Winnipeg Jets players and coaches were thrilled to learn the team had acquired Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline Monday.
Blake Wheeler in particular was psyched to play with one of his longtime friends. So much so, in fact, that the Jets captain even volunteered to let Stastny wear his No. 26.
“I offered it,” Wheeler said with a smile Monday after the trade was made official. “There’d be a lot of pressure — no, I threw that out there as a joke — but if he wants it he can have it.”
Stastny wore No. 62 briefly in his rookie season with the Colorado Avalanche but has been No. 26 ever since. Similarly, Wheeler donned No. 42 for a spell in his freshman year with the Boston Bruins but has been 26 for the duration of his career.
Also, Stastny’s father, Peter Stastny, wore No. 26 throughout his Hall of Fame career split between the Quebec Nordiques, New Jersey Devils and Blues.
Stastny ultimately turned down Wheeler’s offer, instead choosing to wear No. 25, but that number also has some sentimental value to the pending unrestricted free agent.
“Well, Wheeler stole No. 26 from me, Patty [Laine]’s got No. 29. … I’m not here to disrupt the number chemistry,” Stastny told reporters with a laugh Tuesday when asked how he ended up with No. 25. “Then I kind of sit back and think who I look up to and whether it was my dad’s numbers or my brother’s always someone I looked up to and followed.”
Stastny’s older brother, Yan, played 91 games in the NHL with the Oilers, Bruins and Blues and he wore No. 25 during his three years in St. Louis.
“He was 25 and [I’m] best friends with [Blues forward Alex Steen]. I know his dad [Jets legend Thomas Steen] was 25, so he brought it up so it’s kind of homage to both those guys and Alex himself.”
The gesture from Wheeler, knowing what the No. 26 means to the Stastny family, speaks volumes about the type of leader he is. The two forwards have known one another since their teenage years and have represented Team USA together at international tournaments. They also spent the 2012 lockout as teammates with Munich EHC in the German league, so Wheeler knows what his new teammate can bring to a club.
“He comes from a pretty strong hockey background and just so knowledgeable about the game,” Wheeler said of Stastny, whose 55 career playoff games are now the most of any player on the Jets. “His dad is as smart a hockey guy as there is out there. I’ve had the opportunity to sit in on a couple of those conversations and it’s pretty awesome.
“He’s just a guy that has been around the rink his whole life, has been through a ton in his NHL career, played a ton of games, played in big games. Just another guy to come in and bring confidence and some leadership to our group.”
While the atmosphere in the Jets’ room was jovial, the same could not be said of the Blues.
“The guy is my best friend,” Steen said. “It’s tough.”
Brayden Schenn thought the trade was “crazy,” adding: “One or two points out [of a playoff spot], move a guy that does a lot for us. But at the end of the day, you know, that’s [management’s] decision.”
Stastny said he received “a lot of comforting phone calls and texts” to help him cope with leaving a Blues team he’s been with since 2014. He had to waive his no-trade clause to facilitate the deal and he explained his thought process Tuesday.
“I think the easy decision, the comfortable decision maybe would’ve been to not do anything but then all of a sudden I don’t want to be looking back in 10, 15 years—remember, this is a short time in my career and when you’re younger and you’re playing in this league you have a certain perspective and as you get older your perspective changes and you realize these opportunities don’t come up too often,” Stastny said. “It’s potentially 3 1/2 months out of an 80-year life. That’s going to be nothing. I don’t want to have any regrets, especially playing hockey.”
Stastny and Wheeler, despite their friendship, won’t be on a line together—at least not in Stastny’s debut when the Jets host Central Division rival Nashville Predators Tuesday.
Jets coach Paul Maurice told reporters Stastny will centre a line between Nikolaj Ehlers and Laine, while Wheeler will maintain his spot on the first line with Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor.