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Deal Jets out: Don't expect Chevy to make any major deadline moves

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The National Hockey League's trade deadline -- the annual window for one final roster shuffle that gives teams a last chance for some Stanley Cup romance -- is now being measured in minutes and hours, not days.

And as the 2 p.m. Wednesday deadline nears, Winnipeg Jets fans hoping for or expecting a blockbuster trade that would put the club over the top and translate into a late June parade down Portage and Main are dreaming in bright, vivid colours.

Yes, for as much as the trade deadline has become somewhat of a religious holiday for hockey fans, Jets faithful will likely have to feed on minor transactions -- if there are any moves at all -- by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and the club's brass.

Here are six reasons we think the club won't be shaking up the NHL neighbourhood with anything dramatic in the next few hours:

1. A PHILOSOPHY CARVED IN STONE

The future, even tomorrow, can be unpredictable, which is why the games get played.

But Cheveldayoff has so far been an easy book to read.

He has said he'll be prudent, cautious and diligent in trying to find ways to improve the NHL's youngest team and above all, he will not spend youth for the quick fix that will cost the organization excessively down the road.

He has done all of that -- though with not near enough flair or boldness for his harshest critics -- since being hired in June 2011.

Just as he has promised to do.

So there would appear to be no extraordinary circumstances in the next few hours that would cause him to abandon that philosophy. A minor deal is possible, but not even likely, given the Jets' dramatic return to the playoff chase.

Yes, qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs would be an exhilarating feeling, but we just can't imagine Cheveldayoff falling for the deadline ruse of trading away young players or top prospects for a neat feeling for the week or two before clinching a spot, then the emptiness that is likely to follow once a first-round series against one of the NHL's real juggernauts is complete.

Respectfully, the Jets, while newly competitive and growing, just don't yet appear to be ready for the competition at the highest level.

2. CONTRACT STATUS

Sometimes a GM's hand is forced by a marquee player with an expiring contract. The Ryan Miller story -- which saw the longtime Buffalo Sabres netminder shipped to the St. Louis Blues in a blockbuster deal last weekend -- is the most recent example. Similarly, Atlanta was once painted into a corner by Ilya Kovalchuk before he was traded to New Jersey.

With the Jets, the 2014 deadline is not that time. While the team, like the other 29, has pending UFA's, none are such critical components of the team they require either signing or trading immediately. So if there's a decent deal for one of them, you consider it. But if there's not, we predict Cheveldayoff will have no trouble ignoring the hyenas who have a poor grasp of today's cap world and think every UFA -- and there seem to be a glut of them this year in the early days of this new CBA -- must command a return.

3. A HORSE IN THE PLAYOFF CHASE

This is a factor now in play that would have been unimaginable in mid-January: The Jets, courtesy an 11-3-1 run under Paul Maurice, are very much back in the sprint for a Western Conference playoff spot.

In essence, this is where two of the organization's goals are colliding -- the patience of drafting and developing a core vs. their desire to give the faithful a post-season berth right now.

So this is part of Cheveldayoff's conundrum in the next few hours: He's got a crew that believes it can run with anybody right now -- the recent turnaround has featured wins over Western powerhouses Chicago and Anaheim -- and confidence can be a powerful intangible at this time of the year.

Does he risk breaking up that good vibe in the room by moving a player or two? Interesting, for as much as the Jets' future hinges on young stars such Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane, there are other, older vets -- Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Olli Jokinen, Mark Stuart, to name a few -- who want to take their stab at post-season glory right now. And moving an existing player for a prospect or draft pick, for example, does little to feed their hunger for another taste of the playoffs.

4. PLAYING THE WHAT-IF GAME

The Jets' talent cupboard is filling up after three drafts, helping to stockpile what was once a very thin prospect pool. In fact, the St. John's IceCaps, like their parent club, entered play Tuesday night as one of the hottest teams in the American Hockey League.

That, however, doesn't necessarily translate into NHL readiness for the best of the IceCaps. This is another key factor in any move Cheveldayoff & Co. might make that involves moving an established player for a pick or prospect which leaves a hole on the big-league depth chart.

If Jokinen, as an example, is moved, could Eric O'Dell or Adam Lowry effectively fill the void as the third-line centre? Could John Albert step in on the wing if Setoguchi was traded? Could Paul Postma or Brenden Kichton gobble up minutes if a D-man is moved?

5. THE CAP SQUEEZE

The system by which the league is now run conspires this year to make a GM's job very difficult at this deadline.

The salary cap of $64.3 million per team has been spent or overspent by 17 or 18 teams to date, mainly because of the combination of holding the cap line with the new labour agreement and the reality there were many, many healthy contracts that pre-date the agreement.

Some teams have some long-term injury room that gives them a small amount of flexibility at the deadline but a recent check on www.capgeek.com shows there are 22 teams within $3 million of this year's cap.

So generally speaking, there aren't a lot of teams with a lot of room, and the majority of the teams with ample space are trying to stick to budgets that do not permit them to be big spenders.

The Jets, largely via Cheveldayoff's signing spree last summer, find themselves near the league leaders in having players locked up down the road, but that takes them to within $1 million or so of this year's cap, not where a mid-range team would prefer to be.

This gives Cheveldayoff a little flexibility but not a lot.

But as the cap rises next year and in 2015-16, as it's widely expected to, Winnipeg is expected to settle back to the middle of the range, still very much a budget team.

6. HUMDRUM TRADE DEADLINE HISTORY

Finally, it's not that the Jets haven't tried to make a blockbuster deal at the two trade deadlines that have passed over the last two winters -- who knows what deals were close but weren't consummated -- it's just that Cheveldayoff's unwillingness to veer far from the main blueprint screams out that no one among the top six forwards or top two defensive pairings is likely to be shipped out any time soon.

Cheveldayoff did ship impending unrestricted free agent Johnny Oduya at the deadline in 2012 -- landing two picks that have been parlayed into prospects J.C. Lipon, Jimmy Lodge and Jan Kostalek. That deal helped cement a championship for the Blackhawks, but has also added three more names to the Jets' prospect pool.

And last year the Jets did very little at the deadline, scooping up Mike Santorelli off waivers -- as they had done the year before with Grant Clitsome at the deadline. Those aren't the kind of deals that grab headlines, but may soon repeat themselves.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca, tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 4, 2014 D3

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