One day after adding a top-four defenseman to his team’s left side, Winnipeg Jets’ GM Kevin Cheveldayoff added the same to his team’s right side, acquiring Nate Schmidt from the Vancouver Canucks for a third-round 2022 draft pick.
Jets’ D-Corp is Suddenly Deep with Schmidt Addition
Joining Brenden Dillon — acquired Monday from the Washington Capitals — on the Jets’ suddenly deep d-core is Schmidt, a veteran of 450-career NHL games with the Capitals, Vegas Golden Knights, and Canucks.
Schmidt, 30-years-old, is left-handed, but prefers to play the right side, which is where the Jets were thinner. He is offensively adept, having recorded 34 goals and 121 assists for 155 points in the regular season and six goals and 19 assists for 25 points in 68-career playoff games.
Schmidt is coming off a bit of a rough season in which his effectiveness and production dipped, but one must keep in mind that the Canucks were a weaker team. Despite only recording five goals and 10 assists last season, Schmidt is an excellent puck-mover, strong skater, and “can jump-start the counter-attack effectively from the back end,” writes Sportsforecaster.
Schmidt joins a Jets’ d-corp that also includes Dylan DeMelo, Josh Morrissey, and Neal Pionk as top-four options. They also have top prospects Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg in the mix, in addition to third-pairing options in Nathan Beaulieu and Sami Niku. Logan Stanley is a restricted free agent.
Jets Benefitting from Teams Clearing Cap Space
The trade is an example of what happens when a salary cap stays flat. Teams with cap space can take advantage of teams feeling a crunch or wanting to move money out, and can send those teams very little in return (in this case, just a third-rounder.)
Schmidt has four seasons left on a six-year deal the Canucks inherited when they traded for him last October, that carries an annual average value of $5.95 million. You can almost imagine Cheveldayoff on the phone with Canucks’ GM Jim Benning. “We’re doing you a favour by taking this contract off your hands, so…”
Other teams’ pains have been Cheveldayoff’s gains this week, and he’s been able to significantly bolster their blue line as a result. It’s been a heck of a week for the GM, who has shown he is finally committed to improving his d-corp after sitting on his hands ever since the 2019 mass exodus that saw Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Chiarot, Tyler Myers, and Jacob Trouba all depart.
This is perhaps because if he failed to make significant additions and the Jets’ defence was again a weak spot, he would have likely been shown the door.
Stastny Provides his GM an Assist
The Jets wanted to acquire Schmidt at the 2021 Trade Deadline but couldn’t land him, as the Jets were on the defender’s 10-team no-trade list.
Right after the deal, Patrik Johnson reported that veteran Paul Stastny — who himself just re-upped with the Jets on a one-year deal on Monday — “sold Schmidt on what’s happening in Winnipeg.”
Stastny and Schmidt were teammates on the Golden Knights in 2018-19 and 2019-20, and Stastny’s words obviously carried some weight. It’s just another example of how how valuable Stastny is to the organization.
“(Stastny) and I had a really good relationship in the last couple of years and I still stayed in touch with him, obviously, this last year,” Schmidt confirmed during a Wednesday Zoom media availability. “He’s an awesome guy, a straight shooter and he said you get treated really well, the staff and the guys and the organization, they do a great job with players and when you’re here you see such a tight group from top to bottom, which is awesome.”
Energetic, Enthusiastic Schmidt Ready to Make an Impact
Schmidt made quite the first impression during that media availability, showing off his infectious and playful personality. He will be a good foil for players such as Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, who are super serious (and in Wheeler’s case, sometimes straight-up surly.)
In addition to sporting a toothy grin, chatting about hunting and chopping down trees, and calling Winnipeg “Minnesota North,” Schmidt said he was excited about how the Jets are shaping up and for a fresh start.
“I’m probably my harshest critic on how I play,” he said. “I know there’s more to give and I’m excited about starting fresh with Winnipeg. I’m someone that really kind of thrives off of the energy and fans and having that. I think a lot of guy are. And guys realize that more this year than they ever have how important that is to have people in the building.”
He also noted how electric Bell MTS Place — now Canada Life Centre — was during the 2018 Western Conference Final when the Golden Knights beat the Jets in five games.
“We have a great team, we have a great group of forwards, a fantastic goaltender, and now our defence is looking like a defence that could, in my opinion, help you win,” he continued. “That’s what makes playing hockey the best job in the world, is being with the guys, getting the energy and playing in front of fans. And having a chance to win, having a chance to win it all.”
Jets Heading to the Cap Ceiling
The Jets have approximately $12 million million left to work with after taking on Schmidt’s salary, and it looks like they’re going to need every dollar. That breaks down to about $7 million in current cap space, and $5.29 million more that will be realized when Bryan Little’s contract goes to the LTIR at the beginning of the season.
Utile forward Andrew Copp is an RFA who due a sizeable raise after a stellar season, as is Pionk. Those two combined will command somewhere in the realm of $10 million. The Jets also need to re-sign Stanley and look at acquiring some UFAs for cheap depth.
Doing all that will bring the Jets right up to the cap ceiling, which is where teams in win-now mode — which Cheveldayoff has said the Jets are — should be. With Schmidt and Dillon, the Jets may have the d-corp to do just that — win now.
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.