Acquisition of Statsny shows commitment to contending now

By Declan Schroeder

The Winnipeg Jets have made a bold, unmistakable declaration – they’re all in and ready to win.

They didn’t just say it, though. They showed it with a big-time acquisition Monday.

As players on Kevin Cheveldayoff’s radar strayed out of range to different teams in the days leading up to the trade deadline, the Jets GM kept his display on and located the perfect addition – one which came seemingly out of thin air.

They hurried harder than a curler for Ottawa’s Derick Brassard, but lost out to Pittsburgh in a deal where Las Vegas helped finagle the odds against the Winnipeg team. Then Rick Nash, who the Jets were perhaps never in the running for given his salary and list of teams he wouldn’t go to – bounced over to Beantown.

As a result, it was looking like the Jets were going to stand pat. It’s not like the high-octane team in second place in the ultra-competitive Central Division needed to force a deal that didn’t make sense or sell the proverbial farm to get them in the playoff picture.

They didn’t truly need anyone, but they wanted someone. That someone they got, veteran centre Paul Statsny from the St. Louis Blues in return for a couple of picks and a prospect, represents a huge deviation from the “be patient while we draft and develop” script top brass has been preaching since the franchise relocated from Atlanta six years ago.

For the Jets to deal away a first round pick in the upcoming entry draft to get Statsny – a prolific playmaker with over 800 games and 600 points under his belt – represents a complete reversal from the strategy they’ve become known for. They’ve built their team through the draft and have been loath to trade away future assets in a push for present success.

That is, until now.

Cheveldayoff may as well have written it in skywriting, because his new line is that clear: The Jets are contenders. Not in a few years. Not down the road. Right now.

It makes it clear to fans, some of whom are still waiting for the ice to fall out from under the skates of the 37-17-9 team. Because let’s be honest: if there’s one thing Winnipeg sports fans are good at, it’s being suspicious of good times. “Fool me once…” et cetera, et cetera.

Perhaps more importantly, it makes it clear to long-standing players such as Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien, both of whom have endured a lot of losing but remain committed to Winnipeg. Monday’s acquisition shows these steadfast soldiers that ownership wants a deep playoff run just as badly as they do.

Adding Statsny mitigates concerns their lack of playoff experience – collectively, the entire squad has only played in 192 playoff games – would come back to bite them when the games get tougher and every mistake is magnified.

Statsny, who’s made 55 playoff appearances, will be a calming influence in the dressing room for young stars Patrik Laine, Nikolai Ehlers, and Kyle Connor. For all three, this spring’s quest for the Stanley Cup will be their inaugural.

Case in point – Statsny made a big impact with Laine and Ehlers in his Jets’ debut Tuesday in a frenetic 6-5 loss to Nashville. Centred between the Finn and Dane on the third line, he tallied a goal and an assist, while playing nearly 15 minutes and winning three quarters of his face-offs.

The Jets, who have scored 208 goals in 62 games prior to Tuesday’s matchup with the Predators, already had an embarrassingly talented top six before Monday’s signing. With Statsny, they’re downright terrifying and now have three lines that are a threat to score at all times.

With his savvy deadline day deal, Cheveldayoff has transformed the Jets from a playoff-bound team to a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, and has shown he believes his team is finally ready – after many years’ delay – to take flight.