Kenny Roger’s “The Gambler” is one of those songs you’ve no doubt heard a litany of times, but is not a tune on your Spotify playlist (unless you are over 60 years old). The NHL trade deadline is much like Kenny’s fictional poker game – you have to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.
The Winnipeg Jets need to channel their inner Doyle Brunson and push their chips into the middle of the table. While they’re not holding “the Nuts”, they are holding the equivalent of a “Rocket Queen” – a good, but beatable hand. As any gambler will tell you though, you don’t always need the best hand to go all-in.
Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Chevaldayoff has traditionally been conservative at the trade deadline. Outside of the Stastny and Hayes trades – the Jets have been content to hold their cards close to the vest. This could be a pattern of reticent behavior or a product of the organization just picking its’ battles carefully. The Jets had legitimate shots of making a Cup run in 2018 (Stastny) and 2019 (Hayes), but have since been on the outside looking in.
The Winnipeg Jets need to go all-in before the NHL Trade Deadline
Proponents of a risk-averse strategy will point to the Hayes acquisition as the primary reason why giving up future assets for rented ‘stars’ is not always wise. I disagree. I posit that Hayes (who just played in the 2023 All-Star game) was a solid addition, but was deployed with utter malpractice by then-head coach Paul Maurice. Maurice shuffled Hayes throughout the lineup, with the nadir being Hayes’ demotion to the fourth line, and being removed from all special teams’ play. Good coaches play with the hand they are dealt – they don’t fold.
This team is not as strong as the 2018 iteration, but mitigating circumstances are at play as it relates to risk. The futures of Schefiele, Wheeler, PLD and Hellebuyck are all in question after next season, so this could realistically be the Jets’ last shot with this core. Taking the Poker analogy a step further – we only have so many Big Blinds left.
The Jets also shouldn’t limp in. Acquiring Toews, Domi or Reilly is nice but is more akin to bluffing with a Dead Man’s Hand. The pot to chase here is Timo Meier. The Shark’s gifted right-winger is exactly the splash the Jets need. Does it guarantee a Stanley Cup run? Absolutely not. Does it put the Jets in a much better position to do so? I believe so.
The assets needed to acquire Timo – a 1st round pick, Ville Heinola, and another prospect should be coveted, but not off the table. It is clear the Jets have no intent on making Heinola’s development with the club a priority, and a late first-rounder is great – but far from a guarantee. Stacking chips should be an organizational goal, but you have to continue to gamble if you want to win it all.
A look at the prime trade candidates illustrates the delta between the choices:
Trades don’t happen in a vacuum, and the market is as competitive as ever. That said, it is OK in certain circumstances to overpay – especially if there is any inclination that Meier might be willing to stay in Winnipeg longer term. He is an RFA after this season, so the Jets could hold his rights for next year as well. If the fit isn’t right, the Jets can always pivot and recoup assets via subsequent trade.
The dealing isn’t done, but the Jets are at the final table. Let’s push those chips in and take a shot. The Jets might take a bad beat, but at least they won’t be ‘the donkey’.