Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Time wasn't right for Chevy to deal high-end prospects

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The smart play, the percentage move, would have been to sell but in the end, Kevin Cheveldayoff didn't have much choice other than to stand pat.

The minute the Jets GM was informed rookie centre Mark Scheifele would miss the rest of the regular season, his plans to add to his roster and enhance his team's chances to reach the playoffs had to change.

Cheveldayoff needed to find a top-six centre and with the self-imposed restriction on trading prospects such as Nic Petan, Josh Morrissey, Adam Lowry, Brendon Kitchton or Scott Kosmachuk, the Jets were never really in the market.

Cheveldayoff said Wednesday he was willing to pay the price to add but the Jets' unwillingness to part with any of their prized prospects had to have taken them out of the running on any of the big fish in the deadline frenzy. From here, that's not a bad thing. It would have been risking good money on a very suspect venture.

Not adding to the lineup, coupled with the loss of Scheifele, leaves the Jets in a long-shot position to make the post-season. And if they're not getting in, from this perspective, they should have sold some of their pending UFAs to further improve the future outlook of the organization.

Now, it's easy for me to sit here and say the Jets should have sold off Olli Jokinen, Devin Setoguchi, Matt Halischuk and Chris Thorborn to continue the restocking of the organization but not so palatable a move for Cheveldayoff to try and sell to the fan base and the players in the dressing room.

Fans in Winnipeg, and rightly so, want to see playoff hockey. Waving the white flag while the team is just one point out of a playoff spot would have been cause for lots of justified anger.

And what of the players who have fought back from being 12 points out of the hunt? Walking into that dressing room and looking into the eyes of Andrew Ladd and Zach Bogosian and Mark Stuart would have been extremely difficult for Cheveldayoff.

No, even in the long run if this deadline day is viewed as a failure due to the Jets missing the post-season, Cheveldayoff couldn't justify selling off roster players for futures.

So why didn't he spend to buy what he wanted? First of all, I'm not convinced it's very easy for Cheveldayoff to make trades for top-end talent since many of those players have no-trade clauses and Winnipeg isn't one of the markets they will sign off on joining.

Then comes the price.

The going rate for a second-line centre ran as high as a first-round pick, a roster player and a top prospect Wednesday, when one considers what the asking price was for Ryan Kesler. The low end for a plug and play No. 2 centre, regardless of age and contract status, to replace Scheifele would have been a high pick and a roster player or prospect at the very least.

The Detroit Red Wings paid a third- round pick, prospect Calle Jarnkrok and Patrick Eaves for centre David Legwand. The market for rental top-six centres was too expensive for the Jets, an organization still in the midst of a rebuild..

Should Cheveldayoff have been willing to trade one of his young prospects to get a player such as centre David Legwand? Even if Legwand was willing to come to Winnipeg, the answer for me is no.

Cheveldayoff, who has resolutely stuck by his draft and develop mantra, could not in good conscience have made such a deal.

The time for the Jets to make that kind of deal has not arrived. If Cheveldayoff's team was comfortably in the post-season and looked like they could potentially win a round, sure, swap prospects to preserve the current squad's competitive integrity.

But that can't be said about these Jets. New head coach Paul Maurice has them on a nice run but the sample size still isn't big enough. Identifying what the Jets are right now is still a guess. They remain an unknown.

Maybe they're a mix of young talent and speed that will continue to roll up the opposition and zip into the post-season. Or maybe they've flown on adrenaline for the last month and are about to fade and fade hard.

For Cheveldayoff to gamble the organization's future, which he has worked hard to build since he took over the club, would be irresponsible.

The question was asked a few times Wednesday whether Cheveldayoff has the acumen and willingness to take the risk needed to pull the trigger on a major deal. Well that answer can't be truly known until he makes such a trade. But pulling the trigger just for the sake of watching the gun go off makes no sense.

This simply wasn't the time for Cheveldayoff to spend his bullets.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 6, 2014 D3

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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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