The Winnipeg Jets missed out on two of their reported targets in the days leading up to the trade freeze, but made the first big splash of deadline day by landing center Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues.
First, Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff chased after Derick Brassard, only for that attempt to be blocked by the Pittsburgh Penguins and Vegas Golden Knights. Next, the Jets reportedly took a look at Mark Letestu, but any potential deal for the Edmonton Oilers center went up in smoke when he was acquired by the Nashville Predators and subsequently moved along to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Back to the drawing board again, though, Cheveldayoff put together a package that resulted in the first major splash of deadline day.
In a shocking deal — with a division rival who only just fell out of a playoff position, no less — the Jets went out and landed Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for a 2018 first-round pick, 2020 conditional fourth-round pick and 20-year-old prospect Erik Foley. The Blues retained 50 percent of Stastny’s salary in the swap.
It’s a significant acquisition for Winnipeg, one that most certainly fills the void at center that Cheveldayoff seemed dead-set on addressing. On a number of teams, Stastny, 32, would likely enter the lineup as a second-line center and it is possible he skates those kind of minutes for Winnipeg at some point before the playoffs. Ideally, though, Stastny will play in a third-line role, which would give the Jets spectacular depth down the middle and a 1-2-3 punch of Mark Scheifele, Bryan Little and Stastny. That’s no doubt a group that can compete with the toughest groups in the Central Division and Western Conference, and once Adam Lowry returns, he can slide onto the fourth line and provide even more matchup trouble.
What gives the Stastny deal even more potential to be a success is that the current lineup structure in Winnipeg could see the veteran pivot play between Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. Over the past several games, Jets coach Paul Maurice has had Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor on either side of Scheifele, Little between Perreault and Jack Roslovic and Andrew Copp centering the “third” unit with Laine and Ehlers. It would seem Stastny is the perfect option to replace Copp in that rotation, and putting a pure playmaking center with Laine and Ehlers — who are first and second in goal-scoring for the Jets with 31 and 24 tallies, respectively — stands to make that line all the more lethal.
While true that this hasn’t been the greatest year of Stastny’s career statistically speaking, he is on pace to crack the 50-point plateau for the first time since 2013-14. And Stastny isn’t necessarily being brought in to be a top point producer, anyway. Rather, he’s expected to chip in, which he almost certainly will do if he plays between Laine and Ehlers, while providing the extra depth that could help Winnipeg get over the top in a division that is as hotly contested as any in the league.
Make no mistake, either, this is a sign the Jets are all-in. Winnipeg has been excellent this season in almost every facet, with goaltender Connor Hellebuyck’s resurgence after last season’s struggles the backbone of a Jets team that could legitimately challenge for the top seed in the West by the time the campaign closes. Stastny seems to understand that, too, as he waived his no-movement clause to head to Winnipeg. The Jets definitely had the cap space, the assets and the foundation in place to make such a trade, too, as they boast one of the league’s deepest prospect pools.
From the Blues’ perspective, the trade is somewhat surprising in that St. Louis is only a single point out of the final wild-card spot in the West. However, with offensive struggles plaguing the team, GM Doug Armstrong seems to have decided that it’s in his team’s best interest to sell what rentals he may have and take another run next season. That’s actually a rather astute move considering all signs point to a Winnipeg-Nashville showdown for the Central crown come the playoffs.
To be sure, Stastny was the Blues’ top rental as he entered the final months of his four-year, $28-million contract, and St. Louis did manage to get a significant haul for moving the center and retaining half of his contract. The first-round pick, which the Winnipeg Sun’s Ken Wiebe reported is lottery protected, will likely fall in the bottom-third of the round, but it replenishes one of the picks that was lost in the Blues’ acquisition of Brayden Schenn in the off-season. And, in the very off chance Winnipeg misses the playoffs and nets the first, second or third overall pick in the upcoming draft, the selection will shift and give St. Louis two first-rounders come the 2019 draft. Meanwhile, Foley is an intriguing pickup. While he wasn’t ranked among the Jets’ best prospects, he has had a good season at NCAA Providence, registering 15 goals and 34 points in 32 games. He was a third-round selection of the Jets, 78th overall, at the 2015 draft. The condition on the fourth-round pick pertains to Foley signing with the Blues this summer.
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