WINNIPEG – It was a shrewd, profitable investment, particularly in the short-term.
But in the near future, the bill will come due for the Winnipeg Jets.
Their winter trade with the Buffalo Sabres that added Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford to a team that was already playing well was well-executed by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, and the added beauty of it was that the main asset they sent to the Sabres, winger Evander Kane, wasn’t healthy enough to play the final part of this season because he required surgery.
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So no Kane on the highlight reel every night wearing a Buffalo jersey.
How the departed Zach Bogosian performed for that awful Buffalo team was never going to make headlines one way or another.
So the Jets got to insert Myers and Stafford at what seemed to be very little cost, and those two were big contributors as the Jets roared into the post-season.
There were other important elements to the blockbuster deal: Winnipeg got prospects Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux in the deal as well, plus a first round pick that will be somewhere between No. 20 and No. 30 in June.
But Kane was the biggest single name involved, the most significant player sacrificed by Winnipeg to get the deal done and reinforce its roster for the post-season. The fact he wasn’t playing down the stretch for Buffalo made it seem like the Jets had simply added, not subtracted.
But with the Jets now down 3-0 in the first round of the playoffs to the Anaheim Ducks and almost certain to join seven other first round casualties very soon, they and their fans will have to face the hard reality of what that trade actually cost.
Well, what it may cost. Kane was no longer a viable teammate in Winnipeg, it seems, and he’s a conundrum as a player. He might not reach his considerable potential in Buffalo. But the Sabres are adding high-end talent very quickly, and Jack Eichel could very well be the star centre every team would want to have — and a perfect playmate for Kane.
If the projections of Eichel’s talent are accurate, not to mention those of Sam Reinhart, the Sabres may soon have centres of the quality Kane never got to work with in Winnipeg, although fans of Bryan Little and Mark Scheifele might disagree.
Nonetheless, Kane is a power forward with one 30-goal season on his resume, and even with his statistics not as good in his most recent seasons, he still averages about .30 goals per game and is only 23 years old.
Had all the problems not cropped up in Winnipeg, the Jets would never have let him go because it’s too difficult to land that type of talent on the wing in today’s NHL. They can definitely hope that Nik Ehlers will be a good NHL scorer, but he’s not a power forward with an ability to score like Kane. Those players truly are rare, which is why players like Kingston’s Lawson Crouse and Timo Meier of the Halifax Mooseheads could both be top 10 picks in this summer’s NHL Draft.
All things being equal, Kane was the best player in that Winnipeg-Buffalo trade if he can get healthy and find a way to fit better within the fabric of his new team. If that starts happening next fall, the trade that seems so one-sided in favour of the Jets right now will start to acquire a very different hue.
I was chatting with a couple of writers before Game 3 of the Jets-Ducks series on Monday night, and we all chuckled about the nature of media and how, if the Jets were to be swept by this very good Anaheim team, the exuberant euphoria of this hockey spring in Manitoba would be replaced quickly by “Where the Jets Went Wrong” and “How to Fix the Jets.” That’s just the nature of media, for better or for worse, and also the nature of the NHL business. Teams eliminated in the first round are often just as or more devastated by their failure than teams that miss the playoffs entirely, and we could very well see GMs and coaches of teams currently in the post-season lose their jobs by next week.
That won’t happen in Winnipeg, where Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice are rock solid. Still, the Ducks have only led the series for a total of about 10 minutes, yet are up three games to none. Third period comebacks/collapses have defined the series, with the Ducks excelling once the third periods have begun. Whether that’s because of their strengths or Winnipeg’s weaknesses depends on your perspective.
The Jets managed to find four goals’ worth of offence in Game 3 after only scoring three times in the first two games.
Myers has been good, but Stafford not as productive as he was down the stretch. Dustin Byfuglien, who chose the strategy of answering every media question with a variation on “our team just has to stick together” on Tuesday after going minus-3 the night before, has alternated between being spectacularly good and spectacularly dreadful. Ondrej Pavelec has been outplayed by Frederik Andersen. Finally, as Winnipeg assesses its team when this series is over, the absence of an elite power forward along the lines of Ryan Getzlaf or Corey Perry will likely be identified as one of several needs.
Kane was and is, at least in theory, that kind of player, although he wouldn’t have been able to be in this series even if the Jets had kept him because of shoulder surgery.
That’s the fascinating part about big hockey trades. They get assessed immediately by all of us, with a winner and a loser identified, but the actual results often take years to come in.
Ottawa felt it was getting a franchise player in Bobby Ryan in a big deal with Anaheim, and then paid Ryan like it. The Ducks, however, got winger Jakob Silfverberg in that deal, and he’s been a far more dangerous player in these playoffs than Ryan.
Anaheim also got prospect Stefan Noesen and a first round pick, used to select hulking Sault Ste. Marie winger Nick Ritchie. We’ll see how that trade looks in another year or to.
Winnipeg, meanwhile, has been a clear winner of the Kane trade in the short term, both because they were able to move a problem for major assets, and because those assets contributed to a successful playoff drive.
But with the sobering reality of this first round series against Anaheim now sinking in, the cost of the deal will soon be brought into vivid relief.
Again, Kane may never reach his potential for all kinds of reasons. But Buffalo is betting he will, and was willing to make major sacrifices to bring him east.
If Tim Murray is right, the Sabres will own an asset that the Jets could dearly use as they try to use this post-season as a springboard to greater successes in the next few years. Anaheim has shown the Jets what the next level looks like, and getting another forward like the departed Kane will be a major challenge for Cheveldayoff.
Jets supporters may want to remember that when something seems too good to be true, it usually is.