Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was likely breathing a sigh of relief when it was officially confirmed that misfit Evander Kane was traded to the Buffalo Sabres in a packaged deal with included defenceman Zach Bogosian and the rights to prospect goalie Jason Kasdorf on Feb. 11, 2015.
While Kane’s infamous “money-phone” and, more recently, “money-pushup” posts on social media went viral, the 23-year-old left-winger’s latest rambunctious antics finally reached a boiling point when he reportedly violated the Jets’ formality policy by donning a tracksuit to a team meeting before their clash against the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 3. An altercation ensued with his teammates and Kane appears to have authorized himself a healthy scratch one hour before puck drop.
Two days following the incident, Kane was placed on injured reserve with season-ending shoulder surgery. Yet the details of his run-in with Dustin Byfuglien continued to emerge.
“What happens in the room stays in the room,” Jets captain Andrew Ladd told tsn.ca to alleviate the locker room drama; however, by that point the situation had already escalated beyond repair.
Cheveldayoff’s deal with Buffalo marks the first player-for-player trade since the Jets’ return to the NHL, and it came with some instrumental value.
Winnipeg acquired forward Drew Strafford, defenceman Tyler Myers, prospects Brendan Lemieux and Joel Armia, as well as a first-round draft pick which belong to either the St. Louis Blues or New York Islanders.
Head-to-head: Stafford v. Kane
While Stafford is unlikely to provide the offensive expertise of Kane, who averaged a goal every three games as a Jet, the 29-year-old processes a smart, versatile, two-way game and can be deployed in all three forward positions.
The 13th overall selection of the 2004 draft, Stafford is a veteran of nearly 600 NHL games, along with 20 in the post-season and adds greater forward depth to a team which ranks 19th in the league this season in goals. He potted his first Winnipeg goal during the Jets’ dramatic comeback effort in Detroit, and then scored the shootout winner.
Perhaps the most advantageous aspect in comparing Kane to Stafford is that the Jets are relieving themselves of Kane’s six-year, $31.5 million contract. Already in the third season of that deal, he was evidently performing well short of that five million-per-year level.
On the other hand, Stafford becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, in the final season of a four-year $16 million contract. It certainly wouldn’t hurt the Jets to lock up Stafford long-term; however, he may be look appealing to other teams if Cheveldayoff wants to move up a few draft picks during the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Head-to-Head: Myers v. Bogosian
Perhaps the most effective piece of the acquisition so far has been the revelation of Tyler Myers. Known for his towering six-foot-eight frame, the native of Houston Texas is reviving his rookie days which saw him win the 2009-10 Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year. After impressively scoring 21 goals and 85 points during his first two NHL seasons, Myers was locked up to a lucrative seven-year, $38.5 million contract in 2011.
Since then, his offensive performance on the blue line has suffered, totalling only 66 points in the previous four seasons as a Sabre. In four games as a Jet, Myers has averaged a point per game, scoring one goal and adding five assists.
Zach Bogosian signed a seven-year, $36 million contract extension at the beginning of last season, but unlike Myers, his all-around defensive play does not warrant such lucrative figures.
Similar to Myers, Bogosian was a top draft selection from the famous “defence-dominated” 2008 NHL draft class and is capable of controlling the defensive side of the ice. The 25-year-old defenceman has never lived up to the offensive upside he established in his final season of junior hockey.
Bogosian has averaged 18 points per year in seven NHL seasons, compared to Myers’ 26 points per year in six seasons.
The change of scenery could be the reason for Myers’ sudden offensive rediscovery. After starring for Buffalo, with under-fire support on the blue line, the 25-year-old could have dipped due to the pressure of early comparisons as the next Chris Pronger or being labelled as the league’s next great defenceman.
Whatever the case may have been, Myers’ rewarding introduction has certainly marked a new cornerstone on the Winnipeg defence and could serve as a positive influence on the budding Jacob Trouba as well.
Like father, like son
While it’s safe to say that Winnipeg probably won the battle on the blue line, the Jets’ two new prospects acquired from Buffalo could one day compensate for the loss of Kane on the team’s frontline.
Brendan Lemieux is the son of four-time Stanley Cup champion Claude Lemieux, and from what the 18-year-old is displaying for the Barrie Colts this season, he is proving the apple does not fall far from the tree.
He has scored 37 goals and 54 points in 49 OHL games, while killing off 130 penalty minutes. Although a slightly undersized power forward at six feet, Lemieux’s knack to agitate his opponents and wicked nose for the net could result in the 31st overall selection of 2014 turning pro as soon as next season.
The other prospect heading to Winnipeg is Finnish winger Joel Armia. While he was a hyped prospect during his Finnish junior career, capped off with 12 points in six games at the 2013 World Junior tournament, Armia is coming off his first season in the AHL and clearly has work do to in adjusting to North American-style hockey.
A consistent sniper in Finnish Elite League, he scored just seven goals and 20 assists in 54 AHL games with the Rochester American in 2013-14. Time is on the 21-year-old’s side to continue improving with the St. John’s IceCaps; however, with the likes of Nic Petan and Nikolaj Ehlers possibly turning pro next season, Armia will have to prove himself sooner rather than later.
Goaltender Jason Kasdorf, who hails from Winnipeg, had his NHL rights traded to Buffalo. He has yet to sign to an entry level contract. Cheveldayoff’s choice to move a prospect goalie opens up breathing room for the two promising netminders in the team’s depth chart, namely Eric Comrie and Connor Hellebuyck.
Buffalo may have a deeper goaltending depth compared to the Jets, but with less well-rounded prospects in goal, Kasdorf may have a better crack at the NHL if he is signed to an entry-level contract with another organization.
The first-round draft selection from Buffalo will be either the St. Louis Blues’ or New York Islanders’ first-round pick in the upcoming draft. Since both teams are destined for the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Jets will likely gain a late-in-the-round pick.
Though the Winnipeg Jets may have very well won this trade in the early going, more is yet to be told. Whatever the case may be, Kevin Cheveldayoff has proved his worth in handling player-for-player deals which could mark further bold transitions in the Jets franchise nearing the trade deadline.