WINNIPEG – Kevin Cheveldayoff made no apologies for not swinging a deal with another club prior to Wednesday afternoon’s NHL trade deadline.
The Winnipeg Jets general manager met with the media after the deadline passed and announced the team had signed pending unrestricted free-agent defenceman Mark Stuart to a four-year, US$10.5-million contract.
Cheveldayoff said he had talks with other clubs about trades, but decided the pieces didn’t fit within the “parameters” he had set for a squad that’s put itself in the hunt for a playoff spot.
When asked if it was a failure that he didn’t improve the Jets (30-26-7), he replied that’s a matter of perspective.
“A lot of people would love to look at the fact that we didn’t make a big deadline acquisition as a failure,” Cheveldayoff said.
“A lot would look at the glass half-full and say, ‘They didn’t sit there and sell. They believe that this group has earned the opportunity to try and move forward.'”
Entering Wednesday night’s games, the Jets and Phoenix Coyotes were one point behind the eighth-place Dallas Stars in the battle for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference standings.
Their turnaround began after Cheveldayoff fired head coach Claude Noel on Jan. 12 and replaced him with Paul Maurice, who has sparked the team to an 11-3-2 roll under his leadership.
“I certainly feel very comfortable standing here today knowing the options that were in front of me, knowing the decisions that I made to move forward with,” Cheveldayoff said.
“Seeing how the guys have played over the last period of time, I wouldn’t view that as a failure. I would view that as an opportunity for the fans here to create a level of excitement and certainly expectation moving forward here that we’re still going to try to get into this thing.”
The Jets haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, when they were still the Atlanta Thrashers.
One thing that factored into his dealings on Wednesday was a hit the team took Tuesday night when rookie centre Mark Scheifele was injured in a 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Islanders.
Tests Wednesday revealed the 20 year old suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee and could be out for at least four weeks.
“There’s not going to be any surgery required,” Maurice told reporters after Wednesday’s practice.
“I think that’s a real positive for us in a difficult situation. But it turned out to be a better morning than I was thinking I was going to hear.”
Scheifele has 13 goals and 21 assists in 63 games this season.
The Kitchener, Ont., native was selected by Winnipeg with the seventh overall pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
“He’s been such a key part of our success lately,” forward Blake Wheeler said. “His play has been something to really be excited about for everyone in the organization and everyone in our city.
“It’s going to be tough to replace (him). We’re going to have to find a way to add some of the elements that he brings to our lineup and just hope that he can heal as quick as possible.”
The Jets also lost forward Chris Thorburn to an upper-body injury in the game and he’s listed as day-to-day.
Cheveldayoff said he had a “sleepless” night on Tuesday worrying about Scheifele’s injury, which threw “a little bit of a wrench into some of the things that we had been targetting and forced us to focus on maybe some other areas.”
But those options weren’t plentiful.
“We had basically set some internal parameters on forward position and then today on centre position,” Cheveldayoff said.
“It wasn’t so much about the prices, it was the availability. Not a lot of centres of the quality that certainly we were going to need to replace Mark’s production or fit into the mix or the type of player we were going to look for.”
Those parameters had to do with the right mix of giving up “live-body prospects” rather than draft picks, he added.
“We were very active on several fronts on rental market,” he added, referring to pending unrestricted free agents.
The Jets now have five after Stuart’s signing: forwards Olli Jokinen, Devin Setoguchi and Thorburn, defenceman Adam Pardy and backup goalie Al Montoya.
“There were some deals on the table that we were in there until the 11th hour, but for whatever reason, whether it was positioning of picks or different things like that…” Cheveldayoff said.
“At the end of the day, we were in some things and we were very aggressive in trying to make it happen, but again within certain parameters we set within our group.”
Winnipeg hosts the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday and the Ottawa Senators Saturday afternoon.