It wasn’t exactly a trade Jets fans demanded, but it was one they had been expecting — and for some, possibly waiting for. So, when GM Kevin Cheveldayoff pulled the trigger on the blockbuster deal that sent Evander Kane packing, the hope was Winnipeg would be landing a package in return that would make the deal well worth their while.
In the immediate, it seemed to be the case. After all, Kane was on the shelf with a shoulder injury and the acquisition of Tyler Myers, the central piece that was Manitoba-bound, helped push the Jets into the post-season. Winnipeg’s playoff run would be sweet, but ultimately short. Four games, four losses and the Jets were shown the door.
A full season and more has passed since the deal, though, which saw a total of four big-league players — Kane, Myers, Drew Stafford and Zach Bogosian — and four prospects and/or picks switch hands. And on the second anniversary of the biggest trade the Jets have made since landing back in Winnipeg, and one of the most interesting the league has seen in the past two seasons, it’s worth looking back to determine which team came out on top. It’s a perfect time to measure the contributions of the both Kane and Myers, the key assets in the trade, too. Heading into Saturday, both Kane and Myers have played exactly 108 games in their new locales, making it that much easier to measure them on a one-to-one basis.
The early returns, as noted, certainly went in Winnipeg’s favor. Myers came into Winnipeg and scored three goals and 15 points in the 24 games he played for the Jets at the tail end of 2014-15, and he averaged nearly 24 minutes per game over that stretch. He was, for that stretch run, the top-pairing defenseman the Jets were after. In the post-season, he mustered one goal in four games, averaging upwards of 24 minutes.
But for all Myers did early on, it’s hard to overlook what Kane has been able to manage for the Sabres in the season-plus that has since passed. Off-ice issues aside — and there has been a few — Kane has been almost exactly what Buffalo had hoped he would be, and he’s certainly been an on-ice favorite of Dan Bylsma. One could argue whether Kane’s production for the Sabres matches his potential or his $5.25 million cap hit, but the 25-year-old scored 20 goals and 35 points in 65 games in 2015-16, skating upwards of 21 minutes per game. The only forward who averaged a higher ice time was teammate Ryan O’Reilly.
Playing that much night in and night out was surely not going to last, and Kane’s ice time has dipped to 18:47 per game this season, but his production has been right where the Sabres would have expected. He has 16 goals and 26 points in 43 games, is on pace for a 26-goal, 40-plus point season and is one of the more reliable forwards Buffalo has.
None of this is to say his worth has vastly outweighed that of Myers. Matter of fact, Myers was steady and strong for Winnipeg in 2015-16. He averaged upwards of 22:30 per game, had a strong puck possession percentage, produced nine goals and 27 points from the back end and had the best goals for percentage at 5-on-5 of any Jets defenseman.
And while both have had injury trouble — Kane missed 17 games in 2015-16 and 11 games so far this season — Myers has gotten the worst of it. In 2015-16, he was sidelined for nine games with a knee injury and hasn’t suited up since mid-November this season. He’s managed only 11 games in the Winnipeg lineup in 2016-17, and he went under the knife last week and is set to miss another six-to-eight weeks due to a lower-body ailment.
But given Myers’ play during his time in Winnipeg and the way Kane has produced in Buffalo, it’d be safe to call the deal a push. What tips the scales in the Jets’ favor, however, is that the supplementary pieces have really started to flourish.
During his time in Winnipeg, Drew Stafford hasn’t exactly been all-world, and few would suggest that his four-goal, 12-point performance this season is what the Jets were expecting of $4.35-million player. That said, the 21-goal, 38-point season in 2015-16 was stellar from Stafford, and more than matched what Kane achieved in Buffalo. The real treat for the Jets, though, has been emergence of Joel Armia as a bottom-six threat. His production doesn’t tell the whole story on what he’s accomplished this season, but four goals and 10 points in 32 games matches his totals from last season with 10 games in hand. He’s also earning himself a bigger defensive-zone role.
In addition, there’s the play of Jack Roslovic and Brendan Lemieux. Roslovic, 20, has earned himself a spot on the gold-medal winning American side at the World Junior Championship and has scored nine goals and 25 points in 38 games in his rookie pro season with the Manitoba Moose. Roslovic was picked up by the Jets through the draft using the first-round pick, 25th overall, that came Winnipeg’s way in the Kane deal. Lemieux’s rookie campaign in the AHL hasn’t been quite as productive, but the edge to his game has him looking like he could be the pesky type that fills a bottom-six role in the near future.
Meanwhile, the additional pieces in Buffalo have been sound, but not good enough to standout. Bogosian, for instance, has seen his ice time fall season over season with the Sabres, down now to 20:25 per game. That’s Bogosian’s lowest average ice time since his rookie campaign. As for netminder Jason Kasdorf, who was thrown in as part of the deal, he’s currently plying his trade in the ECHL, and his numbers have been suspect.
Looking back, more were enthralled with the big pieces changing hands than the throw-ins, but two years on, it appears it’s the additional assets that have really swung the deal for the Jets. And when one team gets both the early returns and the long-term gains, it’s hard to view the acquisition as anything but a win.
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