According to the oddsmakers, the Winnipeg Jets currently have a nine percent chance of making the playoffs. It’s slim but as Lloyd Christmas said in “Dumb and Dumber” facing nearly similar impossible odds, “so you’re telling me there’s a chance?” The media and fans alike have the Jets being sellers at the trade deadline, but what if they’re not? I’m not saying Andrew Copp, Paul Stastny and Nathan Beaulieu – the team’s three unrestricted free agents (UFA) at season’s end – aren’t going to get traded by Monday, I’m saying there’s maybe an overlooked option where they won’t.
General manager (GM) Kevin Cheveldayoff made it clear when the Jets signed Blake Wheeler, along with Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck to contracts that all expire after the 2023-24 season, that they were “all in” on winning the Stanley Cup. To that end, he has built a team that is supposed to be in that very conversation. However, the roster on paper and the product on the ice have spun two very different tales this season. Inconsistent has been the single most used word to describe them this year. At this point in this season, it would appear as if that proverbial window of opportunity that was three years is now down to the next two.
The Jets’ Window of Opportunity is Not That Big
Trading established players who have produced offensively and are sound defensively for assets in the form of draft picks, don’t follow the plan and doesn’t make sense for the Jets right now. What they don’t need at this point in time is anything that refers to the future. Any team interested in Copp or Stastny isn’t likely to give up a prominent player that could slide into their lineup and produce as they themselves would be in a playoff hunt and would need to maximize their own rosters. They need equal value back for their assets, and without draft picks or prospects involved, any trade to get immediate equal value will be difficult.
The Jets have done a good job of building this roster over the past few years and they really don’t need many “tweaks”. On paper, they have two very formidable forward lines that include a likely 50-goal scorer in Kyle Connor, a third line that rivals any of the Western Conference teams, and they are stacked with defensemen on their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Manitoba Moose. Acquiring a prospect at this time says one of two things of Jets’ management, either “We haven’t done a good enough job building a Stanley Cup contender”, or “We don’t believe in this team right now”. Both would be an admission of failure.
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Let’s not forget that the Jets are 6-2-1 in their last 9 games and are now only one point behind the Dallas Stars and only two behind the Vegas Golden Knights for the second and final wild card playoff spot. Mind you, the Stars have three games in hand and the Golden Knights, whom the Jets play again next Tuesday, are currently decimated with injuries, but it’s a far cry from where the Jets found themselves in the playoff race a week and a half ago. They have positioned themselves in a place to make the playoffs whereas, before this run, it was looking very bleak. The odds are still against them, but they seem to be getting better by the day.
The Jets have spent to the cap in terms of player salaries. So have 17 other teams. Of the teams in the conversation to win the Stanley Cup, only the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild have cap space available. A trade with division rivals is unlikely, so that eliminates the Predators and Wild from the equation, which leaves the Bruins and Rangers as the most likely candidates inquiring for Copp and Statsny’s services. Are they about to give up a less expensive player who can contribute immediately to the Jets’ playoff push?
What Makes Sense for the Jets?
So who do the Jets trade for? A goalie? Zero chance! Another defenseman? I don’t think so. They have plenty of blueliners available and when the ones on the roster play well, they are very effective. Another forward? If they are looking to replace Copp or Stastny with a similar player in terms of talent and expense, it’s going to prove difficult. I have a solution to that very problem. Simply keep Copp and Stastny and watch the trade deadline slide by.
Copp and Stastny are known quantities, they have chemistry on the team and they understand the Jets’ system. If that “incredible deal” presents itself then by all means they should pull the trigger. I just don’t see that particular deal being a real possibility right now. I say keep the upcoming UFA’s and roll the dice on making the playoffs. I’m not sure the Jets can significantly improve themselves through a trade and if they deal for prospects, they’re in essence throwing in the towel on the rest of the season.
History Says a Trade at the Deadline is Not Always the Best Option
The Calgary Flames faced the same scenario last season. In a down year, media and fans were calling for an overhaul of their leadership and a rebuild of a team that they felt was broken. A new coach and a few adjustments to the roster, and look where they currently stand: first in the Pacific Division, and with a winning percentage of .675 they are second only to the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference and a definite Stanley Cup contender. They kept their roster together and it’s paying off. Remember, the Jets’ window is currently only two years.
Those who say the Jets will lose them to free agency and get nothing in return have a point, but in the name of making the playoffs and keeping Stanley Cup hopes alive, holding onto Copp and Stastny is the team’s best option. Those who say if the Jets make the playoffs they have no chance of beating the Colorado Avalanche in a series are likely right as well, but history says they still have a chance.
Let’s not forget the Philadelphia Flyers of 2010 who were the last team to qualify for the playoffs by winning their final game of the season in a shootout no less, then went on to the Stanley Cup Final to lose in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks. Or the Edmonton Oilers in 2006 who were the eighth seed in the Western Conference and also won their way to the Cup Final before losing to the Carolina Hurricanes in a seventh and deciding game.
All of the above are long shots, but you have to take that chance, and the Jets’ best shot is with Copp and Stastny in their lineup.