WINNIPEG – In the end, there was no big splash made by the Winnipeg Jets.
With all due respect to versatile veteran Jordie Benn, his addition barely even qualifies as a ripple in this trade deadline pool.
At a time when the Jets are firmly established as a contender in the North Division, the overriding belief was that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was poised to take a big swing to help improve his defence corps.
Cheveldayoff surveyed the market and made calls around the league, checking in on a number of different options, both on the rental market and for players with some term on their remaining contracts.
Ultimately, Cheveldayoff decided to bank on his internal options, reinforcing his belief that this defence corps is greater than the sum of its parts.
“I think we have a defensive core that certainly has more depth here today,” Cheveldayoff said during a zoom call. “We’ve gotten to this point where we are challenging on any given night, there’s the jockeying for positions in this division, and we think we’re right there.”
It’s a choice that doesn’t come without risk, but it’s also a nod to his belief in the current group and some of the high-end prospects in the pipeline.
“I think that someone I’d like to see here as well is Ville Heinola, get an opportunity to show where he does fit,” said Cheveldayoff. “So, we feel we have some depth within the organization that is a little more than maybe what some other people might think. But when you come into a trade deadline, you’re sometimes victim to what might be out there as well.
“I look at the opportunity that’s in front of this group to continue to reap the benefits of some of the younger players getting better and getting an opportunity that should be beneficial to us moving forward.”
At a time when Kyle Dubas and the Toronto Maple Leafs clearly pushed their chips into the middle of the table by adding forwards Nick Foligno, Stefan Noesen, defenceman Ben Hutton and goalie David Rittich, Cheveldayoff wasn’t willing to sacrifice big pieces of the future in order to potentially improve in the present.
This shouldn’t come as a complete shock.
Even if the Jets had been able to find a longer-term solution, Cheveldayoff was reluctant to move a top prospect if it wasn’t in another blockbuster.
When considering the Jets traded three first-round picks (Patrik Laine, Jack Roslovic and Jacob Trouba) since the summer of 2019, it’s easy to understand the hesitation for a team that relies on the draft, development and retention model.
Those moves all represent a significant drain on the internal resources, plus there is an expansion draft this summer to consider.
Will the lack of a notable move come back to haunt the Jets during what many observers consider a more direct path to the Final 4 through the North Division?
It certainly could, but the Jets have shown they are a capable club and don’t lack confidence or offensive weaponry.
Before the Jets continued their road trip with a 4-2 loss to the Senators, defenceman Dylan DeMelo reinforced his belief in the current group.
“Any time management goes out and gets a player they feel can help the team going forward, I think it’s just a boost for everybody and that’s a testament to how hard we’ve worked and the position we’ve put ourselves into,” DeMelo said following the morning skate and before the addition of Benn was announced. “We all know our forward position’s pretty strong and I know people say our defensive depth isn’t as good, but I would say that’s probably more because of how strong our goaltending is and how strong our forward group is. I think our defence has done a really good job this year, kind of by committee, and has done a really good job of stepping up to play really well.”
Benn brings experience and is comfortable playing on either the left (his natural side) or the right side.
He’s likely an insurance policy after Nathan Beaulieu was lost for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Given the progression of 2016 first-rounder Logan Stanley, it’s likely Benn begins his tenure with the Jets as the sixth or seventh defenceman.
There’s no doubt the Jets still have plenty of room for improvement when it comes to their collective defensive game.
Strides have been taken, but more will be required in order for the Jets to go on a playoff run that includes winning multiple rounds.
What also can’t be ignored is that the Jets still have one of the deepest forward groups in the NHL and that goalie Connor Hellebuyck remains the great equalizer, given the Vezina-like level he continues to play at.
The Jets will continue to be a team to be reckoned with and they should be a tough out – even without a headlining addition.
By not making a move to bolster that top-four, Cheveldayoff has left himself open to criticism if things don’t work during the playoffs.
He also didn’t end up making a deal he might end up regretting.
Either option meant rolling the dice to a certain degree and the truth of the matter is we won’t really know if the decision was the right one for quite some time.
Cheveldayoff didn’t flinch when asked what message he sent to his team with what transpired on Monday.
“We made a big trade earlier in the year. That trade has helped strengthen us as a team, said Cheveldayoff, referring to the acquisition of Pierre-Luc Dubois. “I think the players have gotten to this point together as a group. I think it’s a real strong group.
“We’ve sent the message that we’ve added some depth that can help us as we move forward here in the remaining games and into the playoffs. It also sends the message that the group we have here, we believe in you. We didn’t break it apart. We think the group that got us to this point deserves to continue to get rewarded and continue to play.”