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Scouts huddle in Winnipeg as NHL's zero hour looms

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Sometime over the past few days -- and especially in the final hours leading up to the NHL's trade deadline this afternoon -- Winnipeg Jets management must come to some sort of consensus on how committed they are to their franchise blueprint.

Are they thinking micro or macro? Short term or long term? And do they make a deal for immediate help that could push them into a playoff spot or stick to the build-through-the-draft blueprint?

Or, in an attempt to keep both elements of both camps within the organization content, do they do a bit of both?

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has gathered the team's braintrust, including the entire pro scouting staff, in Winnipeg for a trade-deadline war room and they spent most of Sunday huddled together in deep thought. And as of late Sunday, the most-heated discussion was whether to move a player or try and keep intact a squad that has gone on a 4-0-2 run over the last two weeks to wedge itself into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

And in the meantime, head coach Claude Noel and the players -- those are always thinking in the here and now -- cross their fingers and hope a squad that has shown so much growth recently doesn't have a key component shipped out for a prospect or draft pick.

"I don' think anybody's focused on (the trade deadline)," said Jets leading scorer Blake Wheeler after Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues. "I think we're just focused on (today), the game and whatever happens, happens. That's not our job.

"We have good people in this room that care about winning games. I was in a good room last year in Boston and it cared about winning games. But those are two separate phases of this organization. We go out there and we've been putting our heart on the line every night. They've done a really good job of putting this team together in the first place and so everyone in this room is confident that whatever moves they make, they're going to be in the best interest of this team.

"Certainly, you never want to see any guys go, but you gotta be confident that management is going to do whatever it takes to make us a playoff team."

Yes, the players and coaches see this: a Jet team that has picked up 10 of a possible 12 points in its last six games; is 19-9-4 at home with the eighth-best power play in the league and is backstopped by a star goaltender in Ondrej Pavelec. All those factors, should this team make it to the playoffs, potentially make the Jets a difficult first-round opponent.

But management, perhaps looking beyond the here and now, must see this: a Jets team that, even with the mini-offensive outburst of late, still ranks 23rd in goals and has been held to a goal or less 21 times this season; is 19th in goals against and could always use more picks and prospects to bolster its farm system.

And so as the 2 p.m. deadline approaches, Jets fans should consider this, for what it's worth:

-Despite all the wild rumours, the team will not deal for Teemu Selanne;

-Defenceman Johnny Oduya's name continues to be linked to the New Jersey Devils, where he played previously before being shipped to Atlanta in the Ilya Kovalchuk trade. Not surprisingly, Winnipegger Travis Zajac was mentioned in that speculation;

-Buffalo's Derek Roy has had his named linked to the Jets -- those rumours have emanated from upstate New York, not from Manitoba -- as a possible addition to a team looking for more offensive punch.

Meanwhile, a diehard fan base -- and 20-some players in the Jets dressing room -- wait to see what this afternoon brings.

"We're happy with the way we've been playing here lately and you can sense the confidence around the room," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. "You know (the trade deadline) is around the corner but, at the same time, everyone knows there is nothing you can do about it. We're more worried about what we're doing here and the race that we're in."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 27, 2012 C1

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