The spectre of poor decisions in seasons gone by loomed large over the Winnipeg Jets’ embarrassing Game 3 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
Indeed, it was a scary game for the visitors, now on the brink of elimination, with three ghosts of general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s past haunting the Jets the most.
Two Tallies for Armia
A trade sweetener has been very sweet for the Canadiens indeed. Joel Armia — who played 179 games with the Jets and tallied 58 points in three seasons between 2015-16 and 2017-2018 — scored a pair of shorthanded goals Sunday night.
That pair included a morale-crusher in the second period that put the Canadiens up 3-0. The Jets were presented the perfect opportunity to get back into the game with a power play, but Armia scored a nifty goal on an odd-man rush, avoiding a diving Josh Morrissey and ripping the puck past Connor Hellebuyck. Armia also scored an empty-netter to cap off the scoring.
Armia — originally acquired by the Jets in 2015 from the Buffalo Sabres in the Evander Kane trade — had evolved into a utile penalty-killer, secondary scorer, and bottom-six mainstay by the end of his Jets’ tenure.
Related: Armia Not as Advertised for Jets, but That’s Alright
But Cheveldayoff had doled out an awful contract prior to Armia’s final season in Winnipeg, inking injury-prone and inconsistent goaltender Steve Mason to a two-year deal worth $8.2 million. The deal was a disaster, with Mason only playing 13 games and having the crease stolen from him early by Hellebuyck.
By the time the offseason came around after the Jets were eliminated in the Western Conference Final by the Vegas Golden Knights, Cheveldayoff was desperate to move the Mason contract out so he could have enough funds to potentially re-sign rental player Paul Stastny. Cheveldayoff found a trade partner in the Canadiens, but only if he’d add in Armia as a sweetener, and pulled the trigger a day before 2018 Free Agent Frenzy.
Stastny ended up signing with the Vegas Golden Knights, and Armia has been excellent with the Habs ever since. In this series, has been a force on a line with veterans Corey Perry and Eric Staal.
Another Sturdy Game for Chiarot
Another former Jet in Ben Chiarot once again played an integral role on the Canadiens’ stalwart blue line in preventing the Jets’ so-called “top guns” from getting through the neutral zone or establishing any sort of sustained offensive pressure.
The left-hander skated 25:14, was a plus-two, had three hits, and blocked two shots — showcasing the type of heavy and dependable game he could and should still be providing the Jets.
Cheveldayoff lost Chiarot to free agency in 2019, after the 6-3, 225-pound d-man had played 305 games over six seasons for the franchise. Chiarot’s final season in Winnipeg was his best, both defensively and offensively.
Re-signing Chiarot should have been none-too-difficult, but Cheveldayoff procrastinated and procrastinated. He was reticent to give Chiarot the raise he deserved, since he didn’t know how much he would have to spend on pending restricted free agents Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine (both were coming off the final seasons of their entry-level deals at the time.)
He lowballed Chiarot, offering him a $3 million AAV over four seasons, according to Winnipeg Sun coverage at the time. The Canadiens tendered a better offer — a $3.5 million AAV over three seasons — and Chiarot took it.
Chiarot has been a force in his first two seasons in Montreal — and in this playoff series as well — and has established himself as a top-four talent who can shoulder 20-plus minutes per night. The Jets’ blue line has been patchwork and often subpar since his departure, and it’s a shame they lost such a dependable defender over a measly half-a-mil.
The Dagger From Someone the Jets Could Have Had
A player who would have been available to the Jets if not for some 2017 wheeling and dealing scored the dagger goal, a power play marker that put the Canadiens up 4-1.
That was Nick Suzuki, who the Jets would have been able to select 13th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft… if they had not traded that pick away to the brand-new Golden Knights.
Prior to the 2017 Expansion Draft, Cheveldayoff traded Winnipeg’s pick and a third-round 2019 selection to the Golden Knights in exchange for the 2017 24th overall pick. That was obviously a lopsided deal, but the Jets also got out of it a gentlemen’s agreement that Kelly McCrimmon would take aging veteran Chris Thorburn instead of Tobias Enstrom or Marko Dano — two players who, in hindsight, weren’t worth the trouble of swinging a deal to retain.
A year later, the Golden Knights traded Suzuki to the Canadiens along with Tomas Tatar in exchange for then-Habs captain Max Pacioretty.
To know the Jets could have had Suzuki — who has recorded 41 points in each of his first two professional seasons — instead of Kristian Vesalainen — who is trending well into bust territory and has still yet to score an NHL goal — well… it really, really hurts.
All of this just goes to show how each decision a GM makes can come back to hurt them, even if not right away. And make no mistake: Cheveldayoff’s ghosts were a terror to his club in Game 3.