Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will continue fielding plenty of trade calls on NHL draft weekend.
“We’re going to listen to everybody,” Cheveldayoff said. “If there’s a guy that a team has an interest in, then my phone is open for a phone call.”
Cheveldayoff’s colleagues shouldn’t bother asking about defencemen Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey and centre Mark Scheifele, but other than that the Jets seem open for business. Rumours have swirled around left-winger Evander Kane and defenceman/forward Dustin Byfuglien, who could be prime targets as other teams seek to take advantage of the Jets’ desire to make changes.
Kane could be on his way out of Winnipeg this weekend or before the season starts. But if he is, Cheveldayoff isn’t showing his hand.
“I’m really not going to get into those kinds of discussions,” Cheveldayoff said Thursday in his pre-draft news conference. “I think it’s unfair to the individual players. There’s enough out there at different points in time that some of it is probably true and some is probably false. At the end of the day, it is a business where you do discuss making moves that will help each other’s franchises but these are people that are involved, as well.”
The Jets haven’t made the playoffs in three seasons since moving to Winnipeg from Atlanta. The Thrashers missed the playoffs in the four previous years.
So understandably there’s some impatience among fans, even in a difficult Western Conference. Cheveldayoff, on the other hand, is a paragon of patience, and that extends to this time of year.
“You can’t will yourself to make the playoffs,” he said. “You have to continue to build and get the pieces that will try to push you forward. That’s why so much attention is paid to the draft and the process and certainly in our organization.”
The Jets pick ninth in Friday night’s first round, the same spot they got Trouba in 2012. Scouts disagree about how many difference-makers are available in this draft, ranging from eight to 12.
There is a consensus about the top five players available: defenceman Aaron Ekblad, centres Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett, forward Leon Draisaitl and winger Michael Dal Colle. To get one, the Jets would have to move up.
“You make the calls, you try and see if there is opportunities,” Cheveldayoff said. “I guess there has to be an appetite in the different people to want to move because there are some good players there. Teams aren’t just going to say, ‘Yeah, you know what, let’s make a move.’ It has to make sense for both sides.”
In three drafts at the helm, Cheveldayoff has yet to move up or down in the first round. He has also not made a player-for-player trade at any point as Winnipeg’s GM.
So history is stacked against the Jets trading Kane or Byfuglien, even if the current reality makes it possible. Late in the regular season after being a healthy scratch, Kane refused to answer a question about whether he had or would ask for a trade.
Cheveldayoff danced around the subject Thursday when asked if Kane had requested to be dealt.
“These kinds of questions are really unfair,” he said. “There are lots of conversations that go on. I’m sure there were levels of frustration at different points in time for individual players. From our standpoint, Evander is a Winnipeg Jet and I know that there’s obviously been lots of different rumours out there. At this point in time, that’s how we’re going to proceed. As far as any demands, we’re working as normal here.”
Normal to the Jets means continuing to stockpile talent at the draft. Only problem is, after No. 9, they don’t have a pick until the third round, 69th overall, after sending a second away for winger Devin Setoguchi last summer.
It’s unlikely Winnipeg will be able to get immediate help with even its first-round pick. But Cheveldayoff could stay true to his long-term plan by making picks and moves this weekend.
“You’re trying to gain depth in an organization, so that if you have other assets that other people covet, then you can maybe make those kind of moves,” he said. “But until you have the assets that allow you to be competitive in the short term and maybe make long-term moves, you have to keep building.”