If you’re looking for an immediate winner and loser in the blockbuster trade between the Winnipeg Jets and Buffalo Sabres, first blush would probably tip it in favor of the Jets. But the reality is it will be a while before we untangle all the parts in this trade.
It took Kevin Cheveldayoff exactly 1,335 days to make his first NHL player-for-NHL player trade as GM of the Winnipeg Jets. Suffice it to say that once he finally got around to it, he swung for the fences.
Given that it had taken him almost four years to make a swap of significance, and given that Evander Kane is out of the picture for the rest of the season, most would have expected the most methodical GM in the league to take his time with this transaction. But just a week after the Kane situation imploded, Cheveldayoff and his counterpart Tim Murray rained players and prospects.
Murray, on the other hand, made his first big trade just 49 days into his tenure as Sabres GM and in his 13 months on the job hasn’t stopped. “My hat goes off to Tim,” Cheveldayoff said after the trade. “He was extremely aggressive in presenting things.”
Now comes the part where we find out whether this deal – Kane, defenseman Zach Bogosian and unsigned goaltending prospect Jason Kasdorf going to Buffalo in exchange for defenseman Tyler Myers, winger Drew Stafford, prospects Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux and a first-round pick going to Winnipeg – is just a shuffling of disgruntled players with plenty of baggage or a trade of real significance.
Both GMs are taking a risk here. Cheveldayoff is banking that he got enough for Kane, despite being put in a rather untenable position, and has improved his team both in the short- and long-term. Murray is hoping Kane can be a huge part of the Buffalo revival and that Bogosian will replace Myers. “Either you’re in it and you know you’re going to have to pay a huge price, or you’re out,” said Murray, who told reporters after the trade that the Jets called him, knowing he had expressed an interest in both Kane and Bogosian in previous trade talks.
As with all trades, it will take time to wade through a trade that is about as tangled right now as a set of crumpled up ear buds. In fact, when you think about it, the only player in this eight-player swap whose contribution you can count on 100 percent is Bogosian, who has established himself as a top-four defenseman with upside potential. But even if Bogosian remains at the level he’s playing, the Sabres will have a good piece on their hands for a number of years.
The rest of the deal? Total crapshoot for both Cheveldayoff and Murray. Murray also acquires Kane, a player with enormous potential, but some serious baggage. Now, those off-ice issues aren’t nearly as serious as they seem to be made out in Winnipeg. It’s not as though Kane was arrested for drunk driving the way, say, goalie Ondrej Pavelec was a couple of summers ago. He’s an irresponsible kid who is brash and outspoken and doesn’t seem to care what other people think of his hairstyle. He’s made some bad choices, the most recent one to skip a game against Vancouver by not even showing up to the rink was the tip of the iceberg. But it’s not as though the Sabres are getting the second coming of Bob Probert here.
Kasdorf is a good college goaltender who has a year of eligibility remaining. Given the unpredictability of the development of goalies, he could become a member of the NHL’s elite or he could be a journeyman backup. Way to early to tell on that one.
The Jets, meanwhile, get a player in Myers who also desperately needs a change of scenery. Deeply mired in the morass that has been the Sabres the past couple of seasons, Myers is a shell of the player who won the Calder Trophy almost five years ago, then signed a seven-year, $38.5 million contract extension in 2011. Not to be forgotten in all of this is that the Sabres have actually paid out almost $23 million of Myers deal so far, with the Jets paying only $15.5 million over the next four seasons, while absorbing a $5.5 million cap hit. But they’re also ridding themselves of Kane’s $6 million ticket each of the next three seasons and Bogosian’s $5.14 million cap hit for each of the next five.
The Jets are hoping that a new slate and a playoff contending team will bring out the best in Myers, the same way a trade to St. Louis revived the career of Jay Bouwmeester. At his best, Myers is capable of being a force at both ends of the ice and eating up enormous numbers of minutes. But like Kane for the Sabres, the Jets are taking a substantial risk here.
Stafford is a player who has enormously underperformed with an expiring contract. Lemieux and Armia could turn out to be contributing members of the Jets or they could turn out to be marginal NHL players who spend their careers bouncing between the NHL and the minors. It’s too early to tell. Same goes for the first-round pick, which would be 28th overall if the season ended today and neither the St. Louis Blues nor New York Islanders won the Stanley Cup.
The initial reaction seems to be that the Sabres gave up too much to acquire a talented power forward who will be coming off a significant injury and has a lot of baggage. But if Kane can return healthy and is a new man, that won’t continue. In his post-trade comments, Murray ticked off a laundry list of Kane’s on-ice attributes, pointing out not only Kane’s skill level, but his compete level around the net and the fact he doesn’t play a periphery game.
If Kane can learn to play nice with others and perhaps resist the temptation to attract so much attention to himself – in other words, if he “gets it” – the Sabres have a future star on their hands.
“I see a guy like that on the ice who plays like that,” Murray said, “and I have to assume he’s at least somewhat like that off the ice.”