Paused NHL season could complicate Jets’ plans to re-sign Eakin, DeMelo

Cody Eakin, formerly of the Winnipeg Jets. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)

Of the countless drawbacks to this COVID-19 shut down, a big one for the Winnipeg Jets is their time cut short with Dylan DeMelo and Cody Eakin.

Those two players were a different kind of trade deadline deal than the ones the Jets have made in years past according to GM Kevin Cheveldayoff.

“When we made the (Paul) Stastny deal we didn’t know if we could re-sign him or not. When we made the (Kevin) Hayes deal we knew we couldn’t re-sign him,” Cheveldayoff said leading up to the 2020 trade deadline. “We can look at these players (DeMelo and Eakin) we just acquired as potential guys, if the fit is there for both sides, to be a longer term type thing.”

The plan was simple. Not only would those players make the Jets better as they pushed for a playoff spot, but management would have time to sell the two pending UFAs on being Jets for the long-term.

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Unfortunately that time hasn’t materialized.

Cheveldayoff doesn’t like to address the topic of players not wanting to come to Winnipeg, but the team’s history with UFAs says enough, as does the very short list of big signings.

At the top of that list would be Mathieu Perreault, a great under-the-radar acquisition back in 2014. Add Brandon Tanev, too, who turned out to be quite the college signing. Dmitri Kulikov and Steve Mason were higher profile signings in 2017. Kulikov came with a buyer beware tag due to injury, while the Jets had to give away Joel Armia to shed Mason’s salary just a year later.

Those players had varying degrees of success, but all came to the Jets with restrictions that would have limited the competition for their services.

That really is a common theme with the players the Jets target, many of whom have been “last stop” players: NHLers looking for one last gig before retiring or heading to the minor leagues or overseas. Players like Kyle Wellwood, Matt Halischuk, Joe Morrow and T.J. Galiardi come to mind.

In the end you can’t find coveted UFAs who chose Winnipeg over other options.

It’s a touchy subject in Winnipeg where fans have been reduced to celebrating smaller victories in this category. For example, a big deal was made when Stastny (who later left Winnipeg as a UFA) waived his no-trade clause to come to Winnipeg. But why wouldn’t he? He came to a surging Jets team poised for a long playoff run and benefitted from a stacked top-six to boost his numbers, which in turn elevated his value as a UFA on his way out the door. Hayes applied the same blueprint a year later and his big payday followed as well.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

All that doesn’t mean the Jets haven’t been able to snag big fish. They have, although the master anglers they have landed are typically ones already in the boat. Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little and Dustin Byfuglien all signed long-term contract extensions.

That should tell you something; players who have spent time immersed in the culture of the Jets are the ones who choose to stay.

And that’s why the time spent with DeMelo and Eakin, and the time lost, is so important.

If the season doesn’t resume the Jets will have had just 21 days with DeMelo and 18 with Eakin. That’s probably enough time to have shown DeMelo the valued member of this team he could be, likely playing on the top shutdown pairing alongside Josh Morrissey. It could also be enough time to show Eakin the benefits of playing in a super-skilled top-six as he was playing between Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine when the season paused.

Unfortunately at this stage, time could just as likely be working against the Jets. As we’ve seen in the past, when players are given room to focus on the perks of life outside Winnipeg, it hasn’t worked out well.

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