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Bargain hunting

Why do the Jets lead the NHL in waiver wire pickups?

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One person's castoff is another's treasure.

This is the NHL's waiver wire and the Winnipeg Jets have not been hesitant to go shopping at the scrap heap.

The Jets, in fact, lead the league in waiver claims since their relocation from Atlanta in 2011. The franchise has also been the most successful in waiver claims since the 2004-05 lockout, and by a good margin.

Atlanta/Winnipeg has claimed 14 players since then, and eight since becoming the Jets.

Why so many?

The reasons are many, but generally, there have been a lot of holes to fill as the organization strives to build up its stock of depth players and prospects.

"Generally speaking, if you're a team that's been lower in the standings and you put a claim in, you're going to be a successful claimer," Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said this week. "It's not so much about being afraid (to claim). The guy has to fit, you have to have a roster need.

"Would we rather have people ready within the organization to step right in? Sure, but sometimes you have to build some depth. Young players, when they get to a certain point of experience, some teams can't fit them in. Sometimes it's a good problem to have but sometimes you lose a guy like that."

Building depth is one reason. Another is last weekend's activity when the Jets claimed defenceman Keaton Ellerby from the Los Angeles Kings. An injury crisis has forced the club to go looking for instant help.

After being a steady scratch this season because the Kings were so healthy on the back end, Ellerby was available. Upon joining the Jets, Ellerby played his first two games of the season this week while Mark Stuart, Jacob Trouba and Paul Postma are all out.

While the Jets have been the busiest of recent waiver-wire teams, the chart doesn't tell the whole tale.

For starters, there is no way to know if another team or teams have put in more claims. The league does not release such information.

When a player is waived, he becomes available to all other clubs for a 24-hour period for a fee set in formulas in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The player's contract, obviously, must be assumed by the claiming team and the player is available first to the lowest team in the standings, then the second-lowest, third-lowest, and so on.

NHL waivers is not an auction with everyone in the room.

Teams have until the end of the 24-hour period to submit their claim to the league. The league office then decides the "winner" based on the standing of the clubs who submitted a claim on the player. While unsuccessful bidders aren't revealed, the NHL will let the successful team know if more than one claim has been made on a player. In that instance, without jumping through numerous hoops, the player can then not be traded for the rest of the season.

Cheveldayoff wouldn't say which, but he did say that several of his successful claims have been of players in that circumstance.

If a player goes through the process unclaimed, the original club can keep the player around or re-assign him to a lower league.

The majority of players placed on waivers do pass through.

Unattractive contracts are one reason, but it's good to keep in mind clubs may only have 23 players on their active roster at any one time, and no organization is allowed to have more than 50 contracts.

The Jets, seeing a need to try to get better any way they can, have had the contract room to make claims. That is likely to become more difficult as some players on their improving prospect list begin to develop and emerge.

"I think it is fair to say (the Jets) don't mind taking a few chances," said a hockey operations executive from another organization. "Some teams will claim a player because they have staff with some ties to players who are available; they think they have some knowledge of that player.

"But there are a lots of reasons for claims and it's not right to say that (the Jets) are the most active in the waiver market. Lots of teams above them in the standings could have made lots of claims and never got the player or players.

"Some teams like to look around at the start of the year, when a lot of players are on waivers. Other teams are headed for the playoffs and might just think they could use another body around to help them with depth."

And sometimes, it's an emergency measure, like the Ellerby situation last week.

"Rarely do you think you'll get a star," the executive said. "There are many guys at the beginning of the year who have shown promise, maybe a high pick who can't seem to get over the hump, and sometimes a change of scenery is all that's needed."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 8, 2013 C7

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