The Winnipeg Jets should approach the Feb. 24 NHL Trade Deadline far differently than in the past two seasons.
In 2017-18 and 2018-19, they went all-in, trading away their first-round picks for established players (the Paul Stastny rental worked out well; the Kevin Hayes rental did not.)
They would be foolish to do that this season. The road to the playoffs is tough for them, and even if they do qualify, they are not built to make a deep run: they really only win when they get out-of-sight goaltending, as their ratio of high-danger chances for versus against is a disaster.
While they do not need to overreact and go into a full-fledged rebuild by trading star forwards or top prospects — they have a strong core of skilled forwards, good defensive prospects in the pipeline, and an elite goaltender — they should do a “soft reset” and look to sell some players for picks and blueliners that can help them be more competitive next season. Here are three potential trade chips at their disposal.
Perhaps the most attractive trade chip the Jets have is Jack Roslovic, although he’s a bit of a curious commodity. He hasn’t truly excelled thus far in his career or reached his potential but has shown flashes of greatness and brilliance.
The biggest issues with Roslovic over his 162 NHL games have been his inconsistency and inability to carve out a niche for himself. Is he a top-six forward? Is he a third liner with some scoring ability? It’s hard to say.
He was given ample opportunity this season with Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers on the second line through but struggled in the role and was demoted last month; with a little less pressure, he’s done well on the third line even with a rotating cast around him due to injuries. In the Jets’ most recent game, a 5-2 win over the St. Louis Blues that snapped their five-game losing streak, Roslovic took centre stage, recording his second three-point game of the season.
Roslovic has set a career-high in goals with 11 and will probably set a career-high in points as he’s just three off exceeding his total of 24 in 2018-19.
Roslovic just turned 23, can play wing and centre, and has the first-round pedigree; the fact any team to trade for him would be able to re-up him with a modest bridge deal this summer makes him a low-stakes gamble.
It’s not hard to imagine the Jets couldn’t get a second-pairing defenceman or a high-round pick for him if a soft reset is the route they want to go. A trade now seems likelier than it did a month ago.
Perreault has been a good foot soldier in his six seasons in Winnipeg and his versatility has helped the Jets in seasons past: wherever he’s plugged, he plays without complaint and gives his all. However, his role and impact have decreased in recent seasons and his $4.125 million per year salary has been a boat anchor, one of the reasons general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff wasn’t able to afford to sign both their young stars and add a veteran defenceman in the offseason.
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There are a number of factors that would hamper any return for Perreault. He’s a notoriously streaky player who has underachieved this season with only 14 points to his name; he’s had injury and concussion problems throughout his career and at 32 years old, his best days may behind him. When’s he’s at his best, though, he gives added dynamism and depth.
The fact teams don’t often pay $4-million plus for a bottom-six winger, and the fact he’s injured again — he is out for at least two weeks after taking a hard hit from the Boston Bruins’ Karson Kuhlman — means nobody’s going to be beating down the door for “Matty P.” Dealing him would be more of a salary dump than anything, a “we’ll take whatever you’re offering” sort of scenario.
Many a team would love to have big Dustin Byfuglien — a one-of-a-kind player who can put his mark on proceedings in a myriad of their ways — patrolling their blue line.
There’s been a dearth of info on the 34-year-old in recent weeks, who hasn’t played this season after he suddenly took a leave of absence on day one of training camp — which left an already suspect Jets’ d-corp even thinner —and later had ankle surgery without the team’s go-ahead.
On Saturday night, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that Byfuglien is unlikely to play this season and that his future will be decided in summer. That seems to ring true as it’s February and Byfuglien has not yet started skating. This will understandably make any team looking for a potentially impactful — we say potentially because how close to game shape could a player in his mid-30s who’s had nearly a year off possibly be? — d-man for a stretch run look elsewhere.
If Cheveldayoff decides that the bridge Byfuglien burned back in the fall cannot be rebuilt, he could still trade the big man to a team willing to gamble on him being ready for 2020-21 and willing to shoulder the last year of the five-year deal he signed in 2016. An engaged Dustin Byfuglien is an x-factor every team would love to possess and the return could be big.
If the situation does get resolved in the next few days as Friedman said, it would give the Jets huge cap space, as they have had to hold onto his $7.6 annual salary in case of a return.
Could Cheveldayoff Do Nothing?
Of course, there’s always the chance Cheveldayoff stands pat, waits for more clarity on the Byfuglien situation, and chooses to ride out the rest of the season with the d-corp he has — banking on Dylan Samberg to turn pro, Sami Niku to take on a bigger role, and Ville Heinola to be ready for prime time next season.
Doing nothing wouldn’t be ideal, but it’d certainly be preferable to making a foolish buy — it’s too late to rectify the systemic issues that should have been addressed last summer. Either way, the Jets are worth keeping an eye on as the deadline approaches.