Jets & Cheveldayoff Should Wait to Replace Byfuglien

Kevin Cheveldayoff must be feeling like a guy who stumbled upon a wallet filled with cash but no ID.

The Winnipeg Jets general manager is soon to have $7.6 million at his disposal, as the club and Dustin Byfuglien are working toward a mutual contract termination.

The money set aside in case the 34-year-old rogue defenseman — who infamously stunned the team by taking a leave of absence on day one of training camp back in September — will undoubtedly be burning a hole in Cheveldayoff’s pocket.

The worst thing Cheveldayoff could do with the sudden windfall is rush to spend it.

Cheveldayoff Can’t Afford More Blue Line Blunders

Cheveldayoff deserves credit for turning the Jets into a contender, but has hurt the team more than he’s helped them in the past 12 months.

Granted, he didn’t know that his X-factor blueliner would flake out long after all the free agents had signed elsewhere. However, even before the whole Byfuglien rigamarole happened, there was still a desperate need to bolster the back-end since the Jets lost Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, and Ben Chiarot.

Jacob Trouba Winnipeg Jets
The Jets had needs on D long before the Byfuglien situation arose, as they lost Jacob Trouba, pictured above, Tyler Myers, and Ben Chiarot. Cheveldayoff failed to address those needs. (James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports)

Thanks to spending to the ceiling on his forwards and a couple of detrimental contracts hampering things, Cheveldayoff was unable to do anything more than pick up Anthony Bitetto in the offseason and scavenge Carl Dahlstrom and Luca Sbisa from the waiver wire since.

A “Quick Fix” Doesn’t Exist

Now, Cheveldayoff must resist the urge to overpay for a rental defenseman in a last-ditch attempt to “save” the season. He needs to realize the station his team is really at.

If he ponders for a while, he’ll come to the inevitable conclusion that parting with his first-round pick in exchange for one of the D-men currently being shopped — such as the Buffalo Sabres’ Rasmus Ristolainen, the Minnesota Wild’s Matt Dumba, or the Philadelphia Flyers’ Shayne Gostisbehere — would be foolhardy.

Related: Jets Need 1st Round Pick More than They Need a Rental

The time to act fast was last summer, not now. Bringing in one blueliner who is unfamiliar with the organization and its schemes with 28 games to go — even a potentially impactful one such as the aforementioned trio — will not move the needle in any significant way. The Jets are a squad that has deeply-rooted defensive deficiencies and nightmarish underlying numbers.

Winnipeg Jets Executive Vice President and General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff
Cheveldayoff needs to resist the urge to act too quickly and overpay for a rental. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

Even head coach Paul Maurice feels this way, saying last week “paying a high price for a rental, I don’t know (if) that makes a whole lot of sense for us.”

Chevaldayoff does have some assets, and if he can get a pending UFA such as Dylan DeMelo, Brenden Dillon, Alec Martinez, Jeff Petry, or Sami Vatanen without compromising the team’s long term viability, he should pull the trigger. However…

Cheveldayoff is Better Off Waiting

Since the Jets are not built for a long playoff run — they’ve got a tough road ahead just to qualify — he’d be better served to ride out the season with who he’s got and waiting for the offseason to make a big splash through free agency or a trade.

Rushing to trade for someone who isn’t interested in being with the Jets long-term — or just trading for someone in hopes of being able to re-sign them with the Byfuglien money — would be short-sighted. The Jets need someone who can help them compete in the seasons to come, not just for the end of this one.

Matt Dumba Minnesota Wild
The time to make a play for a top-four defenseman such as Matt Dumba is the offseason, not now. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Jets’ long relationship with Byfuglien has ended with a splat. It was a good one for the most part and “Big Buff” was definitely fun to watch; there’s no player in the NHL who can impact a game as drastically, or in as many ways, as he can, that’s for sure.

How selfishly he’s behaved since September — leaving the team in the lurch when they needed him most and tying up cap space by filing a grievance against the suspension without pay the Jets’ issued him, a grievance he had no real chance of winning — will rightfully tarnish his legacy in Winnipeg, though. It’s a city that would have erected a statue of him manhandling two opponents at once if he’d either played this and next season or had simply been forthcoming about his intentions to call it quits earlier.

Many people tend to overreact after a breakup and look for a quick rebound. Cheveldayoff cannot do that. He has his much-needed closure and is about to get cap clarity. He needs to have clarity of mind as well and not do anything too rash.

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