Jets Settle for Minor Defensive Addition on Deadline Day

Monday’s NHL Trade Deadline came and went, with only one small move from the Winnipeg Jets.

Jets Acquired Jordie Benn…

It was widely speculated that Jets’ GM Kevin Cheveldayoff would use the nearly $5 million of cap space he freed up through the Long-Term Injury Reserve to bolster his blue line with an experienced player. He ended up acquiring Jordie Benn from the Vancouver Canucks for a 2021 sixth-round pick.

Benn, a veteran of 548 career games, has recorded one goal and eight assists in 31 games this season, but has had a tough time overall in 2020-21. He has not been as effective with the Canucks as he was with the Montreal Canadiens or Dallas Stars earlier in his career.

His average TOI this season is 14:40, his lowest since his rookie campaign.

…But Missed Out on Landing Bigger Fish

The biggest out there was the Nashville Predators’ Mattias Ekholm. The ship seemed to sail a little while ago already on acquiring the Swede, since the Preds’ ask was sky-high. Cheveldayoff was right not to mortgage his future by trading away first-rounders such as Ville Heinola or Cole Perfetti for a player he may have for only a season-and-a-bit.

Two bigger targets were also snapped up prior to Deadline Day, with the Florida Panthers acquiring Brandon Montour from the Buffalo Sabres and the Tampa Bay Lightning acquiring David Savard from the Columbus Blue Jackets over the weekend.

A bigger deal became unlikelier when those players came off the board. However, there were still other higher-profile defenders available Monday, and Cheveldayoff had the room to take their cap hits.

Related: 2021 NHL Trade Deadline: Deal Tracker

That includes the Sabres’ Colin Miller and the Anaheim Ducks’ Josh Manson. Manson was floated as a Jets’ target as he’s the son of Jets’ 1.0-era enforcer Dave Manson, but Winnipeg was rumoured to be on the his 12-team no-trade list. Miller and Manson both ended up staying put.

Acquiring Miller or Manson, who both have a year left on their deal after this season would have been more complicated than acquiring a pending UFA. The Jets are only going to protect three defensemen from the Seattle Kraken in this summer’s Expansion Draft and already have to choose whether to leave Dylan DeMelo or Logan Stanley exposed.

A couple d-men from the New Jersey Devils who could have fit on the Jets also found new homes. The Edmonton Oilers acquired former Jet Dmitry Kulikov for as cheap depth. Sami Vatanen — who the Devils placed on waivers — was claimed by the Stars.

Vatanen’s cap hit was only $2 million and the offensively-adept Finn is capable of playing both sides. He would have been a nice rental the Jets could have gotten for nothing.

“We looked at a few other things,” Cheveldayoff said in a conference call. “We tried to do a couple of other things today that might have been some big swings, but the players that we targeted didn’t move.”

Other UFAs Jets Could Have Pursued

Other pending UFAs were the Arizona Coyotes’ Alex Goligoski, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Michael Del Zotto, the Stars’ Jamie Oleksiak and Mark Pysyk, the Devils’ Ryan Murray, and the Ottawa Senators’ Erik Gudbranson.

North Division Opponents Were Busy

Meanwhile, the GMs of the three other North Division teams in a playoff spot swung some deals of their own in attempts to push their teams to greater heights.

The first-place Maple Leafs added former Blue Jackets Nick Foligno, Stefan Noesen, and Riley Nash. They also dealt for Calgary Flames’ back-up goalie David Rittich, the Ducks’ Ben Hutton, and the San Jose Sharks’ Antti Suomela.

As previously mentioned, the third-place Oilers added the veteran Kulikov.

Dmitry Kulikov New Jersey Devils
The Oilers acquired former Jet Dmitry Kulikov from the New Jersey Devils. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The fourth-place Canadiens, who already added Eric Staal in late March, acquired d-man Jon Merrill for a 2021 fifth-round pick forward Hayden Verbeek.

Been Acquisition Has Limited Value

Quite frankly, the Jets didn’t need a defenseman for the final stretch of the regular season. They’re going to qualify for the postseason barring an epic collapse.

Where they might need one is in the playoffs.

Benn may not make the Jets a lot better — if at all — but at the very least, he provides some insurance.

Prior to the trade, the Jets had only two healthy d-men other than their current pairings of Josh Morrissey/Tucker Poolman, Neal Pionk/Derek Forbort, and Logan Stanley/Dylan DeMelo.

Those two defensemen are Sami Niku, who has played six games this season, and Ville Heinola, who has played one. The Jets would have been in a precarious situation if an injury or two arose. With Benn, they have someone who can jump in and play either side.

Cheveldayoff hinted that Benn will not knock a current defenceman out of the lineup. So the question remains: is the Jets’ defence strong enough for a lengthy playoff run?

Blake Wheeler Mikael Backlund
If the Jets make an early post-season exit like they did last summer because of their defence, we’ll know standing pat Monday was a mistake. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

They’ll have to be, because they didn’t get someone who can significantly boost their fortunes.

When asked if the Jets have a defence that can compete for a Stanley Cup, Cheveldayoff danced around the question, saying they had one with “more depth” and that it is “greater than the sum of its parts.”

If the Jets make a third-straight early playoff exit — and the defense is a big reason for that exit — we can look back to Monday’s failure to add a defenseman of consequence.