Report: Jets open to moving depth defender in pursuit of top-9 forward

Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Chevaldayoff isn’t exactly known for trading roster players, but with his team poised to make the postseason for the first time since relocating to Manitoba, the extraordinarily cautious executive may find the urge to make a splash too tempting to ignore.

Reports have been bubbling to the surface in earnest for more than a week now suggesting that the Jets have prioritized adding a top-nine forward before the March 2nd NHL trade deadline. A Daniel Winnik-type versatile bruiser, ideally. Actually, ideally Daniel Winnik himself. 

On Tuesday, several plugged in hockey reporters added context to that noise. 

“They want a top-nine forward, they’ve been trying hard for a number of weeks here,” Pierre LeBrun said during an appearance on TSN 1040 radio in Vancouver. “They would absolutely love, in a perfect world, to be able to get a top-nine forward before March 2nd. I think they feel that’s their need.”

TSN’s Darren Dreger echoed that sentiment, and went a bit further, suggesting that the Jets might be willing to move a depth defenseman off of their roster if it would help them shore up their forward ranks.

“It’s been well-documented that Cheveldayoff is hunting for a top-9 forward,” Dreger said during an appearance on TSN 1260, via NicholsonHockey.com. “But again, at what cost?

“They’ve got depth on their blueline. I think that Cheveldayoff would absolutely consider moving one of his defense in that 5, 6, 7 category if he could fetch a top-9 forward. But I don’t get the sense that Winnipeg is again willing to jeopardize its future because they’re in a playoff spot.”

I digress, but just once I want to hear a hockey reporter say in the weeks leading up to the deadline, “and you know what, the sense that I get is: cost be damned. They’re fully willing to jeopardize their future and trade every young player listed on their Hockey’s Future page if it gets them a game-changing piece.” I’d find that enormously refreshing.

Back to reality.

The Jets have a good deal of blue-line depth, even with the likes of Grant Clitsome lost for the year with injury. Defensemen are currently occupying nine spots on the Jets’ 23-man roster, according to NHLNumbers.com, which certainly qualifies as a surplus. 

Of those nine defenders several are immovable (or should be), simply because they provide the club with too much on-ice value. Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba would be at the top of this list, which should also be expanded to include Tobias Enstrom and, if you squint hard enough, Zach Bogosian.

If there’s a problem in how Winnipeg’s very good and rather deep blue-line is constructed, it’s that three of their four best defenders are right-handed shooters. Even further down the lineup, four of their six best defenders (Byfuglien, Trouba, Bogosian and Paul Postma) are right-handed shooters. 

Right-handed shooting defenders are always in demand, so arguably this is one of those ‘good problems’, but it does result in Jets head coach Paul Maurice using some suboptimal defense pairings and lineups (particularly because he’s generally been unwilling to use, say, Postma and Trouba together). 

Aside from Winnipeg’s big-four defensemen, you’ve got Ben Chiarot – a promising 23-year-old who has fared very well alongside Byfuglien; Mark Stuart – an old-school shtudown guy (read: possession drag) with an onerous contract; Jay Harrison – currently injured and arguably more useful for it; Adam Pardy – a limited depth defender who has, perhaps not coincidentally, performed reasonably well in limited use this season; Postma – a useful third-pairing play driver; and Keaton Ellerby – organizational depth, currently in the AHL. 

Glancing over that list of players, their contracts and skill sets, it’s difficult to imagine any of those players (aside from Chiarot – who the Jets absolutely should not trade) being the sort of piece that a team looking to sell a depth forward is targeting in a deal. 

If Chevaldayoff can find a team willing to take Mark Stuart’s contract part with a mid-round pick or a fringe prospect for one of their depth blue-liners, they should probably do that deal. Netting a future could help offset the cost of acquiring a reasonably priced top-nine forward – like a Winnik, or a Sean Bergenheim – players that seem much more likely to require a decent pick or a prospect from Winnipeg’s much-hyped pool of talented prospects, to acquire.