Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff recently said he wants to reward his scrappy team for staying in the fight through the adversity they’ve faced all season long by giving them a leg up in their battle for a Western Conference wild card spot.
The way he can reward them best and give them the biggest leg up — both for the final 19 games of 2019-20 and for the seasons to come — is to stand pat at Monday’s trade deadline.
Cheveldayoff, after acquiring Dylan DeMelo from the Ottawa Senators Tuesday, mused about adding a forward, saying “we’re going to be open to different things… there’s also the potential of maybe looking at a forward as well.”
He did just that on Friday, snagging Winnipeg-born centre Cody Eakin from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a conditional fourth-round 2021 draft selection.
Jets Don’t Need to Add Anything More
The Jets are certainly not hurting for offence: Mark Scheifele, after suffering through an uncharacteristic 12-game goal drought as he battled the flu, has looked more like himself recently. He notched two assists on Tuesday night as he played on the same line as bosom-buddy Blake Wheeler for the first time since Bryan Little went down in early November; he followed that up by popping off a power play hat trick Thursday against the Ottawa Senators.
Speaking of Wheeler, he’s shown his versatility by transitioning between centre and wing when needed and has had a humble, team-first attitude through it all. He recently said that while he loves being Scheifele’s right-winger and being on the wall, “it’s not about me, it’s not about making me happy, it’s about trying to piece together as many wins as we can.” (from ‘Wheeler making it happen,’ Winnipeg Free Press, 02/19/2020.)
Kyle Connor, meanwhile, reached the 30-goal plateau Thursday for the third-straight season and is on the scoresheet nearly every night; Patrik Laine is five goals behind him and has progressed from a one-trick pony into a complete workhorse; Nikolaj Ehlers has quietly put up 10 points this month and 17 since the New Year.
“Class of 2015” Trio Adds Depth
Complementing the Jets’ top-six is the third line of Mason Appleton, Jack Roslovic, and Jansen Harkins.
The trio, assembled prior to last Sunday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks, has been impressive due to their willingness to go net front and play a fast, straightforward game. Since being put together, they’ve combined for four goals and four assists.
That line shouldn’t be broken up as this stretch run will give each of them invaluable experience that will benefit them next season and beyond. There’s no better way to develop players than to give them impactful opportunities in high-pressure situations.
Eakin Addition Curious, But Has Potential
The 28-year-old Eakin is having a rough campaign, with just four goals and six assists in 41 games. A quick look at some advanced numbers show he’s below replacement level.
Last season, however, the 2009 third-round pick set career-highs in goals with 22 and points in 41. He is a low-price, low-risk addition who has the potential to inject the bottom-six with some scoring touch.
He’s also someone the Jets can let walk in the offseason if he doesn’t pan out, as he’s on the last year of his contract and will be a UFA come July 1.
The only place he’ll fit is on the fourth line, which means current centre Nick Shore is the most likely to come out. Eakin can also play wing, however, so Gabriel Bourque or Logan Shaw could also be heading for the press box. Rugged Russian Andrei Chibisov has already been returned to the Manitoba Moose.
“Cody is a guy that oozes character. He’s had tremendous playoff experience over the last couple of years,” Cheveldayoff said in a Friday conference call. “(He’s a) tremendous character person, brings guys into the fight with how he plays and then the energy and leadership that he brings. I’m real excited to add a player like that into our room and on the ice.”
Cheveldayoff adding Eakin seems to signal that two currently-injured Jets will be out for longer than predicted.
Adam Lowry hasn’t played since taking a questionable blind-side hit from Drake Caggiula on Jan. 19, an injury that was reported to shelve the pugnacious power forward for at least a month. Mathieu Perreault suffered an upper-body injury on Jan. 31 against the Boston Bruins and it was reported he’d miss “at least two weeks.”
We’re past a month for Lowry and past two weeks for Perreault but there’s been no indication either are anywhere close to returning to the ice.
Prices Are Inflated at Deadline Time
Any player with potential to move the needle more than Eakin — such as Chris Kreider, Vladimir Namestnikov, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, or Andreas Athanasiou — would likely cost the Jets their first round pick, an asset they’d be foolish to part with.
Cheveldayoff acknowledged “You do have to be mindful of the asset prices, you know there is an opportunity cost, whether it’s picks or whether it’s prospects that you do trade away. You always have to be mindful of that and when you’re making a decision like this you have to kind of have a little bit of thought process about the future as well.”
Sellers take advantage of teams with Stanley Cup dreams by jacking up their asking prices for quality players. We saw that last season when the Jets had to send their first-rounder and Brendan Lemieux to the New York Rangers get Kevin Hayes, someone who ultimately couldn’t help them advance past the first round.
Cheveldayoff Already Did What He Needed To
By adding the intelligent, dependable DeMelo, Cheveldayoff addressed his biggest need: to stabilize his depleted d-corp.
Related: DeMelo Deal a Deft One for Jets
By adding the versatile Eakin, Cheveldayoff addressed his team’s need for scoring depth and another option up the middle since Perreault and Lowry don’t seem to be close to a return and Bryan Little is has been shut down for the season.
He did both without mortgaging the future or giving up too much.
Cheveldayoff should now step back and let his team make their playoff push. While other teams wheel and deal on Monday, he should start pondering what he wants to do in the offseason with the huge cap space suddenly available thanks to the termination of Dustin Byfuglien’s contract.
If the team makes the playoffs as currently constructed, that’s great. They’re a scrappy, hard-working crew who could make some noise (but still aren’t in the same echelon as the league’s top teams on the back-end.)
If they miss the playoffs though, it’s not the end of the world because they will be more equipped to make a deeper run next season than they are now.
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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.