Jets Cannot Afford to Wait for the Trade Deadline

If you’re familiar with the contract situation of the Winnipeg Jets, you know this is the year they have to take a run at the Stanley Cup. If you’re familiar with how they’ve played of late, you know they cannot wait until the March 3 deadline. They need roster depth, and they need it now.

Rick Bowness Winnipeg Jets
Rick Bowness, Head Coach of the Winnipeg Jets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Waiting for the trade deadline would be bad for their hockey health, and here’s why. Their schedule demands a trade now, their roster needs a boost sooner than later, and their division is ripe for the proverbial picking.

The Schedule Dictates They Cannot Wait

Despite a solid 4-1 road win over the New York Rangers (Feb. 20), the Jets are currently in a funk. Even in that game, they were massively outshot by a 51-21 margin. Before that, they had a 5-7 record over their previous 12 games, of which nine were against teams below the playoff line. They lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers, Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens. In those 12 games, they scored just over two goals per game yet allowed almost three per night. Not exactly the ratio you would expect from one of the NHL’s most improved defensive clubs. January was, on paper, supposed to be a reprieve in their schedule; they didn’t take full advantage of that as they should have.

Related: Jets Cannot Win the Stanley Cup Without a Couple of Trades

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Of their remaining 25 games, 17 are against Western Conference opponents and eight against Central Division rivals, including two against the defending champions Colorado Avalanche who are closing in on the Jets. Not long ago, the Jets were eight points ahead of the Avalanche. Now they find themselves two points in front while Colorado has a game in hand. Waiting another two weeks to make a trade could see the struggling Jets in third place.

Jets’ Roster Cannot Wait to be Bolstered

The Jets have to move this season. After a disastrous 2021-22 campaign, general manager (GM) Kevin Cheveldayoff rolled the dice by keeping the core of this roster intact and changing only the coaching staff. The team has turned it around to where they are now in the conversation as one of the NHL’s top-ten teams. Now is the time for him to make a big move because some contracts demand it. Mark Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck and Blake Wheeler will all be unrestricted free agents (UFA) after next season. Pierre-Luc Dubois will be a restricted free agent this summer and has made it publicly known that he would like to play in Montreal. If the Jets have ever had a window of opportunity for a deep playoff run, this is it.

Pierre-Luc Dubois Winnipeg Jets
Pierre-Luc Dubois will be key for the Winnipeg Jets before and after the trade deadline. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Dubois has only three goals and three assists in the past 13 games. The one Jets forward who is a physical force and an offensive weapon who plays with an edge isn’t any of those right now. Scheifele was on pace to score 50-plus goals earlier in the season but has recently cooled off while leading scorer Kyle Connor has only five markers to his name. Dubois, Scheifele and Connor, who all scored against the Rangers, account for 46 percent of their goals. The Jets need a forward or two for two reasons. One, to bolster their depth and add some much-needed offensive punch, but more importantly, to spread the scoring from two forward lines to three.

Simply put, the Jets lack forward depth, and the bottom-six is not contributing offensively. A move for a forward would give head coach Rick Bowness the ability to move someone like Wheeler or Cole Perfetti to the third line. A move like this would help Adam Lowry, who centers the Jets’ third line and hasn’t scored a goal since Dec. 11, precisely 30 games ago. After scoring seven in his first 26 games, he hasn’t scored since.

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The Conference Requires a Quicker Move

The Western Conference is an ocean of opportunity right now. Not a single team has taken the bull by the metaphorical horns to lay claim to being the best team in the conference. The Dallas Stars, the front-runners in the Central all season, have also hit hard times recently. With only two wins in their last seven, they failed to surge ahead when the Jets gave them every opportunity to do so.

Most fans seem to agree. Pundits, too. The Winnipeg Jets should count their blessing this season, including a wide-open Western Conference, and go all-in.

– Scott Billeck, (from “TRADE DEADLINE: Seller’s market gives Jets’ Cheveldayoff all-in option”, Winnipeg Sun, 18/02/2023)

This combined lack-lustre play has opened the door for the Avalanche to catch up, which they have. The Stars are only three points ahead of the Jets and five ahead of Colorado, with each team having one and two games in hand respectively.

Jared Bednar Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche have made a move in the Central Division (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Jets need to make a trade now. They are still in a position to surge before the Avalanche pass them. There is plenty of hockey left in the schedule, and the quicker they make a move, the sooner they can look to surge ahead while they are still in a position to do so.

The Jets have the opportunity to uncharacteristically make a splash at the deadline. They need to take a big swing for a big name. That is the consensus of the fans and media insiders who follow them. However, they are not in a position to wait until the March 3 deadline. They need to make a move sooner than later. They need the resources now and should move before the best available players are traded to other teams looking to bolster their lineups. It’s only two weeks, but it could mean a difference of a few points, which in a tight Western Conference could result in an easier path to the conference final.

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