Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Penguins want Jet fuel

Looking to grab top winger, but Chevy unlikely to oblige

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Ray Shero has a need, and with the Winnipeg Jets currently out of a playoff position but in possession of some valued players, it's no great leap to conclude the Pittsburgh Penguins GM is going to come calling on GM Kevin Cheveldayoff.

But, and this is a dilemma Cheveldayoff will face in most trade scenarios over the next little while, it's going to be a case of a contender wanting to exchange something of value today for a still-unknown quantity.

If Shero really wants to make a match, he's going to have to be prepared to give as good as he takes. But for a team chasing a Stanley Cup this season, packaging contributing players is counterproductive. As such, a deal between the Jets and the Penguins is unlikely.

Shero's club is a contender and has lost its top line right-winger Pascal Dupuis to injury, likely for the remainder of the season. Shero has to fill the spot and he's said as much.

"If this injury happens after the trade deadline," Shero said last week, "it's much more of a problem."

Shero is said to have interest in three Jets forwards; Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler.

If Cheveldayoff believes any or all of these players are part of his team's future, these discussions won't go very far. But if the shine has come off one of them, maybe Winnipeg's GM is willing to listen.

This is the pickle. If Cheveldayoff does indeed get a call from Shero, it will likely be to discuss a trade based on Winnipeg sending a top-six winger to Pittsburgh in return for a combination of blue-line prospects and picks. From an outside perspective, it would appear the Jets have more of a need up front then on the back end. But then again, one can never have enough blue-line depth.

Depending on Cheveldayoff's evaluation of his NHL roster and what he believes he has in the development stream, he might be open to talking. But Pittsburgh would have to put together quite a package to pry any of the above-mentioned players out of Winnipeg.

All three are under contract with terms to go at fair rates considering age, talent and production. No doubt, they're attractive players. But they're also huge elements in the current structure of the Winnipeg Jets.

Ladd is viewed as a player not unlike Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz, in that he could possibly find an elevated level playing with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. He's also won a pair of Stanley Cups with two different teams and understands the grind of a deep playoff run. Ladd has a modified no-trade clause, but it's hard to imagine him balking at a chance to join the Penguins and chase a Cup this spring.

Kane is among the players most teams covet when they look at Winnipeg's roster. He's young, he's talented and he's on a long-term contract with a cap hit of just $5.25 million. Put him on a line with Crosby or Malkin and he'll blow up. Kane does not have a no-trade clause.

Wheeler is on fire right now and is leading the team in goals. After a sluggish start, he's found the game that makes him so dangerous. He's on the bubble for Team USA and could be named an Olympian on Wednesday. With his speed, size and finish, it's hard not to imagine him flourishing in Pittsburgh working with centres such as Crosby and Malkin. Wheeler also has a no-move clause but it doesn't come into effect until next season.

Cheveldayoff, however, won't get a forward of equal value in return. The Penguins have young defencemen to give but Winnipeg is looking to add forwards, not shed them.

The name Olli Määtä came up in a number of conversations Monday, but it's roundly believed he's untouchable. Shero views him as a top-pairing defender for the next 10 years and isn't interested in moving him.

From this perspective, that's the only name that gives a trade between the Jets and Pens any traction.

The other names, 2012 first-round pick Derrick Pouilot, currently playing for Team Canada at the world juniors and 2009 first-round pick Simon Deprés, don't get this engine started. Not when you're talking about a captain, a leading goal scorer or a burgeoning power forward on the other end.

The Penguins have their first-round pick this summer but it's going to be bottom third at best.

Blue-line prospects Scott Harrington and Brian Dumoulin are also interesting, but they're works in progress. Maybe a forward such as Beau Bennett is available, but he's a prospect with no NHL track record. Pittsburgh's first-round pick plus Pouilot or Deprés might give the conversation some traction.

However, if the "whoever gets the best player wins the trade," maxim is used as the prism through which to view such a deal, Pittsburgh wins at every turn. For me, if Määtä isn't on the table, there's nothing close to equitable to talk about

If it was Olli Jokinen or Devin Setoguchi the Penguins were interested in, a deal would be much easier to reach. But Shero wants a big fish. He's going to have to juice up the bait.

The question Cheveldayoff and Jets management will have to ask themselves is whether they are willing to part with a today-player for more futures. Not just with this scenario, but with several others that will soon be heading their way.

Does Cheveldayoff think his team is on the right track? Or does he believe he's better off doubling down on his rebuild?

This season's salary cap has made it difficult for willing trade partners to close deals. The Dupuis injury opens a door. Shero wants one of Winnipeg's most valuable plums. He's going to have to come up with more than a handful of seeds to get Cheveldayoff dealing.

Cheveldayoff, as long as the Jets are out of the hunt, is going to get calls. The trade deadline isn't until March 5 and the perspective among GMs is the NHL is going through a phase of a sellers' market. It's too early for Cheveldayoff to signal he's given up on this season. Not to mention the opening bid for any of his top players is likely to only rise.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 31, 2013 D2

History

Updated on Tuesday, December 31, 2013 at 5:43 AM CST: replaces photo

6:45 AM: adds video

7:45 AM: Corrects spelling of Määtä

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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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