Jets still stuck in mushy middle after another dull deadline

Sam Cosentino and Jeff Marek go over some of the top NHL prospects for the 2017 entry draft.

Coming into the NHL trade deadline, the Winnipeg Jets were one of the most interesting teams to keep an eye on.

While we were wondering how aggressive the Montreal Canadiens would get in their push for a Stanley Cup, how willing the Vancouver Canucks would be to begin a complete tear down, or how much the Maple Leafs would lean towards adding with a playoff berth in mind, the Jets were in a weird middle ground.

Five points behind the St. Louis Blues for the final wild card spot and with two more games played, the Jets were on the border between buyer and seller. If they decided to be buyers, they needed to think about acquiring defencemen with Tobias Enstrom and Tyler Myers both injured. They also needed to think about acquiring a goaltender and avoid going on with Connor Hellebuyck and Ondrej Pavelec for the rest of this season.

If they were sellers, in addition to trading Drew Stafford, Shawn Matthias also needed to go, while Mathieu Perreault needed to be considered. They could even go a step further and contemplate getting Enstrom to waive his no-movement clause. He has just one more season left on his deal paying $5.75 million against the cap. At 32-years old, he may not fit into the young team’s plans beyond next season — and with so many teams left looking for a defenceman in a thin market, the Jets may have been able to acquire some future assets, especially if they ate a percentage of Enstrom’s salary.

But the team that came in as perhaps Canada’s most interesting to watch — or at least the most confounding, as Luke Fox wrote this week — went out as the most boring.

The Jets did the bare minimum that was expected of them, trading Drew Stafford to the Boston Bruins at the last minute for a conditional sixth-round pick. The 31-year-old is having a terrible season with just four goals and 13 points, but is shooting just 5.9 per cent — the second-lowest conversion rate of his career. He will bring good size to the Bruins, as most of the Atlantic Division added that component around the deadline, and could be due for a bit of an uptick in production. On the flip side, his departure will give more of an opportunity for Andrew Copp and Marko Dano to get minutes.

Kevin Cheveldayoff has been fairly conservative as the only GM in modern Jets history, with the 2015 trade centred around Evander Kane and Myers sticking out as his lone blockbuster. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised Cheveldayoff stayed out of it again on Mar. 1 considering he’s only made three moves now in six deadlines.

But it continues to be shocking to see how few needle-moving trades the team has made over the past six seasons. Most of their trade history involves acquiring or shedding expiring contracts and the amount of lasting impact moves can be counted on one hand. From Devin Setoguchi to Lee Stempniak to Michael Frolik, the long-term impact of the Jets’ trade history — in picks, prospects or players — is lacking.

Meanwhile, a total of seven players are still left over from the Atlanta Thrashers era and the Jets have made one playoff appearance, with zero wins, in their time in Winnipeg.

To be fair, the Jets have done a good job building through the draft with Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers and Jacob Trouba (if he wants) as young cornerstones with which to move forward. Kyle Connor, Jack Roslovic and Josh Morrissey have shown a ton of potential to join those players in that core as well. No one is suggesting Cheveldayoff should be moving those players out or deviate from a long-term plan.

The Jets continue to be a frustrating team to watch in the trade market though, where there may have been some opportunities to improve their team. For instance, the goalie situation has been a disaster all season and although Winnipeg appears committed to pending RFA Hellebuyck, it would seem wise to go into 2017-18 with an experienced partner. In that sense, could they not have been players for Jaroslav Halak, who’s buried in the AHL and signed for one more season with a $3.55 million cap hit?

The Islanders have no interest in using him anymore, but he could have been helpful for the Jets in their slim playoff hopes this season, and going into next. Instead they move on with much uncertainty in the crease.

No one was confusing the Jets as a big player at this year’s deadline — they weren’t going to be in on Matt Duchene or Marc-Andre Fleury or Kevin Shatenkirk. But given their standing outside of the playoffs, they could have finally taken a deadline stand as sellers and moved out Matthias, Perreault, Mark Stuart (modified no-move) and maybe even Enstrom to go with Stafford. That would have squarely put the focus on the future and provided assets to build out with.

Instead, they stayed the course again. A course that’s becoming stale, lacking playoff-quality depth, and leaving us wondering if they really are all that close to the playoffs, or the epitome of the team caught in the “mushy middle.”

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