(Welcome Jets Nation’s newest contributor, Mitch Calvert)
Kevin Cheveldayoff’s job is about to get a lot more difficult.
With the NHL trade deadline looming just over a week away—Feb. 27 for those counting—the Jets still find themselves within striking distance of the eighth and final playoff spot—only two points back of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference standings after a win over the Carolina Hurricanes last night. But Washington sits in ninth spot a point up, with two games in hand.
The General Manager has to decide whether to gear up for a playoff push or sell off some assets before they pass their expiration date. He told reporters this week that he doesn’t like the terms buyers and sellers, but is insistent that he will continue to pursue trades that improve the team now and in the future–stressing the fact he won’t be involved in any rental player deals, which quite frankly make up the majority of transactions on Deadline Day.
Let’s be real here. The fact the Jets are hovering around .500 (27-26-6) to this point has got to be considered a minor victory. They didn’t exactly inherit a Stanley Cup contending team from Atlanta, and little was done in the summer to improve the on-ice product. Could we really expect the presence of the “sixth man” in the stands 41 nights a year to propel this team to new heights?
According to Sports Club Stats, the Jets have a 17.5% chance of making the playoffs with 23 games remaining. Take off your rose-coloured glasses and you’ll see it clearly: the odds are stacked against them. Sure, statistics and formulas only go so far and the team may go on a run, especially with a string of eight straight games at home beginning tonight against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. But they’ve got to be nearly flawless the rest of the way, and the only thing consistent about this team has been their inconsistency. A prolonged winning streak isn’t likely.
Sports Club Stats gives them a 100 per cent of making it in if they go 16-3-3 from this point forward. The odds fall to 84%t with a 14-6-2 record—and further still, to 17.4% , if they finish the stretch run at 11-7-4. I think we’d all be quite happy with that last record, but it wouldn’t be enough unless several teams ahead of them falter considerably.
So, how does Chevy game-plan for Feb. 27? There’s a lengthy list of unrestricted free agents who will be free to sign where they please on July 1—including Mark Flood, Tanner Glass, Randy Jones, Johnny Oduya, Jim Slater, Tim Stapleton, Kyle Wellwood and Chris Mason. Some hold more value than others, and in a perfect world Cheveldayoff will lock up a few of them to multi-year contracts before the summer, but the reality is not all of them will be wearing a Jets uniform next season.
What could a puck-moving, albeit prone-to-turnovers defenceman like Johnny Oduya fetch at the deadline? A future piece or “B” prospect? There are always teams looking for depth on the back end, and shipping Oduya out may give someone like Paul Postma an opportunity to audition for a full-time gig next season. Randy Jones is replaceable, but there won’t be multiple teams bidding for his services.
The Jets have money to spend in theory—they aren’t exactly pushing against the league-mandated cap ceiling—but money needs to be spent wisely and rarely do you get good return on your investment on Deadline Day. Adding depth to an already quality roster is usually the winning formula—but the Jets are deep on depth and short on talent. Goals have been in short supply most of the year, and adding some punch to the forward corps is probably the team’s biggest need—but the likelihood of fulfilling that need at the deadline without mortgaging the future is slim to none. Besides, Jets’ management has consistently preached the need for patience, and building through the draft is the primary focus of that strategy. Nothing about Deadline Day fits into that plan.
I could see the Jets swinging a minor deal or two on Feb. 27, but they won’t be involved in bidding wars for the likes of Rick Nash or Jeff Carter. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they stand pat.
It may not be comforting for Jets fans itching for a White Out come April, but a mediocre finish and another top 10 draft pick may be the best case scenario for the franchise moving forward.