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Veteran Stastny hasn’t lost a step

Paul Stastny keeps making it difficult for the Winnipeg Jets to say enough is enough.

Contrary to popular belief, the veteran forward was still with the Central Division team by the time general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was mandated to put his phone down Monday afternoon when the NHL trade deadline hit.

<p>Winnipeg Jets centre Pierre-Luc Dubois sees his shot just goes high and wide of Ottawa Senators goaltender Anton Forsberg as Nick Holden defends Thursday night. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)</p>
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Winnipeg Jets centre Pierre-Luc Dubois sees his shot just goes high and wide of Ottawa Senators goaltender Anton Forsberg as Nick Holden defends Thursday night. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

It’s not known if there were any suitors for Stastny, set to become an unrestricted free agent when the 2021-22 season is complete, although it’s hard to imagine one of the serious Stanley Cup contenders wouldn’t have benefited from his skill, smarts and versatility down the stretch.

But the man heading up the Jets’ hockey operations maintained he had no intention of moving the 16-year veteran, noting the Jets are in far better shape to challenge for a spot in the post-season dance with Stastny than without.

Stastny entered the 1,055th game of his career Thursday —a matchup against the Ottawa Senators — with 17 goals and is pushing for his highest total since the 2013-14 season when he fired 25. He still averages 17-18 minutes of ice time a night, which closely resembles the load of work he’s been accustomed to for more than a decade.

If he’s lost a step or his instincts are ebbing, the decline is undetectable for now.

And just days after many thought the Winnipeg chapter of Stastny’s long NHL story was probably over, it’s entirely possible he isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.

He said so — in a roundabout way — during Thursday’s morning skate, when asked if the door is open for a return to Winnipeg for the 2022-23 campaign.

“Yeah, absolutely. No one knows what the future holds in anything, so that’s why you never say anything (definitively),” said Stastny, who was back at his familiar centre position between Mason Appleton and Zach Sanford against the Senators. “You keep all of your options available, especially as you get older. When you have something good going, you always want to make the best of it and keep that option available.”

The Jets are paying him US$3.75 million this season. There’s only so much cash to go around and Winnipeg is expected to spend close to the cap in 2022-23, but a retention of Stastny at a cheaper rate could be part of the equation.

Stastny hinted Winnipeg might have the inside track as a landing spot next year.

“I don’t know. I’d say, yeah, maybe. With teams I’ve played with in the past, because I know their situation, that kind of plays a role in when you’re looking potentially on where you go,” he said. “But at the same time you want go where you’re wanted.”

The Jets clearly preferred to stage a drive for a Western Conference wild-card spot with No.25 on the roster, although it was anythng but a mundane Monday for the temporary bachelor.

“It sucks waiting, not knowing what’s going to happen …just not knowing is always the hardest part in anything,” he said. “If you do get traded, it’s a new sense of life but it sucks because you’re going somewhere new and so you feel alone. If you don’t get traded, it’s a relief because it’s like, “OK, well I’m still here and we’ve got unfinished business.’

“My family was out of town, so basically I was just home alone trying to …I don’t watch the TSN show. So, every 30 minutes or 45 minutes I would look at my phone, just to see updates because I like to know what’s going on around the league. Other than that, sometimes waiting causes a lot of anxiety, not knowing.”

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Zach Sanford has shown only glimpses of a scorer’s touch to date in his NHL career but aspires to put more on display as he progresses as a pro.

The newcomer to Winnipeg, just two games removed from a trade from the Senators to the Jets, had nine goals in 62 games this season, prior to the meeting with his former employer. And that included a random three-goal night from the 6-3, 206-pound left-winger in late November in Denver as the Sens fell 7-5 to the Avalanche.

That wasn’t even a career night for the Salem, Mass., product who supplied four goals for St. Louis in a game in mid-February 2020 in Vegas.

Sanford, 27, said he’s always placed an emphasis on responsible play in the defensive zone. He’s hoping to see his offensive numbers swell but isn’t about cheat to make that happen.

“Obviously, I’d like to see some more production. There are definitely times where I think a little too defensively. I’m not jumping in rushes right away or protecting a little too much,” he said. “I think those games when I’m scoring those goals, it comes off of defence first. It comes off being in the right spots, breakouts in the (defensive) zone, breaking up plays and going the other way and creating off that.”

Sanford, a second-round pick by Washington in 2103, played a pair of seasons at Boston College before cracking the Capitals roster out of training camp in 2016. He split the season in the NHL and American Hockey League before being traded to the Blues in a huge deal in February 2917 that sent defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk the other way.

Two years later, Sanford put the finishing touches on the Blues’ 4-1 victory over the Boston Bruins with a third-period tally in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup championship.

“I hadn’t played for most of the playoffs and to get back in for the finals — with the injuries and I think we had a suspension, too — so for me to slot back in and be able to help the team out was pretty cool,” said the proud New Englander. “Especially going back to Boston, in front of a lot of my friends and family, being able to cap off that win was something I’ll never forget.

“That was a lot of fun. Every team has ups and downs, we had a lot that year, it’s about the timing of them. We had the downs and the ups at the rights times,” Sanford added. “It’s kind of like the spot we’re in here (in Winnipeg). You get hot at the end of the year, you never know what can happen. We were in last place in January in that season and got hot at the end of the year and went on a run. When things are clicking and things are going right, like I said, anything can happen.”

Stastny, who played briefly with Sanford in St. Louis during the ‘16-17 season, had high praise for his new linemate, who is also a UFA at the end of the season.

“Skilled, brings a little sandpaper every game …always loved him and was excited when we got him because I know what he brings to the table. He is a big body, kind of wiry but he plays pissed off when he needs to be, but he’s also got soft hands and understand the game,” offered Stastny. “He’s one of those guys that can kind of play anywhere in the lineup where he’s needed, like a Swiss army knife.


Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

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