The Winnipeg Jets didn’t get the biggest fish at the trade deadline, but there’s a case to be made that they were the biggest winners on Feb. 25.
Let’s start with their primary pickup. The acquisition of Kevin Hayes from the New York Rangers was this year’s version of the Paul Stastny deal — move out a first-round pick (hilariously top-three protected again) and a young player in Brendan Lemieux for an upgrade at second-line centre.
Just like Stastny did last year, Hayes figures to immediately slot behind Mark Scheifele on the depth chart and the hope would be that Hayes will complement the snipers he’ll play with. Patrik Laine, who has three goals in his past two games, but just four since Dec. 31, is a potential linemate. If Hayes — one of the best playmakers available — can unlock some consistency from Laine, it’ll be as if Winnipeg picked up two players at the deadline.
If not Laine, Hayes would play with Kyle Connor, already on his way to a second 30-goal season, on his left side. On his right, you can expect Nikolaj Ehlers, who is still trying to find his feet just two games back from a month-and-a-half layoff due to injury.
Playmaking aside, Hayes was also the top penalty-killer for the Rangers and could provide a boost to Winnipeg’s 20th-ranked PK. And for all their strengths, Winnipeg hasn’t been great this season at 5-on-5, where they give up more shots and goals than their opponents. Hayes’ play up and down the ice should have a positive impact.
On defence, Winnipeg didn’t do anything huge, but in Nathan Beaulieu and Bogdan Kiselevich the Jets get a couple of depth, left-shot defencemen that were sorely needed. You could argue, in fact, that this was Winnipeg’s most important deadline need. Joshua Morrissey left Sunday’s game after taking a hit. His prognosis isn’t yet clear, and the quality of depth on the left side behind him is lacking.
But when considering why Winnipeg is perhaps the biggest winner of the deadline, we need to consider what they didn’t do. They didn’t give up any of their high-end forward prospects in Jack Roslovic or Kristian Vesalainen. Roslovic is already a factor in Winnipeg’s lineup today and has the important versatility of being able to play centre or wing and contribute higher up the lineup if injury hits.
Vesalainen is back at home in Finland playing for Jokerit in the KHL, and has the highest points-per-game rate among under-20 players at 0.57 with 17 points in 30 games. He’s a big body with a lethal shot and has a future in the top six written all over him.
On defence, 2018 AHL defenceman of the year Sami Niku is still in place after rumours circulated that he could be moved as part of a package for Mark Stone.
While all of these players seem to have bright futures, how they fit into a tightening cap structure is a boon to the franchise as well. When the Jets sign Laine, Connor and (presumably) Jacob Trouba this summer, they’ll be closer to the cap than ever and will need all the productive, cheap players they can get. Roslovic will still be on his ELC next season, Niku will only make $775,000 and Vesalainen will only just be starting his rookie deal if he joins the NHL.
Keeping these players gives the Jets more maneuverability and depth without wasting any spots on the depth chart.
GM Kevin Cheveldayoff made more trades on deadline day (six) than any other team since the 2010 Arizona Coyotes and more than he had made in all his previous deadlines combined. Cheveldayoff didn’t blow the roof off with the blockbuster trade of the day, but he got what was needed and comes out of Feb. 25 a contender, while maintaining a patient approach that has made the Jets what they are today.