The Winnipeg Jets have made a deft move by dealing for Dylan DeMelo.
Acquired from the Ottawa Senators Tuesday in exchange for a 2020 third-round draft pick, DeMelo will help stabilize a Jets’ d-corp that’s been suspect and struggling all season long.
DeMelo an Immediate Upgrade
Much has been made about the Jets’ defensive deficiencies in 2019-20, which are due to a combination a mass exodus after the 2018-19 campaign, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s inaction over the offseason, Dustin Byfuglien’s last-minute leave of absence that left the team in the lurch, and a number of injuries that have forced journeymen and fringe players to shoulder roles they aren’t capable of succeeding in.
Cheveldayoff finally got himself into gear Tuesday, grabbing the veteran of 259 games from the Senators who is an upgrade over Anthony Bitetto, Carl Dahlstrom, Dmitry Kulikov, Sami Niku, and Luca Sbisa (Dahlstrom and Sbisa are currently injured.)
The 26-year-old DeMelo, selected in the sixth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the San Jose Sharks, has played in the Senators’ top-four all season long. He primarily skated on the second unit with Mark Borowiecki and should get an immediate top-four look Thursday night when the Jets, amusingly enough, arrive in Ottawa prior to a contest against DeMelo’s now-former team.
“We like the fact Dylan is a right shot, right defenceman. That was something we had some conversations on internally,” Cheveldayoff said. “When I talked to those coaches, that was very appealing. That did factor into our equation as well. As with anything here, we’ve talked about it, it’s about a fit. We felt this is the fit we wanted to jump on.”
DeMelo a Strong Defender
DeMelo is an impressive player who can benefit the Jets in many ways.
While he’s not a huge point producer — he has no goals and 10 assists in 49 games this season and 64 points in his career — his underlying numbers are solid.
DeMelo’s Corsi and Fenwick numbers at even-strength are both excellent, at 53.3 and 54.0 per cent, respectively. He’s also plus-three, impressive considering the Senators are a weak club with a negative 41 goal differential.
DeMelo is also a minute-eater and has skated a career-high 19:55 this season.
Jets Got Immediate Help Without Mortgaging Future
Despite all their foibles, the Jets have stuck around in the Western Conference wild card race and are competing closely with the Arizona Coyotes, Calgary Flames, and Nashville Predators for two postseason slots. The best thing about the deal, at least in the short term, is that Cheveldayoff was able to add someone who can help them in their playoff pursuit without giving up his first-round pick.
While Cheveldayoff said he was open to making moves prior to Feb. 24’s NHL Trade Deadline that don’t just involve rentals, he showed with the DeMelo deal that his priorities are right.
“What we wanted to do was focus on the immediate opportunities in front of us, given how hard these guys have fought and given where things are at right now,” the GM said during a conference call right after the trade. “I’m proud of this group and hopefully this will continue to help push them and keep them in the fight. We’ll see what the next six days brings.”
“I’ve talked to the guys in the past and told them that I’ll do everything I can to keep on pushing here,” he continued. “it’s a good group. They have fought hard. They have fought together. I think (DeMelo) will fit very well into that dressing room too, which is hugely important.”
DeMelo Ready to Roll
The next six days will certainly bring a motivated player into the fold.
While DeMelo said he doesn’t know many of the Jets’ players other than Mark Scheifele and Nathan Beaulieu, he’s looking forward to joining themf for the stretch run, calling the Jets “top to bottom, a very strong team, very well coached.”
“i’m very excited for the opportunity. I think it’s a good fit for me… I just hope to be a seamless fit there, help this team push for the playoffs and get into the dance,” he said in a conference call.
DeMelo said he wasn’t surprised he was traded, given that contract extension talks with the Senators hadn’t materialized, and that the trade to Winnipeg made him feel wanted instead of discarded.
Trade Even Better if DeMelo Re-Signs
DeMelo could end up just being a low-risk rental. He is, after all, in the final year of his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent in July able to test the markets.
If the Jets do manage to re-sign him, it’d make the trade look even better than it does now. “I could definitely see myself being a part of (this team) but that’s obviously not me saying I’m going to sign here in the future,” DeMelo said.
He’ll definitely be due a raise from the $900,000 he’s currently making, but if he enjoys his time with the Jets down the stretch and gets a good offer come summer, there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t seriously consider re-signing.
With Dustin Byfuglien’s contract coming off the books, Cheveldayoff will have the cap space to re-up DeMelo and still pursue a defenseman with term. That, combined with the number of promising defensive prospects the Jets have in the pipeline, could change the team’s defensive fortunes in a hurry.
That’s cart-before-the-horse stuff currently, however. The most important thing right now is that the Jets got a player who can help them push for the playoffs at a reasonable price.
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Declan Schroeder is a 26-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.