‘I believe in this group’
Chevy has faith current Jets lineup can take team to next level
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Kevin Cheveldayoff made just two moves before the curtains closed on the NHL trade deadline Friday afternoon, sending a clear message to his club: if it’s going to compete for a Stanley Cup this season, it will be on the backs of the players that have carried it this far.
“I believe in this group. We didn’t move anybody out at the deadline,” the Winnipeg Jets general manager told reporters in a 22-minute press conference shortly after the 2 p.m. deadline had passed. “We’ve added a couple of strategic pieces that we felt were important and we believe that this group is good enough to take us to the next level.”
The Jets wrapped up a quiet deadline day with just one deal, acquiring forward Vladislav Namestnikov from the San Jose Sharks for a 2025 fourth-round pick. Namestnikov joins forward Nino Niederreiter, who was picked up from the Nashville Predators on Sunday in exchange for a second-round selection in 2024, as the newest Jets and the final improvements on a team that’s watched its stock fall in recent weeks.
Niederreiter has already played for the Jets, sliding in Tuesday against the L.A. Kings at left wing on a second line that will have Pierre-Luc Dubois once he returns from a lower-body injury that has kept him out of the last two games. Namestnikov will bolster the bottom-six, expected to play on the third line.
“He’s a very versatile forward who can play all three forward positions. He can kill penalties, you can throw him into the top-six every now and then, and if the power play is struggling, he can help that,” Jets head coach Rick Bowness told reporters in Edmonton when asked about Namestnikov, a player he had while coaching in Tampa Bay and Dallas. “It’s his versatility that’s the big attraction to him. Plus, he’s a good teammate and a great person.”
After being at or near the top of the Central Division and Western Conference standings for much of the first few months of the regular season, the Jets have struggled to find consistency in their game, going 6-10-1 in their last 17 games. Winnipeg entered Friday’s action occupying the final wild-card playoff spot in the West, five points up on the Calgary Flames and with a game in hand. They’re seven points back of the Dallas Stars for first.
Cheveldayoff said the recent dip in the Jets play never altered his approach leading into the deadline. The Jets GM claimed he and his staff were open for business and were aggressive in trying to make trades.
It also didn’t appear to bother him that other teams in the Central loaded up, with the Minnesota Wild (D John Klingberg, F Oskar Sundqvist, F Gustav Nyquist) Colorado Avalanche (F Lars Eller, D Jack Johnson), and Dallas Stars (F Max Domi, F Evgenii Dadonov) all adding to their rosters.
“You don’t make moves to keep pace. You make moves to fill your holes with the opportunities that are in front of you, and you see the fit. I like what we had,” Cheveldayoff said. “Obviously, we didn’t see the Cole Perfetti injury coming. That’s something that was unfortunate in that regard. As far as the moves we made, we feel we filled the holes to allow us to be a deeper team, one through five lines.”
So, what was Cheveldayoff’s plan and how close did he come to completing it?
“It’s hard to answer that because the plethora of rumours that are out there, of all the players that actually were never even called on, is amazing,” he said. “Fact is, you only have a finite, whether it’s (salary) cap (space) or resources or anything like that. Deadlines tend to overexaggerate a little bit of what is actually real.” Earlier this week, several players shared their hope that Cheveldayoff would go “all-in” to give his team the best chance to win this year. That didn’t end up happening and the effect it might have on a leadership group that has several pieces up for new contracts at the end of next year is unclear.
Fans will likely be less forgiving. There was a lot of hype that the Jets would make a big splash at the deadline, or at least enough to contend with the other teams making moves within their division and conference.
“Fans, obviously, hope that you’re going to do more. Certainly, the advent of social media, there’s a lot of misinformation out there that fans tend to maybe gravitate towards and maybe get a little bit overly excited about the different opportunities that you have in front of you,” Cheveldayoff said. “This isn’t fantasy hockey — this is real. There’s a real hard cap. We were aggressive. We were in the market. We got players that we feel help us win right now and that’s the most important thing.”
If there was one saving grace, it’s that the Jets don’t have to compete in the Eastern Conference. The East was significantly busier than the West, with several teams adding significant pieces in the week leading up to Friday.
For the Jets, the focus is instead on the games remaining in the regular season. With a few extra pieces now in play, it’s about getting out of their current funk and finding the kind of game they were playing earlier in the year.
“We need to get back to the structure that we were successful with throughout the course of this year, playing the way we can,” Cheveldayoff said. “If you look around the league, teams go through these kinds of spells and there’s a few teams in the Western Conference that went through it at different points in time. You can’t take it lightly and you have to get back on track, obviously, with just about 20 games left till the end here, it’s important that you get playing that right way again.”
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
Updated on Friday, March 3, 2023 8:08 PM CST: revises lede
Updated on Friday, March 3, 2023 10:27 PM CST: Fixes typos