Entering the NHL All-Star weekend, the Winnipeg Jets find themselves in rarefied air.
In previous seasons, the Jets were usually struggling at this point in the season to keep their playoff hopes alive. This year, they’re jockeying for first place in the Central Division and rank among the top teams in the Western Conference.
With the Feb. 26 trade deadline just over a month away, the Jets could become a buyer.
Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff isn’t known as a major wheeler-dealer. Since taking over as Jets GM in 2011, he’s usually been a seller near the deadline.
The only time Cheveldayoff was a deadline buyer was in 2015. On Feb.11, he shipped out Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian to Buffalo in a multiplayer swap for Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford. Two weeks later, he acquired Jiri Tlusty from Carolina. On deadline day (March 1), he sent Carl Klingberg to the New York Rangers for forward Lee Stempniak.
Chevelayoff made those moves in part to improve his club’s playoff hopes. Acquisitions such as Myers, Stafford, and Stempniak proved crucial in securing a postseason berth.
Things are different this year. The Jets aren’t fighting for their playoff lives. Barring a collapse, they should easily qualify for the 2018 postseason.
Rather than be content to stand pat, Cheveldayoff could consider bolstering his roster for a possible Stanley Cup run.
That’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. As of Jan. 24, the Jets goals per game average (3.24), goals-against per game (2.67), power-play percentage (25.0) and faceoff win percentage (52.8) ranked among the league’s best. If they maintain those numbers over the remainder of the season, they stand a very good shot at Cup contention.
The Winnipeg Sun‘s Ken Wiebe believes the Jets should consider adding some depth. On Jan. 17, he pointed out the roster, while talented, lacks postseason experience.
Wiebe noted the Jets have some prospects that could interest other clubs. With $68.8 million invested in this season’s salary-cap payroll, they have plenty of room to take on a salaried player or two. Given the number of good young players already on the roster, perhaps Cheveldayoff might consider dangling his 2018 first-round pick as trade bait.
If the Jets go shopping, Wiebe suggested adding a scoring winger or even a center. He also wouldn’t be surprised if they brought in an experienced defenseman.
Wiebe brought up Ottawa Senators center Derick Brassard as a trade option. However, on Monday the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch said Brassard isn’t expected to be dealt. The Sens also apparently want an offer too good to pass up for young center Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
The Senators, however, aren’t the only possible trading partner for Cheveldayoff. The lowly Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres are sellers. In a month’s time, the Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks could join them.
If the Jets seek a veteran defenseman, Detroit’s Mike Green, Florida’s Alex Petrovic or Vancouver’s Erik Gudbranson could be available.
Options at center/wing could include Arizona’s Tobias Rieder, Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist, Edmonton’s Mark Letestu or Patrick Maroon, Montreal’s Andrew Shaw or Tomas Plekanec or Vancouver’s Tomas Vanek.
The Jets are a very good hockey team. With one or two savvy trade acquisitions, they could raise some hell in the 2018 playoffs.
Cheveldayoff owes it to his players to give them a realistic shot to make a run for the Cup. If the opportunity presents itself to add a quality player, he must seize it.