How Jets' Cheveldayoff navigates trade deadline will have serious ramifications

New York Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov (40) stops a scoring chance against Winnipeg Jets center Andrew Copp (9) as teammate center Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) looks to help during the third period of an NHL hockey game. (Jim McIsaac/AP)

ST. LOUIS - Kevin Cheveldayoff would be best served by resisting the temptation to stand pat.

For every glimmer of hope, the Winnipeg Jets provide for the long-time general manager, using Andrew Copp and/or Paul Stastny as a self-rental does not extend the window of contention for this group.

Not without a contract extension for either player anyway. And it would appear the chances of that happening for either versatile forward would currently fall in the slim-to-none category right now.

As the Jets prepare to close out this three-game road trip against the St. Louis Blues on Sunday at Enterprise Center, they can look at their opponent for a bit of guidance on how to handle the upcoming NHL trade deadline.

The Jets were the beneficiary of the difficult decision by Blues general manager Doug Armstrong to put himself squarely in the seller category in 2018, choosing to trade Stastny to Winnipeg after the veteran centre chose to waive his no-movement clause.

The move was not popular in Missouri at the time and former Brandon Wheat Kings forward Brayden Schenn was among the most vocal members of the Blues to speak out against the trade at the time.

The Blues were two points out of the playoff race and this was viewed by many inside that dressing room as a sign of surrender.

Armstrong and his staff came to the decision that the Blues weren’t built to go on a dangerous playoff run and planned to provide an offseason makeover down the middle, so he opted to try and maximize his assets.

There was certainly some short-term pain to endure, but it didn’t take long for the move to work out for the Blues, who ended up winning the Stanley Cup the following season after bringing in current captain Ryan O’Reilly via trade and Tyler Bozak in free agency.

Would the Jets have some upset veterans if guys like Copp and Stastny are moved for future assets?

Of course they would - and they should be.

If those players didn’t have that competitive fire, that would be a major problem and concern.

Do you know what helped the Blues get over their frustration?

Icing a better team the following season.

For the Jets, choosing to punt on the current season would not be an example of Cheveldayoff not living up to his end of the bargain when it comes to the commitment he made to the likes of captain Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck, Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Adam Lowry, Josh Morrissey and Neal Pionk.

By making a few moves before Mar. 21 arrives, Cheveldayoff would actually be keeping his promise as he tries to get the Jets roster better equipped to take a run next season.

Is there a way of minimizing the drop-off once Copp and Stastny are removed from the forward group?

That’s going to be a challenge, but with David Gustafsson back up to full health and playing with the Manitoba Moose in the American Hockey League, his two-way game is well-equipped to step into the role on the third line with Adam Lowry.

The latest update on Cole Perfetti (suspected shoulder injury) was that his prospective return is not imminent, so that means the Jets would likely try and fill the middle-six spot by acquiring a forward via trade.

There are a number of teams that have been watching the Jets closely, among them the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers.

There are other clubs that prefer to stay in stealth mode and will try to stay below the radar before trying to strike.

Given the salary cap situation for most of the teams mentioned, a trade closer to the actual deadline is the most likely scenario but there are always a few teams looking to make that pre-emptive strike for fear of being left without their primary or even secondary targets.

That’s what could make these next four games before the deadline so interesting to monitor.

One of the most interesting trade targets for the Jets would be Jake DeBrusk of the Bruins.

DeBrusk, 25, is a skilled forward with size and his trade request has been well documented, though he’s recently gone through a solid stretch that rejuvenated his season.

He’s up to 15 goals and 25 points in 54 games and is about to become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights after earning $4.85 million in salary and carrying an AAV of $3.675 million during the past two seasons.

DeBrusk could provide some size and scoring ability on the wing. He’s not as defensively responsible as Copp, but few players are.

For a team that has been limited to two goals or fewer in 27 of 59 games so far this season, DeBrusk makes sense on a number of levels.

Are the Bruins willing to move DeBrusk for a rental?

That’s a more complex question, though Boston could be interested in trying to convince Copp to stick around before he hits unrestricted free agency this summer.

There will be plenty of offers for Cheveldayoff to consider and what he’ll be looking for is to apply one of the core tenets he’s referenced since being hired for the position in the summer of 2011.

Cheveldayoff must have one eye on the present and one on the future and what we know right now is that the forward group needs to be augmented and the logjam on defence needs to be addressed as well - though it’s possible that could be put on hold until the off-season.

For a franchise that is spending into LTIR and had aspirations of returning to contender status, it’s evident that the Jets have not lived up to expectations and when that happens, changes are made - even if they’re not always popular.

It’s a necessary step in the building process and the sooner the renovation of the roster begins, the better off this group is probably going to be.

While there is going to be a lot to digest when it comes to the autopsy of this season, several facts are indisputable.

As currently constructed, the Jets are a longshot to even qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, let alone win a round - or the required four to get your name engraved on the trophy.

The Jets might still be six points out of a playoff spot, but they’ve still got four teams to jump over.

Quite frankly, the math is not in the Jets' favour.

Nor are the results from the first 59 games, where the Jets have gone 26-23-10.

When you dig below the surface level numbers, you find a team that’s put together just two three-game winning streaks, one of which stretched to four.

On the flip side, the Jets endured losing streaks of four (0-3-1), five (0-4-1) and six (0-4-2).

They haven’t won three consecutive games since early January and quite frankly, time is running out.

Since roaring out of the gate with a 9-3-4 record (more impressive when you consider the Jets went 0-2-1 on the first road trip), the team is 17-20-6.

Since coming back from the NHL All-Star break, the Jets are 8-5-3 and given the hole they dug for themselves, playing around .500 hockey simply isn’t going to cut it.

An extended run is the only way to apply pressure to those teams above them in the standings and falling 5-2 to the New York Islanders on Friday was the latest stumbling block.

The Jets are a perplexing team to try and figure out.

They are no longer an offensive powerhouse (though they have scored five or more goals on 14 occasions and four or more on four others, yet sit 18th In the NHL in goals for) and they aren’t a team that’s known to be stingy, never mind structurally sound.

Showing faith in this group - no matter how strongly Cheveldayoff believes in them - could end up doing more harm than good.

That’s not to say a complete teardown is necessary. There are a lot of quality pieces to build around and bringing in the right complementary players could help the Jets return to where they want to be.

And that’s why it’s so important for Cheveldayoff to play his hand properly and make sure that his moves bring back the type of return that can both replenish the lost draft capital, deepen the prospect pool and enhance the NHL roster.

Nobody said it was going to be easy, but how Cheveldayoff navigates these next eight days is sure to have far-reaching ramifications.

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