Jets’ options clear as mud


There’s a general consensus that NHL teams must pick one of three lanes at the trade deadline: They buy. They sell. Or they stand pat. And which direction the Winnipeg Jets take has the been the source of plenty of debate and hand-wringing around these parts. Not just for the fans, but for management as well.

The Jets entered play Friday night four points out of a playoff spot with 21 regular-season games remaining. They were on a 6-2-1 run in the past nine, suggesting they are trending up. However, they’re not just trying to overtake one team currently ahead of them, but three. And two of their top nine forwards in Andrew Copp and Paul Stastny are on expiring contracts likely to go elsewhere in free agency this summer, meaning losing them for nothing if you hang on to them.

There are numerous factors for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and company to consider between now and Monday at 2 p.m. CT.

Buying would be the riskiest move. Mortgaging the future by sending out draft picks and/or prospects for what still amounts to a longshot at this point — I’ve seen models that give the Jets anywhere from 10 to 15 per cent odds of qualifying for the playoffs — would be foolish asset management.

Selling would be the most difficult move. No doubt waving the white flag on the current campaign despite a recent run of success would be a tough pill to swallow, especially for veterans such as Blake Wheeler. It might also be viewed internally as counter-productive in the community, considering True North is desperately trying to sell tickets not just for the rest of this year, but next season as well.



<p>MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS files</p>
<p>There are numerous factors for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and company to consider between now and Monday”> </a><figcaption readability=

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS files

There are numerous factors for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and company to consider between now and Monday

Standing pat would be the easiest move. The Jets could use Copp and Stastny as “self-rentals,” rolling the dice that keeping the band together for the remaining six weeks of the season might just be enough to get them over the hump. And if it ultimately doesn’t work, at least they can say they tried.

Clear as mud, right?

With all that in mind, allow me to further cloud the issue by introducing a fourth lane into the discussion, one I suspect is growing increasingly tempting within the organization. It’s not something we see very much of, but it might just make perfect sense given the current state of affairs for the Jets.

MIKE DEAL / FREE PRESS FILES</p>
<p>Andrew Copp’s contract is expiring.”> </a><figcaption readability=

MIKE DEAL / FREE PRESS FILES

Andrew Copp’s contract is expiring.

Don’t bet against them being buyers and sellers on Monday, as strange as that might sound.

Conventional wisdom says you’d likely turn Copp and Stastny into assets that can help you a few years from now. But that doesn’t exactly fit with an organization that is supposed to be in “win now” mode, one that spent to the salary cap ceiling again this year and is built around a core of players including Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and No. 1 goaltender Connor Hellebuyck who all have two years remaining on their contracts. You think they give a hoot about acquiring a high draft pick or promising prospect? They likely won’t be around to reap those rewards.

What if you could immediately replace Copp and Stastny in your lineup with players who can not only take their spot down the stretch and maybe help you sneak in the playoffs, but stick around beyond the summer and help you for seasons to come? For a team such as Winnipeg, which we know isn’t exactly a top free-agency landing spot, it’s wise to try to identify suitable skaters who could fill that role.



<p>FRED GREENSLADE / CANADIAN PRESS FILES</p>
<p>No matter what happens, the fate of Paul Stastny will be clearer once the NHL trade deadline has passed Monday afternoon.</p>
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FRED GREENSLADE / CANADIAN PRESS FILES

No matter what happens, the fate of Paul Stastny will be clearer once the NHL trade deadline has passed Monday afternoon.

A few names currently churning around the NHL rumour mill come to mind. And one of them was on display Friday night at Canada Life Centre.

Boston winger Jake DeBrusk has asked for a trade, and the Bruins are shopping him around. The 25-year-old, who was taken three picks ahead of Kyle Connor in 2015, in the final year of a deal that pays him US$3.675 million. He will be a restricted free agent this summer, meaning the team retains control. Not to pour too much gasoline on the fire, but Boston has been scouting Winnipeg’s games heavily lately, as they are believed to have strong interest in Copp. DeBrusk has 15 goals and 10 assists in his first 56 games this year.

Winnipeg will get an up-close look Sunday night at another player on the trade block. Chicago winger Dominik Kubalik is likely getting a change of scenery, and the 26-year-old is in the final year of his contract that pays US$3.7 million. He’s also a pending RFA. The former 30-goal scorer has struggled this year on a rebuilding Blackhawks team, with 11 goals and 10 assists through 61 games. The Jets are reported to be one of a handful of teams that have recently checked in on Kubalik

COREY SIPKIN / ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES</p>
<p>Boston winger Jake DeBrusk has asked for a trade.”> </a><figcaption readability=

COREY SIPKIN / ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES

Boston winger Jake DeBrusk has asked for a trade.

How about Montreal’s Artturi Lehkonen, who could also soon be on the move. The 26-year-old Finnish left-winger is a pending RFA who makes US$2.3 million this year and is due for a raise. He has 13 goals and 15 assists in 57 games and could be a nifty third-line replacement for the 27-year-old Copp, who is believed to be looking for a long-term deal in the neighbourhood of at least US$5 million per season.

Those are just three examples, but there are several others who could be in similar situations in a flat-cap era. And they could be just what the Jets are looking for when it comes to both the present and the future. Cheveldayoff may have already dropped some subtle hints at this kind of strategy when he talked about potential “hockey trades” at the deadline during his mid-season chat with us last month. It’s a term that typically refers to a player-in, player-out situation

There’s also an additional wildcard Cheveldayoff might have up his sleeve, one that would involve trading one of his veteran defenceman who still have a few years left on their deals — think Dylan DeMelo, Nate Schmidt or Brenden Dillon — and getting an established forward or two with term back to fill the void left by moving Copp and/or Stastny.

PAUL SANCYA / ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES</p>
<p>Chicago winger Dominik Kubalik is likely getting a change of scenery.”> </a><figcaption readability=

PAUL SANCYA / ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES

Chicago winger Dominik Kubalik is likely getting a change of scenery.

With young blue-liners such as Ville Heinola, Dylan Samberg, Johnathan Kovacevic and Declan Chisholm all waiting in the wings for their next opportunity, and at a fraction of the price of the players currently holding down those spots, it might make perfect sense. Especially since the Jets don’t have nearly the same forward depth ripening on the vine.

Re-tooling the roster, rather than tearing it down and rebuilding, is the way to go in Winnipeg. Now the question is whether that waits to happen until the summer, of if Cheveldayoff takes the road less travelled and tries to do it on the fly by Monday afternoon.

Tick, tock.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

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