July 20, 2018

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Stastny takes off after landing with Jets

Sky's the limit for trade-deadline acquisition

He’s affectionately known as Stas by his relatively still-new teammates, but Paul Stastny could easily carry the handle Clutch.

When there’s a series on the line, he’s demonstrated during his NHL career an ability to elevate his level of play and grab the spotlight. He’s a proven difference-maker in heavy-duty games, and the Winnipeg Jets hockey club is the latest beneficiary.

Stastny, acquired from the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline Feb. 26, is making Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff look mighty good right now.

Case in point, the 32-year-old centre registered a couple of key points before Game 7 was even 11 minutes old Thursday night to significantly dull the “smash” in Smashville. While there wasn’t a whole lot to his secondary assist on Tyler Myers’s game-opener — a beastly goal from a bad angle on Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne — Stastny’s stubborn forecheck led to his fifth post-season goal just two minutes later, deflating the Predators, and a crowd of about 17,500 at Bridgestone Arena.

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He’s affectionately known as Stas by his relatively still-new teammates, but Paul Stastny could easily carry the handle Clutch.

When there’s a series on the line, he’s demonstrated during his NHL career an ability to elevate his level of play and grab the spotlight. He’s a proven difference-maker in heavy-duty games, and the Winnipeg Jets hockey club is the latest beneficiary.

Stastny, acquired from the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline Feb. 26, is making Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff look mighty good right now.

Case in point, the 32-year-old centre registered a couple of key points before Game 7 was even 11 minutes old Thursday night to significantly dull the "smash" in Smashville. While there wasn’t a whole lot to his secondary assist on Tyler Myers’s game-opener — a beastly goal from a bad angle on Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne — Stastny’s stubborn forecheck led to his fifth post-season goal just two minutes later, deflating the Predators, and a crowd of about 17,500 at Bridgestone Arena.

He’d add a power-play goal midway through the third period for a three-point night in a 5-1 series-clinching triumph, beefing up his playoff totals to six goals and 14 points through 12 games.

"Obviously, (Stastny) can share his stories, he can share his experiences with all of us, especially the young guys. His game did all the speaking, especially (Thursday). He played unbelievable," centre Mark Scheifele gushed. "That line got us going in the game, and got a big goal on the power play as well. I think it’s just the person he is. He leads by example, does all the right things on and off the ice, and that stuff just gets rewarded."

Stastny is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, and, with a bunch of money still to be spent by the organization this summer on many of its young stars, might wind up being a pure rental player.

But it’s easy to accept a future without Stastny if it comes AFTER a Stanley Cup parade through downtown streets.

So, credit Cheveldayoff for making the best deadline deal of 2018.

Frankly, only one other trade comes even close. The Tampa Bay Lightning paid a steep price to acquire defenceman Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller from New York Rangers. In exchange, the Lightning surrendered forward Vladislav Namestnikov, defenceman Libor Hajek, forward Brett Howden, a 2018 first-round pick and a 2019 conditional first-round pick.

McDonagh had five assists in the playoffs prior to Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final between the Lightning and Washington Capitals.

A review of major NHL trade-day deals the past few years shows Stastny’s acquisition might be the shrewdest move since 2014, when the Rangers picked up pending free-agent Martin St. Louis from Tampa Bay. The veteran all-star had expressed a desire to be moved, and Lightning GM Steve Yzerman made it happen.

Tampa Bay sent St. Louis and a conditional second-round pick to New York for Ryan Callahan, a first-round pick and a conditional second. St. Louis had a solid post-season, scoring eight goals and adding seven assists in 25 games as the Rangers made it all the way to Game 5 of the ’14 final before being eliminated by L.A.

Stastny continues to fortify his reputation as a major contributor in pressure-packed circumstances. The 12-year veteran, and son of NHL Hall of Famer Peter Stastny, is among some select company when it comes to production in Game 7 appearances. He has four goals and eight points in four games, leaving him fourth on the list of current NHLers.

He’s behind only current Carolina Hurricanes right-winger Justin Williams (14 points in seven Game 7s), Boston Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron (nine points in four) and Detroit Red Wings centre Henrik Zetterberg (nine points in five).

Cheveldayoff was asked point-blank Saturday for his impressions of Stastny’s impact on the team.

"Some of his best performances are things none of us get to see, and really happen inside the dressing room and on the plane and sitting beside the players, just the experience that he has," said Cheveldayoff, who surrendered a first-round pick this summer and forward prospect Erik Foley to land Stastny. "We knew we were getting a quality player (and), obviously, you can see that on the ice. (Also) a quality person, we knew that from our due diligence in the past.

"What he can bring inside the room, until you have a player, someone like that who can provide those experiences, you don’t really appreciate until you have."

Here’s a few of this year’s deadline deals that fell short, at least in the short term:

● Three days before the deadline, the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Senators centre Derick Brassard in a convoluted three-team deal between Ottawa and Vegas. The Golden Knights threw some money into Ottawa’s pot, to ensure the cash-strapped Penguins could get their hands on Brassard, forcing the Jets, on the hunt for a centre, to go with Plan B. It’s been reported Vegas retained a reported 40 per cent of Brassard’s salary to keep him in the Eastern Conference. However, the gambit didn’t exactly work out because the Golden Knights now face the Jets and red-hot Stastny.

● On the eve of the deadline, the Bruins acquired forward Rick Nash from the Rangers in exchange for forwards Ryan Spooner and Matt Beleskey, defenceman Ryan Lindgren, Boston’s first-round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and its seventh-round pick in 2018. Boston beat Toronto in Round 1, but couldn’t get past Tampa Bay.

● On deadline day, the San Jose Sharks received ex-Jets winger Evander Kane from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a 2019 conditional first-round pick and a couple of lesser pieces. Kane fired four goals in nine games for the Sharks, bounced out by the Golden Knights.

● Vegas paid a hefty price on deadline day for a guy who has barely played for them. GM George McPhee traded for Tomas Tatar from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a 2018 first-round pick, 2019 second-round pick and 2021 third-round pick. He has been a healthy scratch for six of 10 playoff games this spring and has zero points.

jason.bell@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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