The Winnipeg Jets have traded for defenceman Jordie Benn. In what was expected to be a day highlighted by the announcement of an incoming top-four blueliner, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff opted to stick with his current lineup in hopes for a deep playoff run.
“I think we have a defensive core that certainly has more depth here today,” Cheveldayoff said following the trade deadline. “We have some internal depth, and I think, again, from our perspective here this D is going to get better as guys like Stan do improve. I think this group is probably greater than the sum of its parts. We’ve gotten to this point where we are challenging on any given night, there’s the jockeying for positions in this division, and we think we’re right there.”
Having recently seen the club move first-round picks for second-line centremen Paul Stastny and Kevin Hayes in past years on deadline day, the only move in 2021 was for a 33-year-old third-pairing blueliner that may not even get into the lineup for another week or two, following the completion of a modified one-week provincial quarantine. Cheveldayoff actually just squeezed the trade in before the cut-off, so travel plans are still in the works.
“We’ll work on the travel here shortly,” he admitted. “I literally, just before I walked in here, got off the phone with Jordie. The trade call, literally, just completed. I imagine there will be some quarantine protocol that will be applicable here. We will work on that as soon as we get moving… It came down right at the last minute. To the point where I wanted to make sure, before it even started confirming the leaks out there, somehow it got out there, that it was something that made it under the wire.”
Yes, the Jets are strong offensive team, but it is on the back-end where troubles have been seen most notably. Boasting a blueline consisting of Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk, Dylan DeMelo, Tucker Poolman, Derek Forbort and Logan Stanley, most Jets fans anticipated a move that would see a first round selection and/or a top prospect heading out of town for a top-pair blueliner.
“Adding Jordie gives us a player that can play right side, can play left side, competes real hard and is someone that can add some physicality to the lineup,” Cheveldayoff added. “Obviously, a lot of teams did some other things, but for yourself you look at what’s available in front of you, what fits and you make those moves accordingly. We looked at a few things and tried to do a few other things today that might have been some big swings, but the players that we targeted didn’t move.”
According to Chevy, there were many potential moves in place, but unfortunately, they fell by the wayside as asking prices skyrocketed and Expansion Draft plans came into the fold.
“When you come into a trade deadline, you’re sometimes victim to what might be out there as well,” he said. “I think I’ve said it before, we have a good group of guys on defence that have a really good chemistry together, and some of the guys that have gotten an opportunity, like Logan Stanley, have taken it and are continuing to get better… The expansion draft certainly came into a few different scenarios that were of interest to us. But again it’s opportunity to try to do some things at a deadline sometimes they do come to fruition, sometimes they don’t.”
Where Benn fits is entirely up to how head coach Paul Maurice views the incoming veteran piece. Having played in 31 games for the Canucks this season, the Victoria, BC product has nine points. For his career, its 24 goals and 124 points in 548 regular season games between the Canucks, Montreal Canadiens and Dallas Stars.
“I think the ability to play either side gives the coaches an opportunity to have a player that, again, they know is comfortable,” Chevy said. “Flexibility in a depth-type of situation is good. He’s a player that competes hard. He’s a pro. He’s got as lot of games under his belt and a lot of experience that I think will be helpful as the games get a little more intense and a little more rugged. Again, he’s a big body that is not afraid to play that way as well.”
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Staying relatively healthy has been helpful for the current lineup, but has limited the play of potential call-up Ville Heinola. Winnipeg’s GM knows that Heinola does need some ice-time, but won’t answer as to how or when his former first round selection will skate with the big club, citing player call-up rules that have now come into effect.
“I think Ville, he’s been a little bit of a victim of circumstances here with respect to the taxi squad being up here,” Chevy added. “Sometimes, you’re here but you’re not in the lineup because the way we’ve had to travel with COVID and the different travel restrictions. But we think Ville can step right in and play when the opportunity presents itself. We think Ville will have a very short learning curve in that he stepped right in last year, even with less experience, and proved that he can step in. He’s that much stronger, that much more a pro. Again, I think when the opportunity does call on him, he will take it and flourish with it.”
Currently sitting in second place at 25-13-2 and with one game in hand over the third-place Edmonton Oilers, the Jets will likely not Toronto for first place, but do have the second-best record (7-2-1) over their last 10 outings just behind that of the Leafs’ 9-0-1 mark.
Winnipeg next sees the Ottawa Senators for two games beginning on Monday evening, before heading to Toronto for a rare one-game outing at Scotiabank Arena. The team then returns home for six-straight games against Toronto and Edmonton.