Jets Must Maintain Seller Status Despite Copp Injury, Wild Card Gains

The temptation for Winnipeg Jets’ GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to abandon “seller” status at next Monday’s Trade Deadline will be high, as the team’s overall landscape has become a lot murkier in recent days. It’s a temptation he must resist.

Jets Biggest Piece of Trade Bait Might Not be Movable

The Jets’ most desirable player to teams looking for a rental forward may not be possible to trade after all.

Andrew Copp has been the topic of much trade discussion thanks to another strong season — having recorded 13 goals and 19 assists in 54 games in a mainly top-six role — and his pending unrestricted free agent status. It’s been highly expected that the Jets would move him prior to March 21, and be able to fetch at least a high-round draft pick and a prospect in return.

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But now, the proverbial monkey wrench has been thrown into those plans.

Copp took a high, hard hit from the St. Louis Blues’ Oskar Sundqvist in the third period of Sunday’s 4-3 overtime victory. He was dazed when he got up, was visibly frustrated as he immediately went down the tunnel, and did not return. Despite Sundqvist appearing to make contact with Copp’s head, no penalty was assessed on the play.

Andrew Copp Winnipeg Jets
Andrew Copp, the Jets’ biggest asset at the Trade Deadline, was knocked out of Sunday’s game by a high hit from Oskar Sundqvist. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Copp, 27, has already had four documented concussions in his career and he just missed six games with one after taking an unpenalized blindside headshot the Minnesota Wild’s Jordan Greenway on Feb. 16.

Copp has admitted he’s concerned about his history of brain injuries and spoke earlier this month about being careful and ensuring he’s fully recovered before attempting a return.

Cheveldayoff Can’t Use Copp Injury as an Excuse to Do Nothing

Copp’s condition was to be assessed Monday upon the Jets’ return to Winnipeg, and they are not skating until Tuesday morning, so don’t expect an update from interim head coach Dave Lowry until Tuesday afternoon. If Copp does end up being out long-term or indefinitely, he is unlikely to be on the move.

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Copp’s teammates, after the game, were most concerned with his health, as they should be. But there’s no denying Copp out long-term would be a big blow to Cheveldayoff’s plans.

But that doesn’t mean he can do nothing. He still has the 36-year-old Paul Stastny, who should fetch a decent return from a team looking to add a veteran player who can play centre and wing. Like Copp, Stastny is a pending UFA and is having a strong season, with 17 goals and 13 assists in 49 games.

Paul Stastny Winnipeg Jets
Veteran forward Paul Stastny is having a strong season and as a pending UFA, could attract some interest. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Cheveldayoff also has a pair of defensemen to shop in Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt. Both were prized offseason acquisitions and are top-four talents, but both carry rich contracts that Cheveldayoff inherited (Dillon makes $3.9 million annually and Schmidt makes $5.95 million.)

Moving one of those contracts would really free up some space. Cheveldayoff spent right up to the cap ceiling in the offseason and without moving someone with a hefty salary — it won’t be Blake Wheeler, whose lucrative $8.25-million contract is the Jets’ worst — the Jets will remain in cap hell. The salary cap is slated to rise only $1 million next season.

The Jets have a number of promising defensive prospects in their system — first and foremost Ville Heinola, but also Declan Chisholm, Leon Gawanke, Jonathan Kovacevic, and Dylan Samberg — who would help soften the blow to the blue line a trade would cause.

Related: Jets Must Make Room on Blue Line for Prospects

Cheveldayoff would only move one or both of those d-men — the latter has a modified no-trade clause — if he decides to sell hard and retool.

Jets Gaining Ground in Western Conference Wild Card Race, But Should Stay the Course as Sellers

A hard sell would be easy if the Jets were in last place. But further muddying the waters is that the team suddenly seems right back in the playoff conversation.

The Jets, at 27-23-10, have been as many as eight points out of the second Western Conference Wild Card spot in recent days. Lately, though, they’ve gained ground, with five wins in their past eight games. Entering play Tuesday, they are just four points behind the Vegas Golden Knights for that final spot.

The Golden Knights have been struggling — with just three wins in their past 10 games — and the Jets face them twice in the span of a week, on March 15 and March 22. But even beating the Golden Knights Tuesday should not tempt Cheveldayoff to stand pat.

Western Conference Wild Card Standings - March 14, 2022
The Jets are four points behind the Vegas Golden Knights for the second Western Conference Wild Card spot as of March 15. (NHL.com.)

The Jets have a number of systemic defensive flaws, a goaltender who has been run absolutely ragged due to poor workload management, and have been quite inconsistent. They have not won three straight in 2022 and their longest winning streak on the season is four (in games four through seven of the season back in October.)

It’s hard to imagine a situation, even if they do squeak in, in which they are not quickly and summarily dispatched by the high-powered Colorado Avalanche in the first round.

Given that likely reality, it would be extremely poor asset management to use Copp, Stastny, and others as “in-house” rentals as has been suggested by some pundits. The Jets still have the Vancouver Canucks and Dallas Stars to leapfrog as well, and it would be borderline delusional for Cheveldayoff — based on his team’s play through 60 games — to consider them capable of a deep run.

Winnipeg Jets Executive Vice President and General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff
Kevin Cheveldayoff should not be tempted to change his strategy even though his team is hanging around in the playoff picture. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

This author wrote three weeks that the Jets’ time to sell had arrived and he still believes that. MoneyPuck pegs their playoff odds at just eight per cent, which is higher than earlier this month but still less than a 1/10 chance.

Related: Winnipeg Jets’ Time to Sell Has Arrived

Cheveldayoff’s strategy should be to sell what he can, whether that includes Copp or not. If team manages to make the playoffs without those players, it should be considered nothing more than an unexpected bonus.

If they don’t make the playoffs, they won’t sweat it as much if they’ve divested players they would have lost for nothing come summer. Common sense must rule next Monday.