as the league moves in a direction that values that skill more than ever, and he may be the best centre on this list who wins 54.6 per cent of his draws.

He’s a no-doubt top-six player who would complement Mark Scheifele very well and maybe even be able to help Patrik Laine break out of his slump. Like Stastny last year, Duchene would probably be a rental option, though the reason he wanted to leave Colorado in the first place is because of his desire to play for a contender, which the Jets will certainly continue to be.

4. Kevin Hayes, New York Rangers

While Duchene and Schenn may bring back significant returns to Ottawa and St. Louis if they are moved, especially if a bidding war breaks out, you have to wonder if Hayes is the stealth move to be made here, potentially for fewer assets.

The Rangers have a number of young centres who will play a role in their future while the 26-year-old Hayes will be both an expensive re-sign (currently making $5.175 million) and an opportunity for New York to gain more draft picks or other futures for their rebuild. A pending UFA, moving Hayes appears to be a slam dunk and as Nick Kypreos mentioned on Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada Headlines, the Jets are a team connected to him.

He’s also tracking towards his best season, just 13 points shy of his career high in 43 games played. He’s filling the second-line centre role for the Rangers averaging 19:33 per game, and he’s also their most-used forward on the penalty kill. Since Dec. 1, Winnipeg’s penalty-kill is ranked 20th in the league, so not only would they get a rental having his best season on offence, Hayes could help chip in on a penalty kill that needs some improvement.

Hayes is averaging one primary assist per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play, which leads the Rangers and ranks 34th in the league among all players with at least 500 minutes played, per NaturalStatTrick.com.

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