Playoff potential heightens trade deadline decisions

By: Adam Wazny | Monday, March 18

Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has some decisions to make as the NHL trade deadline looms. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

With the Winnipeg Jets sitting atop of the Southeast Division and third in the Eastern Conference standings, the focus now switches to what general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has up his sleeve.

Happy Monday, everyone -- the Jets (15-12-2, 32 points) are not only a playoff team to start this week, they also have the inside track to claim the Southeast title thanks to their own solid play and the failings of others in the division.

Now here comes the fun. The NHL trade deadline is just over two weeks away (April 3) and Cheveldayoff finds himself not as the anticipated automatic seller, but as an interested buyer.
The standard line of thinking for the Jets regarding the deadline once read like this: move pending unrestricted free agents for draft picks and continue to strengthen the depth in the organization.

That was the original plan. Things have changed.
Let's take a look at some areas concerning the Jets and the trade deadline:

The UFAs

  • Winnipeg has seven players eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer. Realistically, only two of the names -- defenceman Ron Hainsey and forward Nik Antropov -- have any real value as quality depth pieces for another team. Hainsey would probably fetch the biggest return. Johnny Oduya brought back second and third round picks from Chicago last year. One figures Hainsey to be on a similar scale.

Other assets

  • The Jets have 10 picks in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft; six in the first three rounds. The growing sentiment around the hockey world is that it's not a deep draft, so might the Jets be interested in shipping one of their three second round picks for some immediate help to strengthen their current position? That flies in the face of the organizational blueprint but there's no substitute for playoff education, and the Jets as a group are short on spring hockey experience. The value in a couple second round picks might be greater for the Jets if those picks are flipped for a player who can get them into the post season. Long-term thinking doesn't just involve draft picks and prospects.

The Jets would love to add . . .

  • A right-winger who can score. Someone with term remaining on his contract would be ideal, but that requires something decent in return. The Jets would have to give something up to get something.

Three possible scenarios for Cheveldayoff

1. Go for it -- If the Jets bring in a scorer without subtracting much at the deadline, look out. The city would be electric and the current core group would see the moves as a message from management that they want to win.
Chances of happening: Unlikely.

2. Stand pat -- Sure, it's not like adding a player but the message is similar. No return for the UFAs they have will count as a missed opportunity, but letting the deadline come and go with no movement could be taken as a sign of faith -- a 'this is our team, you're our guys' message to the room. As mentioned, the lost value from those picks could be offset by the experience the core would see if they get into the post season.
Chances of happening: Probable.

3. Trade the UFAs -- The G.M. would have a very hard time selling fans and the locker room if he ships out veteran contributors for futures during a playoff run. Assets need to be maximized, everyone understands that, but the organization could lose the room altogether if they don't demonstrate a desire to win now.
Chances of happening: Slim, but not out of the question.

The stated goal from the organization is to qualify for the post season, and the Jets have a very good chance to spin that into a reality. Plus, and this is important, the opportunities to make the playoffs don't come around too often -- and anything can happen once in, just look at the 2012 Los Angeles Kings -- so a club like the Jets can't be afraid of success when presented with the opportunity.

The circumstances around the division-leading Jets have changed dramatically over
the last 15 games. How Cheveldayoff adapts his blueprint to those changes will say a
lot about him and the organization.

Opinion

Adam Wazny is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer who has covered sports in the city for over a decade. He has worked as a reporter for both the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Sun, and now spends most of his time checking his Twitter. Did someone say Twitter? Find him here: @wazoowazny.

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