At the risk of mixing sports metaphors here, Kevin Cheveldayoff apparently went down swinging on Monday. The Winnipeg Jets general manager tells us he stepped up to the plate, aimed for the fences, but ultimately whiffed on attempts to make a big deal or two that could help get his club to hockey's promised land.
"We looked at a few things and tried to do a few other things that might have been some big swings, but the players that we targeted didn’t move," he explained during a Zoom availability.
Now, with the trade deadline in the rear-view mirror, we're left to wonder if Chevy at the Bat ends with no joy in Jetsville later this spring.
It's a valid question, considering the Jets appear no better equipped today to go on a lengthy playoff run than they were yesterday. No offence to 33-year-old journeyman defenceman Jordie Benn, but there wasn't exactly a bidding war for his services. Winnipeg paid a sixth-round draft pick to obtain him from the COVID-19-stricken Vancouver Canucks mere moments before the 2 p.m. CST deadline, and that was the extent of their moving and shaking.
It left plenty of fans crying foul, along with some of the talking heads on TV panning the Jets for mostly standing pat.
After all, they have a Vezina Trophy winner in net, arguably the deepest group of forwards up front, and a mostly nondescript defence core that still gives up too many shots and scoring chances on many nights. Which is why the blue-line was the primary area of focus. Bring in an impact player and the sky's the limit for this squad, or so the thinking went.
Some bigger names rumoured to be on the market, such as Nashville's Mattias Ekholm, Anaheim's Josh Manson, Arizona's Alex Goligoski and Dallas' Jamie Oleksiak, all stayed put on Monday. Others said to be on Winnipeg's radar, from David Savard and Brandon Montour to Dmitry Kulikov and Mike Reilly, went to other clubs for prices that Cheveldayoff clearly wasn't willing to beat.
And so he settled for a rugged,10-year pro who is, at best, a third-pairing plug-in. And it's hard to see Benn as an upgrade over any of the current starting six, including impressive rookie Logan Stanley. He's an insurance policy at this point, a guy who would be among the first to step into the lineup in the event the injury bug bites.
If there's a potential silver lining here, albeit one that carries plenty of risk, the bridge to exciting young prospects Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg remains quite short, especially with Nathan Beaulieu down with a season-ending shoulder injury.
You now have Benn in the mix, along with current seventh defenceman Sami Niku, taxi squad staple Nelson Nogier (who hasn't played a single game anywhere this season) and then Heinola (currently on the taxi squad) and Samberg (currently nursing a minor injury with the Manitoba Moose).
It was noteworthy how often Cheveldayoff referenced Heinola on Monday, calling him a "victim of circumstances" up to this point of the season and suggesting it's only a matter of time before the silky smooth 20-year-old comes into the lineup and makes an impact.
"Someone I’d like to see here as well is Ville Heinola, get an opportunity to show where he does fit. So, we feel we have some depth within the organization that is a little more than maybe what some other people might think," said Cheveldayoff.
"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."
With 14 regular-season games remaining and a playoff spot all but secured, the time for some experimentation would seem to be now. I just wonder if coach Paul Maurice sees it quite the same way as his boss does?
But the bigger point stands. Rather than mortgage key parts of the future to help with the present — you can bet Nashville would have wanted Heinola to be part of an Ekholm deal, for example — perhaps some of that future is going to be part of the present, either by choice or, ultimately, necessity.
The Jets also avoided creating an expansion draft headache by adding a player with term. Barring a side deal with the Seattle Kraken, they're still going to have to leave one of Stanley, Josh Morrissey, Dylan DeMelo or Neal Pionk exposed this summer. But bringing in some like Ekholm would have created double trouble in that department.
This is a group that believes it can go deep, but they'll face a tough task getting out of the all-Canadian division. Toronto is the best team on paper, and on the ice, and GM Kyle Dubas connected on a few mighty cuts of his own by adding forwards Nick Foligno and Riley Nash, defenceman Ben Hutton and backup goaltender David Rittich. The rich may have gotten even richer.
Winnipeg's two other two competitors, Edmonton and Montreal, were not nearly as active. The Oilers added old friend Kulikov, while the Habs welcomed defencemen Jon Merrill and Erik Gustafsson, after acquiring forward Eric Staal a couple weeks ago.
Be still my beating heart. Not exactly the stuff of nine-hour, edge-of-your seat TV marathons, which is why you saw TSN fill air time with pre-packaged musical numbers such as "The Tradey Bunch," showing fan-generated photos of two on-air personalities blended together, and debating who will win theoretical hockey games at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
We weren't sure what the first-ever NHL trade deadline in the middle of a global pandemic with a flat salary cap would look like. With just 17 trades involving 26 players — the quietest in a decade — now we know. It's not very pretty. Kind of like getting a snowstorm in April. Harrumph.
Cheveldayoff may have struck out on Monday, but he believes his blue-line "is probably greater than the sum of its parts" even in its current state. Time will tell if that is true, as the only help on the way now will be of the internal variety.
Just like the Mudville nine that was the subject of Ernest Thayer's famous poem, the Jets are going to have their work cut out for them if they want to achieve their ultimate goal. No doubt the hockey club hopes for a better result than the ill-fated baseball team.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.