WINNIPEG — Buy or sell?
It’s the question many NHL teams will be looking to answer in the coming days.
Yes, it’s been slow going on the trade front of late and at a time when many believed the pre-emptive strike would be right around the corner, the rumour mill has slowed to a trickle and that next domino has yet to fall.
Could it be the calm before another last-minute storm? Perhaps, but time is of the essence and this virtual staring contest is reaching a critical juncture.
The Winnipeg Jets have no trouble declaring which camp they’ll be in leading into next Monday’s NHL trade deadline.
The aim is clearly to bolster the defence corps, though the type of player they’re trying to acquire and the teams they might be dealing with have yet to fully come into focus.
Jets centre Nate Thompson has plenty of recent experience in being dealt by a team and ending up with a contender — moving from the Montreal Canadiens to the Philadelphia Flyers last February, to the Canadiens from the Los Angeles Kings in 2019 and from the Ottawa Senators to the Kings in 2018.
After solidifying his fourth-line role and being moved back onto the penalty kill, he’s not going to be on the move again this season but he’s got his eyes wide open when it comes to what the Jets might do during the coming days.
“I’ve had a lot of practice with that the past few years. We have the best job in the world and I think you just have to enjoy it,” said Thompson. “You go out there, do your job, play your game, be a good teammate, all of those little things. You just control what you control, all the rest is the general manager’s job. That’s their part of the business.
“At this time of the year, it’s always exciting. Teams are revving up, teams are adding pieces to their lineup, you know that the playoffs are around the corner.”
Jets defenceman Logan Stanley has taken advantage of an opportunity on the third pairing with Dylan DeMelo to show he’s worthy of full-time duty.
He’s on the NHL roster at the NHL trade deadline for the first time, but he’s not getting swept away by any of the outside noise.
“I don’t think it’s something that I watch. Obviously, we think we have a good group in here,” said Stanley. “We think we can make a good run in the playoffs. If we bring someone in that can help us, that’s great. We’re in the game to win and if someone can help us win games, we’ll welcome them with open arms. But we have a good team in here too.”
With Nathan Beaulieu lost for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder, it’s possible the Jets could be looking at acquiring a depth D-man along with someone who might move immediately onto one of the top two pairings.
With the Nashville Predators still above the playoff line in the Central Division, Mattias Ekholm is either off the market entirely or the price tag to secure his services is probably going to be too high.
So where do the Jets look for an alternative?
Recent history has shown that waiting until later in the proceedings might mean a player previously not thought to be available could end up out there.
That deadline deal was of the high impact variety, helping the Jets fill an important void as they made a run to the Western Conference final.
Can Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff find a similar fit this year?
With the Columbus Blue Jackets in the midst of a 1-6-1 stretch and having fallen five points behind the Predators (who hold a game in hand), GM Jarmo Kekalainen might have no choice but to listen to offers for his pending unrestricted free agents.
That would put a guy like David Savard squarely in the conversation for the Jets.
He’s not a big point producer but is a guy who could help the Jets with their D-zone exits and can bring some additional physical play to the defence corps.
Savard, 30, has 37 games of playoff experience under his belt and would be considered a candidate to be paired with Josh Morrissey, provided the price was reasonable.
Another thing to consider is that it’s not always the high-profile deals that push a team over the top.
Kempny was viewed as more of a depth piece at the time, but ended up logging valuable minutes on the second pairing as the Capitals captured the Stanley Cup.
So while the potential for a bigger-name addition remains at the top of the wish list for Cheveldayoff, let’s take a closer look at several under-the-radar candidates who could end up on the Jets’ radar during the coming week:
D Mike Reilly, Ottawa Senators
2020-21 stats: 36 GP, 0 G, 16 A, 16 P, 18 PIM, 18:30 TOI
Contract status: $1.5 million AAV, pending UFA
The skinny: A strong skater known for his puck-moving ability, Reilly isn’t far removed from being a highly coveted college free agent who ended up signing with the Minnesota Wild. He never fully blossomed, but has been enjoying a solid season with the Senators. However, with the arrival of prospect Jacob Bernard-Docker, Reilly could be expendable.
D Patrik Nemeth, Detroit Red Wings
2020-21 stats: 39 GP, 2 G, 6 A, 8 P, 14 PIM, 18:32 TOI
Contract status: $3 million AAV, pending UFA
The skinny: A sturdy defender at six-foot-three and 228 pounds, the Jets would be familiar with Nemeth from his time in the Central Division with the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars. Some of his underlying numbers need improvement, but he could provide a valuable insurance policy.
D Ben Hutton, Anaheim Ducks
2020-21 stats: 31 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 4 P, 11 PIM, 18:24 TOI
Age: 28 (on April 20)
Contract status: $950,000 AAV, pending UFA
The skinny: There’s been a decline in offensive production since he racked up 25 points in 75 games as a rookie pro with the Vancouver Canucks. His underlying numbers haven’t been good this season, but he has some experience and could probably benefit from a change of scenery. If Hutton returns to the form he showed last season with the Canucks, he could help the Jets.
D Brandon Montour, Buffalo Sabres
2020-21 stats: 35 GP, 4 G, 8 A, 12 P, 22 PIM, 20:43 TOI
Age: 27 (on April 11)
Contract status: $3.85 million, pending UFA
The skinny: More of a mobile blue-liner with offensive upside, the second-round pick (55th overall) of the Anaheim Ducks in 2014 would probably love to get himself into a situation where the playoffs are a possibility. Might he be able to find a renewed sense of purpose the way Tyler Myers did after a trade to the Jets in 2015? Montour has 21 games of playoff experience (including a run to the Western Conference final in 2017) and while there are some defensive challenges to sort through, Sabres GM Kevyn Adams will be looking to move him and Montour certainly won’t be lacking motivation - as someone looking to re-establish his value before becoming an unrestricted free agent for the first time.
D Dmitry Kulikov, New Jersey Devils
2020-21 stats: 34 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 P, 22 PIM, 19:35 TOI
Contract status: $1.15 million, pending UFA
The skinny: The Russian blue-liner was a solid contributor for the Jets last season and he’s continued that arc with the Devils after signing a budget-conscious one-year deal. Considering his high number of defensive-zone starts (62.4%), his defensive play has been solid. The Jets familiarity with the player would be an obvious bonus and while he’s probably best suited for third pairing minutes, his ability to play both sides and move up the depth chart when necessary would be an obvious bonus.