You have to hand it to Winnipeg Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and Buffalo Sabres counterpart Tim Murray.
In last week’s blockbuster that sent Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian to western New York and Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, two prospects and a low first-round pick to the great white north, both GMs accomplished what they wanted.
The Sabres don’t want to win now. In 30th place, they’re more than willing to keep taking their lickings and have it pay dividends in June when they’ll draft a potential franchise-turner in Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.
Kane, 23, won’t play until next season because of shoulder surgery, so Murray gets a potential star who can’t help his team win this year but should accelerate Buffalo’s rebuilding process.
The Jets do want to win now but also continue to stockpile young talent. Winnipeg has a boatload of top prospects and smartly is going the draft-and-develop route, in large part because the Jets know how hard it will be to attract upper-echelon free agents.
So not only was Cheveldayoff able to pick up a couple of talents in Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux, he was able to snag two pieces that at least theoretically could help them make the playoffs for the first time since relocating from Atlanta.
This was not an easy trade for the GM known as “Chevy” to make.
The Jets had to trade Kane. His dirty, soaking wet laundry was aired publicly recently when he showed up late to a pregame meeting in a track suit and had it reportedly thrown into the shower by teammate Dustin Byfuglien.
Kane’s pride was hurt, he was scratched that game and had the proverbial bus driven over him by teammates. He opted to stop playing hurt for those teammates by going under the knife. So despite the fact Chevy had to trade a perceived problem child who had no chance of playing this season, he got quite the return.
The Wild is climbing fast and has the Jets nervous. The Myers and Stafford pickups seemed to throw shivers down the spine of many Wild fans, although I’m not the biggest fan of either. Maybe Myers needs good coaching, but every time I watch the giant defenseman, he’s erratic. And Stafford, maybe because of years of losing causing declining production, doesn’t do much for me.
If Wild GM Chuck Fletcher is spurred to do something, it won’t be Winnipeg’s moves triggering him as much as the Wild’s depth at forward being hampered by long-term injuries to Jason Zucker, Matt Cooke and Ryan Carter.
The Wild’s lines are in flux. Bottom-six guys and even minor leaguers such as Jordan Schroeder have assumed bigger roles, and all eyes are inspecting whether they’ll be able to step up. Schroeder and Justin Fontaine certainly did Saturday night against Carolina.
There’s little doubt Fletcher will have to do something (or somethings) by the March 2 deadline.
It’s believed he has inquired with Arizona about Antoine Vermette and with Toronto about Mike Santorelli. However, both teams may want to wait until closer to the deadline to up the leaguewide price, and Fletcher may not be in a position to wait that long.
Also, after Fletcher traded last year’s second-round pick and next year’s second for Matt Moulson last March, he’s hesitant to trade this year’s second. So Fletcher may have to look at moving midrange or long-off prospects or lower draft picks for scoring help.
The Wild also still needs a left-shot defenseman. Could Philadelphia’s Nick Schultz, the all-time leader in games played for the Wild in the midst of a bounce-back season, fit that bill (although the Flyers are trying to re-sign him)? Maybe Carolina’s Andrej Sekera.
When Zucker was sidelined, Fletcher gave his oft-repeated stock answer that if something makes sense, he’ll pounce.
But Wild players, by virtue of this impressive turnaround to put the team right in the playoff hunt, also deserve some help. And as Fletcher has proved the past few deadlines by acquiring Jason Pominville and Moulson, he’s usually willing to do it even if the price is hefty.
NHL SHORT TAKES
Looking ahead perhaps
One reason why the Tyler Myers pickup by Winnipeg could really be bright? Dustin Byfuglien, the thorn-in-the-Wild-side hybrid defenseman, is potentially a year from becoming an unrestricted free agent.
If Myers develops, he could replace Big Buff if he departs. If that happens, he’s exactly the type of player the Wild needs. Rumor has it he’s from Minnesota, too.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have lost 21 of 25 games with Phil Kessel scoring four times in those games. He has since been demoted to the fourth line.
“I go where they want me. I love Toronto, but [if] it’s not here, it’s not here,” Kessel said.
Don’t be surprised if the Florida Panthers try to trade for the high-priced Kessel. He has a place in Palm Beach, the Panthers might have the assets to give up, and Kessel, not exactly fond of the spotlight, would be able to get out from under the microscope.
Buffalo GM Tim Murray isn’t worried about Evander Kane potentially being a cancer.
“So it wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows and jujus,” Murray said. “It never is with any player. Players have warts.“ I made a trade for him, so I’m not worried about his character.”
Worth a watch
Check out the Sony Pictures documentary, “Red Army,”which was written, produced and directed by St. Cloud-born, Chicago-raised Gabe Polsky.
Wednesday night in Uptown, I had the honor of seeing a screening, then moderating a Q and A with Polsky, Lou Nanne and Olympian John Harrington.
It’s a fascinating, funny, artistic and educational documentary. It’s mostly through the eyes of Slava Fetisov, one of the most decorated Soviet players in history. There are twists and turns as Polsky takes you behind the scenes of both the Red Army and Soviet Union and gives you a glimpse of what it was like for these guys when they returned home after losing to the Americans in 1980.
WILD'S WEEK AHEAD
Monday: 9 p.m. at Vancouver (FSN)
Wednesday: 8:30 p.m. at Calgary (FSN)
Friday: 8 p.m. at Edmonton (FSN+)
Player to watch: Johnny Gaudreau, Flames
The generously listed 5-9 forward is super-skilled and is second among NHL rookies with 41 points.
Voices: "His progress was so high this year in all areas of his game." — Wild coach Mike Yeo on Jason Zucker, who underwent season-ending surgery Thursday for a broken collarbone.