Kevin Cheveldayoff took a couple of mighty swings, but was unable to find the barrel of the bat.
And while the general manager of the Winnipeg Jets didn’t come up with anything close to resembling a home run prior to the passing of Monday’s NHL trade deadline, he didn’t quite leave empty-handed either.
Even if it took completing a deal with the Vancouver Canucks for veteran defenceman Jordie Benn for a sixth-round pick in the 2021 NHL draft for Cheveldayoff to deliver the equivalent of a bunt single.
“It came down right at the last minute,” said Cheveldayoff, “to the point where I wanted to make sure, before it even… got out there, that it was something that made it under the wire.”
There was certainly some frustration evident as Cheveldayoff spoke to members of the media about several deals that didn’t come to fruition.
“We looked at a few things and tried to do a few other things today that might have been some big swings, but the players that we targeted didn’t move,” said Cheveldayoff.
“The asking prices, obviously they ebb and flow from year to year and that’s what the market is. Certainly, we were prepared to be in the marketplace with the prices. Again, someone wins and someone doesn’t get the player sometimes in different situations. That’s the hard part of this job — you take your swings and you go from there.”
The Jets’ preference was to acquire a player with some additional term on his contract or team control, but that didn’t preclude them from making offers on players with expiring contracts.
“There were different terms. Some were longer-term, some weren’t,” said Cheveldayoff. “As far as ultimately in the end as to why they didn’t get moved, that would be something that the teams would have to tell you, why they didn’t get moved.”
Benn, 33, is a high-character individual with ample experience (568 NHL games, including the post-season) and someone the Jets are very familiar with from his time in the Central Division with the Dallas Stars.
Benn is a left-handed shooting defender who can comfortably be used on the left or right side, plays with an edge and can also contribute to the penalty kill when he’s in the lineup.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice provided his thoughts on what the Jets are bringing in with Benn following Monday’s 4-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators.
“There’s the weight and grit of a guy that’s played a bunch of games in the NHL that can play a hard game, play a heavy game and move the puck a little bit,” said Maurice.
“We have basically a rookie in our lineup at No. 6 (on the defensive depth chart) and for the most part, almost two more sitting on the outside (of the game roster). We just felt that depth was going to be something that we needed to add. Just reputation-wise, he’s a spectacular human being, that was important to us, too, because we like what our room has done this year.
“We like how close they are together. He’s a hard, competitive man and that’s the kind of guy we wanted to make sure we would bring in, that would compete along with the rest of the fellas we have back there.”
The rookie occupying the sixth spot on the depth chart is Logan Stanley (who has taken significant strides on his development path this season), while Sami Niku continues to serve as the seventh D-man on the active roster, with Ville Heinola on the taxi squad, at least for the time being.
Bringing in someone with experience was a wise move, especially since teams that go on lengthy playoff runs rarely use the same six guys for the duration.
One of the most interesting developments of Monday’s Zoom call with Cheveldayoff was the latest public declaration that the Jets’ GM would like to see Heinola get into some game action during the stretch run.
To this point in the season, the Jets have taken an understandably patient approach with Heinola, limiting him to one NHL game to go with the 13 he’s appeared in with the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.
When you consider the 19 he played for Lukko Rauma in Liiga action back in Finland and the seven at the world junior hockey championship in Edmonton, Heinola does have 40 games under his belt this season already.
With the Jets (25-13-3) firmly entrenched in a playoff spot in the North Division and holding a 16-point cushion over the fifth-place Calgary Flames, there should be an opportunity for Heinola to get a little more NHL experience.
Where things go from there is up to him.
“I think (with) Ville, he’s been a little bit of a victim of circumstances here, with respect to the taxi squad (and) being up here. Sometimes, you’re here but you’re not in the lineup because of the way we’ve had to travel with COVID and the different travel restrictions,” said Cheveldayoff.
“But we think Ville can step right in and play when the opportunity presents itself. We think Ville will have a very short learning curve in that he stepped right in last year, even with less experience, and proved that he can step in. He’s that much stronger, that much more a pro. Again, I think when the opportunity does call on him, he will take it and flourish with it.”
As for what Monday’s events might mean for how things shake out in the North, only time will tell.
But the early indications are that the Toronto Maple Leafs not only made the most moves in terms of quantity, they also have the potential to make the biggest impact — with former Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno at the top of that list.
The Montreal Canadiens added depth D-men Erik Gustafsson and Jon Merrill to the earlier acquisition of centre Eric Staal, while the Edmonton Oilers brought in a familiar face to Jets fans, adding experienced blue-liner Dmitry Kulikov to the mix.
Although the Jets didn’t fill their most glaring area of need, they were still involved in the biggest blockbuster of the season with the earlier trade for centre Pierre-Luc Dubois.
No, the Jets roster isn’t perfect but their strengths are pretty easy to identify.
“Obviously, we’ve got the best goaltender in the world,” said Jets left-winger Kyle Connor, referring to reigning Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck.
“We have strength up front and it’s a confident group back there. We’ve been working with our D’s all year and if we continue to build these last 14 games or whatever we have left, and we approach each game like it’s the playoffs, we can kind of hit the ground running and you know, who knows?
“With this type of team and the leadership that we have, we are very capable of making a good run here.”
Having an unshakeable belief has been apparent throughout this condensed season.
“I think we’re great. Obviously, we’re where we are for a reason,” said Jets centre Mark Scheifele, when asked for his assessment of where things stand.
“We have a great team. We have so many good players on this team. I like our team. I like our group. When we’re all healthy it’s a fun team to be a part of and hopefully we can continue to play our game from here on out and make a good run.”
That’s exactly what Cheveldayoff is banking on, even if he was unable to make another marquee addition.
Ken Wiebe covers the Winnipeg Jets for Sportsnet.ca and is a regular contributor on CJOB.
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