Jets’ Trade for Stastny is a Smart Stop-Gap Solution

This time, he’ll be around longer than 19 games.

This time, the Jets didn’t have to give up a first-round pick.

This time, they already know the addition is going to work.

Those are three reasons why the Jets acquiring Paul Stastny from the Vegas Golden Knights was a shrewd move.

Jets’ Search for Second-Line Centre Finally Over

Paul Stastny — the only man to ever truly thrive between the Jets’ two most exciting and high-octane players — is the second-line centre the team has desperately needed before Stastny’s stint and since.

In February 2018, the Jets acquired Stastny from from the St. Louis Blues, and slotted him between Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine. The chemistry between the three was immediately apparent as the then 32-year-old provided the youngsters a grounded veteran presence and excellent playmaking skills, recording four goals and nine assists for 13 points. Back then, Ehlers and Laine both spoke to the impact Stastny had on them.

Paul Stastny - Winnipeg Jets
Paul Stastny is the only player to ever get the most out of Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine. Unfortunately, he was only around for 19 games in 2017-18. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“Playing with those two guys was just like second nature,” Stastny told TSN yesterday. “It was just really easy playing with those guys, two guys who want the puck, two guys that are very dynamic and can score from everywhere… it’s always fun playing with young guys. It brings a spark and energy to you and excitement and it’s nice trying to help these guys out.”

Paul Stastny on playing with Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine, from ‘Stastny looking forward to re-uniting with Laine and Ehlers in return to Jets,’ Winnipeg Sun, Oct. 9, 2020.

Stastny also played a massive role in the Jets’ run to the Western Conference Final, recording six goals and nine assists for 15 points, including a clutch two-goal, three-point performance in the do-or-die Game 7 versus the Nashville Predators.

GM Kevin Cheveldayoff did his damnedest to retain Stastny after the season, making no secret how much he’d love to have the centre’s services going forward and even sending Steve Mason and Joel Armia to the Montreal Canadiens in a salary dump. Ultimately, though, they just couldn’t afford him, and Stastny inked a three-year deal worth $6.5 million annually with the Vegas Golden Knights, while expressing that he enjoyed his time in Winnipeg.

Paul Stastny Vegas Golden Knights
Paul Stastny ended up signing with the Vegas Golden Knights after his successful stint with the Jets. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In the two seasons since Stastny’s departure, the Jets have thrown everything at the wall when it comes to Ehlers’ and Laine’s centre, but nothing has stuck. Bryan Little, who will likely never play again after suffering a serious head and ear injury last November, was never right for the role. Cheveldayoff broke the news Friday that doctors have advised Little not to play this season.

Kevin Hayes, who the Jets acquired at the 2019 Trade Deadline, found himself on the fourth line before the regular season was over and left town quickly after the Jets were dispatched in the first round by the St. Louis Blues. Blake Wheeler, while serving with aplomb up the middle in Little’s stead for most of last season, is best on the wing, making things happen for Kyle Connor and Mark Scheifele.

There should be absolutely no question of who Stastny, a veteran of 945 games, will play with when the 2020-21 season begins in January. His role couldn’t be clearer.

Jets Benefit From Golden Knights’ Need to Clear Cap Space

One team’s cap crunch often leads to another team’s great gain.

Oh, how the tables have turned. Last offseason, the Jets were the team without two nickels to rub together, and they lost Ben Chiarot, Tyler Myers, and Brandon Tanev as a result.

Winnipeg Jets Executive Vice President and General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff
Last offseason, Jets’ GM Kevin Cheveldayoff was in cap hell and lost a number of strong players as a result. This year, with plenty of cap space at his disposal, he’s reloading. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

This year, even after signing Dylan DeMelo earlier in the week, the Jets were in a prime position cap-wise to take the final year of Stastny’s deal off the Golden Knights’ hands, thanks to ditching Dustin Byfuglien’s and Dmitry Kulikov’s contracts and Little likely heading to the long-term injured reserve.

The Golden Knights brought themselves right up to the cap ceiling of $81.5 million after signing goaltender Robin Lehner to a five-year, $25-million contract extension earlier this month, and GM Pete DeBoer hasn’t found a team willing to take on the final two years of Marc-Andre Fleury’s deal worth $7 million annually. Hence, his focus shifted to getting Stastny off his books instead.

Jets Don’t Need Stastny Long-Term, But Do Need Him Now

The Jets needs up the middle changed drastically in the last week.

Because Saginaw Spirit standout centre Cole Perfetti somehow landed in their lap at 10th overall, they no longer needed to sign an unrestricted free agent to a long-term deal. It’s obvious they view the dangerous and dynamic Perfetti, who was projected to go closer to fourth or fifth overall, as their second-line centre of the future.

Related: Jets Get Their Future Top-Six Forward with Perfetti Draft Pick

Adding Stastny ensures the Jets can be patient with Perfetti, and return him to Saginaw if necessary. Look at how handsomely their patience with Mark Scheifele paid off; they sent their first-ever pick — then a gangly teen — back to the Barrie Colts for another year of growth and seasoning under Dale Hawerchuk, and now he’s one of the NHL’s elite talents.

Saginaw Spirit Cole Perfetti
Adding Stastny will allow the Jets to be patient with Cole Perfetti, who they selected 10th overall at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft earlier this week. (Credit: Saginaw Spirit / OHL)

While Stastny is 34 and not the dominant offensive force he was in his prime with the Colorado Avalanche and the Blues — he was limited to 50 games in 2018-19 due to injury and recorded 17 goals and 21 assists for 38 points in 71 games last season — he is still an intelligent and skilled two-way player who will also provide Wheeler with support as a leader. Playing with such high-quality totals may even lead to a career resurgence.

One could look at the trade as the Jets taking advantage of the Golden Knights, only sending a fourth-rounder and Carl Dahlstrom the other way. One could also look at the trade as the Jets doing the Golden Knights a favour.

Whatever your take is, one thing is for certain: the trade makes the Jets better today. Adding Stastny is a brilliant stop-gap solution, and if he can pick up where he left off with Ehlers and Laine, the Jets’ top-six will be a force to be reckoned with.