Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Creative shopping could help fuel Jets

Might want to imitate one of Snow's moves

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The Winnipeg Jets propose to be a slow-burning fire that will blaze hot and long once maximum temperature is reached. Which is fine, but throwing a little gas on the flames wouldn't hurt.

As such, the Jets must be open to non-traditional opportunities that arise.

For example: Last week the New York Islanders took a minimal risk with potential for huge upside, giving up a lowly fourth-round draft pick to get pending UFA Jaroslav Halak from the Washington Capitals. Should Isles GM Garth Snow get the top-tier goalie to sign a contract extension he'll be hailed as a genius.

If Snow pulls it off, more will be made of Kevin Cheveldayoff already naming Ondrej Pavelec his starter for next season. Pavelec simply hasn't earned the loyalty and trust the Jets GM has been so quick to bestow. Frankly, very few players on his roster have.

Expect Halak, who has a career record of 144-85-59, a save percentage of .918 and goals-against average of 2.38 to fetch a long-term deal with an annual salary north of the $5-million range. Snow now has exclusive negotiating rights and will try to reach a deal with the goalie prior to July 1.

Could this have been a fit for the Jets? Only if they were willing to make coinciding changes to their current roster.

Cheveldayoff is already on the hook for Pavelec's 2014-15 salary of $3.75 million, so adding Halak's new number would have been unlikely. Unless the team used a compliance buyout on their current No. 1 goalie, paying off the rest of his contract to have him walk away.

Cheveldayoff stated at his season-ending press conference Pavelec, who owns a career record of 113-125-46 with a .906 save percentage and a 2.96 GAA, would be his team's No. 1 goalie when training camp opens in the fall. It seemed premature at the time. And now Halak has changed teams for almost nothing, Cheveldayoff's proclamation must be questioned.

The Jets are a budget team so perhaps a buyout isn't a tool in Cheveldayoff's shed. The cost of buying out Pavelec would be $8.5 million spread over six years with no additional cap hit. Maybe the Jets looked at this option and deemed it too expensive. Or maybe not. The Jets, quite rightly, don't offer up this information.

The Jets might be close to reaching the post-season with improved goaltending. Would the gate receipts of a playoff round soften the cost of a buyout?

As a rule, I think buyouts are bad business, especially for a small-market team such as the Jets and their limited revenues. Where does it end? Walking around with a mop made of cash isn't a realistic way of cleaning up mistakes. At least not for the Jets.

One might argue, "but what about just this once?" Which is the exact phrase that begins so many roads to ruin.

Acquiring a goalie of Halak's calibre would change the landscape in Winnipeg's crease. But to what degree? The improvement might be a little too grey for Cheveldayoff's liking. Does Halak immediately make the Jets a playoff team? No one can say. But risk is inherent in every NHL transaction.

On the whole, Winnipeg isn't going to get better fast through free agency or the trade market. But that doesn't mean the Jets can't be creative and try to improve their roster when opportunities arise.

Maybe Cheveldayoff and the Jets are right: Pavelec will achieve his promise and become an elite goalie this season. Or maybe he'll turn in another season with a save percentage around .900 and the Jets will spend another spring doing whatever it is they're doing right now.

Now isn't the time to ditch his long-term plan but Cheveldayoff shouldn't be against squirting a little lighter fluid into the fire to get a little heat happening going into Year 4.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 5, 2014 C1

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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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