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Schemes, screams will fill Jets war room

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Some time on Friday, six weary men packing binders and laptop computers stuffed with top-secret information landed in Winnipeg to begin a marathon session of scheming, screaming, hoping and praying.

No, they're not into corporate espionage or hatching a coup. They're the top personnel men in the employ of the Winnipeg Jets. No offence to the folks at CSIS but for the next couple of days, these guys just might matter a little more to the average Winnipegger.

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Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has called his six pro scouts in off the road to join him in the war room as the NHL's trade deadline approaches. Cheveldayoff, assistant GM Craig Heisinger and assistant to the GM Larry Simmons have been in Winnipeg for a few days now preparing for the home stretch.

By the time 2 p.m. Monday arrives this group will have spilled more coffee than most of us drink in a year, having worked non-stop to try and get the Jets a little more punch for today or to stockpile more picks for tomorrow.

The Jets aren't desperate to make a trade and that puts them in a position of strength. Maybe they can take advantage of a less stable management group. Cheveldayoff has term on his contract and his owners have a sold-out building for years to come. They're on schedule in regard to their long-term plan won't make a rash move. It just won't happen.

DEADLINE DISASTER: The Jets organization has only made the post-season once since entering the league as the Atlanta Thrashers in 1999, and they paid a big price for the pleasure of a four-game sweep.

The Thrashers dealt young blue-line prospect Braydon Coburn to the Philadelphia Flyers for Alexei Zhitnik on Feb. 24 of 2007. Zhitnik joined the Thrashers and the team won the Southeast Division and claimed third spot in the Eastern Conference, but were swept by the New York Rangers.

In his time with the Thrashers, 83 games over two seasons, Zhitnik collected five goals and 17 assists before having his contract bought out.

Coburn, on the other hand, has played 399 games for the Flyers, collecting 28 goals and 93 assists, but more importantly developing into a reliable defender who plays big minutes and against elite scorers.

The trade was a lopsided win for the Flyers and Jets fans can only imagine how good Coburn would look on their blue-line today.

TRADE TALK: The Jets will be looking to add some strength to their forward group and add scoring depth. Forwards Antti Miettinen (the Jets put him on waivers on Friday to make him eligible for a trade) and Eric Fehr have not produced and Cheveldayoff will be looking for an upgrade to play with centre Tim Stapleton and veteran winger Nik Antropov on the fourth line.

Defencemen Johnny Oduya and Randy Jones, both unrestricted free agents on July 1, also appear to be in play.

FARM DEPTH: The Jets could also look to find some scoring within the organization if a trade doesn't pan out. Aaron Gagnon has eight goals and 12 assists through 38 games with the St. John's IceCaps and appears to be the player of choice should the Jets make a recall in the near future. Gagnon is versatile and can play a checking role or mix in well with a scoring line.

STEEN'S BLUES: Winnipeg native Alex Steen will travel here with his St. Louis Blues but won't take part in today's matinee. Steen has been out of the Blues lineup with a concussion since Dec. 27.

"Alex has been skating but he's not ready to play. I was hoping he would play but it can wait for another time," said father and Jets legend Thomas Steen. "The most important thing is he gets healthy and I'm glad the doctors are being careful with him."

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 25, 2012 C2

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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