A franchise-changing moment
Stastny agreeing to come to small-market Winnipeg shows hockey world knows Jets are Cup contenders
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/02/2018 (1925 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
They certainly didn’t win the Stanley Cup on Monday, even if the moves they made might bolster their chances of parading the famous trophy down Portage Avenue later this spring.
The Winnipeg Jets, however, did mark a significant turning point in their history, one that can’t be understated. Franchise-changing, really.
Paul Stastny, a bona fide NHL star and the son of a Hall of Famer, chose to come here. To small-market Winnipeg, the franchise with one measly playoff appearance over six seasons and a grand total of zero post-season wins.
To waive an iron-clad no-trade clause, the sort of anchor many believe has prevented the Jets from being serious suitors for talents who’d seemingly rather play anywhere else.
Make no mistake: Stastny’s availability would have created a bidding war among NHL general managers. Any contender who wouldn’t try to find a spot for a player of his ilk is merely a pretender.
And yet this is where he wanted to go. Because Stastny wants to win. And he believes Winnipeg in its current stage gives him the best opportunity. Imagine that.
“Sometimes you’ve got to do what’s best for you and the family,” Stastny told reporters in Minnesota Monday after the trade was announced. “I think with the situation we’re in, there’s maybe only a few teams I would have really taken serious consideration. I had no idea one of those teams (Winnipeg) would be seriously interested.
“I’m excited to go somewhere, when I look on paper and when I play against them how quality of a team they have. I think I can help them get even better and maybe be that piece for a long, extended run. To play more hockey for me is a big factor and it’s maybe a decision made a little easier.”
Also make no mistake: general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff had to rapidly alter his previous way of thinking to make this deal happen. First, he had to bring his team perilously close to exceeding the NHL’s US$75 million salary cap — particularly when he also added depth defenceman Joe Morrow right before the clock struck 2 p.m. CST.
“I don’t know who in Winnipeg thought we’d be a cap team,” Cheveldayoff cracked.
Second, he had to move what had previously been precious commodities to this organization, the bread and butter of how they got to this stage. A first-round draft pick, where Winnipeg has made the most hay since returning to the league in 2011. And a prized young prospect in Erik Foley, a player they’d already devoted significant resources to and had big plans for down the road.
You know that had to hurt, at least a little. But Cheveldayoff did it. The future, which has been talked about, seemingly, forever around these parts, has finally arrived.
‘I think with the situation we’re in, there’s maybe only a few teams I would have really taken serious consideration. I had no idea one of those teams (Winnipeg) would be seriously interested’ – Winnipeg Jet trade deadline pickup Paul Stastny
“It’s certainly not easy. It’s always a tough phone call. When I talked to Erik (Monday) morning, it was tough. He was drafted as a Jet. He’s very committed and proud to be part of the Jets organization, as we were to have him. When that’s a player that the other team targets and it gets the deal done, sometimes you have to make those tough decisions,” said Cheveldayoff.
“And the first-round pick, we built our organization through drafting and developing and retaining, a little bit of trading and a little bit of free agency has gotten us to the point we’re at. I believe we’ve drafted nine first-round picks, and we’ve got one playing in Europe, one playing in junior and still coming (and the other seven playing on the team). So you never take it lightly, but there’s currency that needs to be paid and sometimes you’ve got your fingers crossed that it’s not a first-round and that you can weasel your way into something different and take some time. But sometimes you just have to say this is the price and this is what we’re doing.”
To hear Cheveldayoff explain it, this one kind of fell out of the sky. He admitted the Jets had taken a run at some other deals prior to Stastny suddenly becoming available, which quickly became a priority. He also said some of the rumours making the rounds, such as other teams blocking players from landing in Winnipeg, are false.
“We were in some big things that didn’t happen and we landed someone that is again, a tremendous fit for us,” he said. “When I found out that Paul (Stastny) was available, I put everything into that basket. So that was, for me, the move that I was willing to let everything else pass by to try and make.”
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong texted Cheveldayoff a few days ago — it’s worth noting Winnipeg thumped the Blues 4-0 in St. Louis Friday in what now might prove to be an even bigger victory than it first appeared. Armstrong mentioned that Stastny may suddenly be on the market. St. Louis was skidding, on the verge of falling out of a playoff spot. No doubt the same text was sent to many other GMs in the league to try to boost the return.
“Now, you’re going to be asking yourself, what if you didn’t make it? Well, if we didn’t make it, we were happy with our group moving forward here. I was fully prepared not to make any moves if there wasn’t that right move we felt was going to be a fit,” said Cheveldayoff. “So I could just as easily been standing here when I woke up this morning and coming here, waiting for the questions about why I chose not to make any moves and I would have been able to sit here and look at you all straight in the eyes and say it’s because I like my team. That has not changed one iota. In fact, it’s actually been enhanced. We felt this was a tremendous fit for our organization on many different levels.”
And in true Cheveldayoff form, this one was kept top-secret. Not a single NHL insider had any idea Stastny was available, or that the Jets were about to make what may have been the best move of at all on deadline day.
Listening to the trade-day experts on TV, some almost sounded perturbed they hadn’t caught wind of Cheveldayoff’s horse-trading before Winnipeg’s PR department alerted the masses.
“It’s the sanctity amongst organizations that honestly is quite refreshing. We both knew that this was a person’s family at stake, a person’s decision at stake, and he earned that right to have that no-trade. So, for us there was never going to be any leakage certainly from our side to damage the reputation of that player,” Cheveldayoff said of the silence that followed as they awaited Stastny’s decision, which, ultimately, came Monday morning in the form of a thumbs up.
‘When I found out that Paul (Stastny) was available, I put everything into that basket. So that was, for me, the move that I was willing to let everything else pass by to try and make’– Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff
“That’s an exciting thing for us and certainly I believe once he gets here it’s going to be a really exciting thing for him.”
It’s worth noting the Jets actually tried to sign Stastny back in 2014 when he hit the free agent market, before finally choosing to ink a deal with St. Louis, the city he calls home.
The Jets were an afterthought then. Not this time.
“We talked about how we were going to build this organization, and I think if you went back over all the transcripts over the course of time, I think the message has been pretty consistent. We’re going to draft, develop and retain. And if and when we felt we had opportunities in front of us to strike at something, we would,” said Cheveldayoff, who added the message doesn’t change even with Monday’s blockbuster.
“I think for me it’s just keep playing. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us here. Enjoy the moment for the brief second here, but keep playing. We’ve got 20 games in front of us here, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” he said.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Updated on Tuesday, February 27, 2018 1:02 PM CST: Adds video