In one tidy chess move, Kevin Cheveldayoff went ahead and toppled some preconceived notions that had previously been percolating in NHL circles for years. By going out and making a splash prior to Monday’s trade deadline, acquiring Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues for a trio of future assets, the Winnipeg Jets made something of a statement to the rest of the hockey world.
It’s remarkable how winning really can seemingly cure all. Long considered a place that players would preferably avoid going to – or in many cases outright refusing to go to – that tide appears to be shifting, with Stastny notably waiving his no-move clause to go to Winnipeg in the pursuit of a Stanley Cup. It’s hard to fault his logic, since this certainly looks like the best chance he’s had in his 12-year career to win one (aside from a spirited march to the conference final by the Blues in 2015-16).
The trade similarly signals an important changing of the times for the aforementioned person pulling the strings behind the scenes as well. Once the brunt of countless jokes poking fun at his conspicuous inactivity in the trade market, this about-face for Cheveldayoff must be a sweet one. After years of sitting out of the action, accruing assets while waiting for his opportunity to pounce, he’s finally found the right time to push his chips in to the centre of the playing table. Especially after being blocked out of the running for Derick Brassard’s services a few days prior, leaving few impactful options down the middle to be had.
The fit between the player and team appears to be a sound one here. It’s been challenging to fairly evaluate Stastny’s abilities as an on-ice contributor during his time in St. Louis because of what the Blues paid when he hit the open market in the summer of 2014. At $7 million per season, the criticisms of whether he was worth the money he was receiving were fair. As was the resulting place in the lineup he was slotted in, being forced to be a de facto top flight pivot based more so on price tag rather than actual skill.
In reality, he’s perfectly suited for more of a supporting role, on either a second or third forward line. That’s exactly what he’ll be asked to do in Winnipeg, with the Jets already having the likes of Mark Scheifele and Bryan Little firmly entrenched ahead of him on the depth chart upon his arrival.
It remains to be seen how Paul Maurice will choose to use his new toy, but the most obvious landing spot appears to be a cushy gig sandwiched by Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine. On paper, it seems like a match made in heaven. Whereas Stastny has never been mistaken for the most flashy player (which may be partly why it feels like he’s been unfairly critiqued for years), he should get propped up in the style points department playing alongside two of the most exciting young offensive dynamos in the game.
That’ll leave Stastny with the task of falling back and doing much of the dirty work positionally that allows those two to get the puck more easily in positions where they can do the most damage, something he’s always been great at. Having spent plenty of time playing with Vlad Tarasenko – including north of 400 minutes this season – he should have no trouble recognizing the value in feeding Laine the puck in shooting positions and getting out of the way.
Even if it’s been a while since Stastny has had jaw dropping point totals, he’s still been a good playmaker, and an even better 5-on-5 weapon territorially (with his teams routinely enjoying better results with him on the ice than otherwise). Those traits will presumably help him blend in quite nicely with the Jets, especially with the lowered expectations and demands.
That trio will be technically considered to be the Jets ‘third line’ on paper (although it’s certainly fair to quibble with the semantics of alternating them with Little’s unit), which goes to show the type of depth and lethal firepower the Jets suddenly boast. It also bumps Andrew Copp back down to the fourth line, reuniting him with Adam Lowry (once he returns from injury) and Joel Armia, who, in their limited time together, have turned heads with their surprising effectiveness.
Now that the goaltending is finally holding up as Connor Hellebuyck has elevated his play into the league’s elite, it surely feels like all of the puzzle pieces are starting to fall into the places they were designed to go into. Aside from a Nashville Predators team that looks daunting from top to bottom, the Western Conference is as wide open as it’s seemingly been in some time. Vegas has been a great story and won a ton of games thus far, but there’s reasonable concerns about how their success will translate to the post-season. The likes of the Dallas Stars, the California teams, and even the Calgary Flames all have great things going for them, but they also all have flaws that can be exposed and taken advantage of.
For the Jets, this looks like a good time to be going for it and making a push. It’s taken a while, but they appear to have finally arrived this season after years of falling short of expectations. Their actions at the trade deadline spoke loudly, marking just the latest reminder of that in a campaign chock-full of them.