The odds were always pretty good that Trade Deadline Day, 2020 was going to be a little quieter for the Winnipeg Jets than the previous two were.
Even though Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff dipped into the rental market in the past week to land both a forward (Cody Eakin) and a defenceman (Dylan DeMelo), putting his first-round pick in play the way he did to land Paul Stastny two years ago and Kevin Hayes 12 months ago was just not something the Jets were in a position to do this time.
First off, from a fit standpoint, there wasn’t really a player available who screamed “come and get me!” the way Hayes did last year and Stastny certainly did the season prior. Both those centres were viewed as second-liners who could help Winnipeg fill a specific hole for what the team hoped would be a deep playoff run.
“The last two, we took big swings,” Cheveldayoff said at his post-deadline press conference. “We obviously had the appetite to go after something that we thought was going to fit. You have to find the thing that fits and you have to have the currency and you have to have the appetite. All those three things have to align. For two years in a row we felt that. This year the appetite was to try and do the two moves that we did and going into today, knowing that we made those moves and understanding what the other fits might be, we were comfortable if nothing else came to fruition, we were comfortable with where we were at.”
If the Jets weren’t determined to rear back and take a big cut this year, it’s because the team is right on the playoff bubble, one point behind the Arizona Coyotes and Calgary Flames for the final two wild-card berths in the West. While Winnipeg was never going to be a seller the way some clubs in the first cut of rough opt to be, it’s understandable that Cheveldayoff took a more staid approach to this deadline than he has in the recent past, when Jets supporters were dreaming of possible parade routes through Portage and Main.
The GM did a nice job this trade season of striking a balance between blowing too much powder and doing nothing at all. The blue line was ravaged by off-season departures and the injury bug ensured that things didn’t get any better once the season began.
(On that note, we found out once and for all on Monday that Dustin Byfuglien — who we knew was not going to dawn a Jets sweater — will not be suiting up for any NHL club this season. It seems more likely than ever now that the big man may have played his last big-league game.)
DeMelo was acquired from the Ottawa Senators for a third-round pick, and the right-shot D-man who can do a little bit of everything has averaged more than 20 minutes per night in three games with the Jets. Eakin, a Winnipeg native, was picked up from the Vegas Golden Knights for a fourth-round selection and provides some veteran savvy as a centre suited to the third or fourth line.
Neither are pieces that put you over the top, but both can help this team track down a playoff spot in a league where anything can happen in the first round of the second season. For all its trials and tribulations this year, Winnipeg has a great goalie in Connor Hellebuyck, and if they wind up in the Pacific side of the Western Conference draw, the Jets will basically be lumped with three other teams they’ve been neck-and-neck with all year.
That’s not enough incentive to go big-game hunting on deadline day. But Cheveldayoff knows this squad has shown enough gumption in the past five months to deserve a little assistance as it shoots for some version of a happy ending to this turbulent season.
“We went into this understanding there’s no quick fixes, there’s no immediate cure here,” Cheveldayoff said. “We’ve got to continue to fight and we believe the players we added will help us in that fight. I’m real proud of this group, the fight that they’ve put up and the fight that they’ve stayed in.”