Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff isn’t known for his activity around the trade deadline.
When fans were eager for him to add in 2017 to try and push for the playoffs, he did nothing. In 2016, the Jets were sellers and shipped pending UFA Andrew Ladd to Chicago for futures. In 2015, the only time the modern Jets made the playoffs, Cheveldayoff made minor deals for Lee Stempniak and Jiri Tlusty to add depth to the bottom six.
His one big trade, the blockbuster that shipped Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane to Buffalo, came a few weeks before the 2015 deadline and had less to do with the playoffs than it did moving on from an increasingly untenable situation.
Could this season be different?
The Jets are better positioned to be a Stanley Cup contender than ever before, which alone is motivation to tweak the lineup and bring in some depth. Cheveldayoff told NHL.com this week that he’s been making a lot of outgoing calls, but that’s what every GM should be doing at this point in the season.
They have a window opening now that looks like it could stay that way for a while, but with RFA contracts due to Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey this summer, Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor next, and Nik Ehlers already stepping into a $6-million deal next season, they will be contending with the cap before long. So while this is still a young team with its eyes on long-term stability and contention, it might be wise to take the opportunity of this season and go for it, because you never know what tomorrow will bring. That doesn’t mean the Jets need to sell off the future for rental players, but with a well-stocked prospect cupboard, their first-rounder should at least be in play.
The Jets have found consistency in the face of key injuries as players both young and experienced have filled in with key contributions, which shows off the depth in the organization already. Cheveldayoff noted that some of their own players returning from injury could be all the team really needs between now and the start of the playoffs.
“Our biggest deadline acquisitions may be after March 1 when we get Trouba back and hopefully (forwards) Adam Lowry and Brandon Tanev and Shawn Matthias back,” he said. “And (goalies) Steve Mason and Michael Hutchinson, too. We have guys having success (in our lineup) right now but we have those guys waiting as additions. In approaching the deadline, you keep all options open but you are looking for the right fit.”
Another factor that could put a limit on what the Jets will do are no-trade clauses. It was reported Cheveldayoff was in on Mike Hoffman from Ottawa, a potential 30-goal winger signed for another two seasons. But Hoffman has a modified no-trade and, according to Elliotte Friedman, the Jets were not one of the teams to which he would accept a trade. There are likely a number of those situations around the league.
Cheveldayoff could be in the market for just about anything this deadline. The Hoffman situation could signal that Winnipeg is in the game for a difference-maker with term on his contract, though at the very least, they will key in on adding bottom line or bottom pair depth.
Just as with any team chasing the Stanley Cup, what Winnipeg really needs is NHL players to step into the lineup in case injuries hit, or to immediately leapfrog someone currently in a bottom-six role.
With plenty of cap space ($5.6 million per CapFriendly), Winnipeg has room to add to this year’s roster. They could be in the market for a third- or fourth-line centre to upgrade on Matt Hendricks’ relatively slow foot speed, and move him off to the wing. The Hoffman news suggests Winnipeg is also in the market for some scoring on the wing in the top-six, which would set them up to have three beautiful and tough-to-handle lines up front. It would be ideal to add someone the Jets can take at least two runs with: New York’s Mats Zuccarello, who Paul Maurice coached in the KHL during the 2012-13 NHL lockout, is an intriguing option with an absorbable $4.5 million cap hit for another season.
On defence, the Jets would do well to add a left-shot blue-liner, either by paying a price to have someone play above Morrissey on the second unit (when Trouba is healthy), or as a third-pair option above Ben Chiarot. This, too, would guard against any further injury blow ups.
Finally, given that both Mason and Hutchinson just came back from concussions, Winnipeg would be wise to sniff around the backup market as well. Connor Hellebuyck has been great this season, but if he gets hurt and the Jets find themselves having to go with Eric Comrie, that alone could bring to an end everything Winnipeg has achieved this season.
Pending free agents, age, salaries
• Shawn Matthias, 30, $2.125 million
• Matt Hendricks, 36, $700,000
• Tobias Enstrom, 33, $5.75 million
• Michael Hutchinson, 27, $1.125 million
• Adam Lowry, 24, $1.125 million
• Joel Armia, 24, $925,000
• Marko Dano, 23, $850,000
• Nic Petan, 22, $758,333
• Brandon Tanev, 26, $700,000
• Jacob Trouba, 23, $2.812 million
• Tucker Poolman, 24, $925,000
• Josh Morrissey, 22, $863,333
• Connor Hellebuyck, 24, $2.25 million
• Eric Comrie, 22, $645,000
Potential assets to move
First-round pick: Winnipeg has made five first-round selections in the past three drafts, so in an effort to go for it this year’s pick should be expendable. That’s not to say they should use it on any player, but if it can be used as the primary piece of a package that lands them an impact player with term, Winnipeg should be all over it. The Jets have made a total of nine first-round picks since moving back to the city in 2011, and seven of them are on the NHL roster today — they can afford to sit out of the first round this season if the right player is there.
Michael Hutchinson: A pending UFA who is unlikely to return next season (the Jets will want to give younger goalies more AHL time) Hutchinson could be someone other teams are interested in as a backup option. He’s been great in the AHL this season, but his NHL play has been less polished. Both Hutchinson and Mason were just cleared to play after sustaining concussions, so the Jets may actually keep Hutchinson around as insurance of their own.
Logan Stanley/Mason Appleton/Sami Niku/Dylan Samberg: If the Jets make a big splash, they’ll have to trade their first-round pick plus a prospect or two. Assuming Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic, current NHL contributors, are non-starters and 2017 first-rounder Kristian Vesalainen is a long shot to move, these four may be the next best bets to get traded. Stanley was the 18th overall pick in 2016, and though he has immense size, there are questions about his skating. Appleton and Niku, sixth- and seventh-round picks, don’t have the same pedigree, but both are putting up monster seasons in the AHL as rookies. Samberg, a second-rounder last summer, was the second-highest scorer from the blue line on Team USA’s entry at the world juniors.
2018: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 5th (BOS), 6th, 7th
2019: 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th
One bold move the Jets could make
Since they were reportedly in on Hoffman, if the Jets are keen on making a big addition for a scoring winger with term, the next logical target would be Max Pacioretty, who is signed for one more season with a team-friendly $4.5-million cap hit and doesn’t have any trade protection. The Canadiens captain makes about $600,000 less against the cap than Hoffman and plays on the left side as well, so if they figured Hoffman could fit, so can Pacioretty.
He would bring some much-needed Stanley Cup Playoffs experience (38 games), and would surely find his scoring touch again beside either Scheifele or Little. Heck, this acquisition would also give the Jets room to play with their lineup, potentially moving Wheeler back to centre and giving the team three excellent pivots. Patrik Laine, Ehlers, Connor, Pacioretty, Mathieu Perreault and Roslovic as your six wingers (assuming none have to move back)? That would be one heck of a set of forwards.
I think the Jets shouldn’t…
Pay a price for a rental. Evander Kane isn’t coming back, and even if Rick Nash would allow himself to be traded to the Jets (unlikely), Cheveldayoff should stay away from that option. It’s not that Winnipeg shouldn’t chase any rentals, just that if they go that route it doesn’t cost a lot to pull off. Pay up for a player with term if you want, but giving up any sort of premium asset for a few months from a rental isn’t worth it for a team with this bright of a future still ahead.