Perception is a funny thing when it comes to how NHL general managers operate.
Some monitored the trading track record of Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff – almost four years on the job, and no major deals until Wednesday – and declared him slow-moving and too cautious.
Others saw a thoughtful man with a plan – someone who understood that to succeed long-term with a mid-budget team, the Jets needed carefully to construct a foundation and then build from within.
Cheveldayoff didn't exactly throw caution to the wind Wednesday, but he made the first significant trade of his career an outright blockbuster, completing a seven-player deal with the Buffalo Sabres in which he traded away an unproductive, unhappy asset – forward Evander Kane – for immediate and long-term help.
In exchange for Kane, defenceman Zach Bogosian and goalie prospect Jason Kasdorf, the Jets landed highly coveted defenceman Tyler Myers, forward Drew Stafford, plus prospects Brendan Lemieux and Joel Armia, along with a 2015 first-round pick.
Lemieux is the son of former playoff MVP Claude Lemieux and the 2015 pick is the lowest of three that the Sabres had accumulated – their own, plus choices previously acquired from the New York Islanders and the St. Louis Blues.
Kane and Myers were the key pieces in a deal that came 19 days before the NHL's 2015 trading deadline.
Cheveldayoff managed a neat trick here – trading Kane, who'd had a falling out with some of his teammates earlier in February, to a team that didn't need, or even necessarily want, his production right away. The Sabres were prepared to give up meaningful assets to land him, presumably in the hopes that Kane will be the triggerman to play alongside either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, whichever one of the two generational prospects they happen to draft this June. If the departures of Myers and Stafford help them stay bad in the short term, that's actually a good thing for Buffalo.
In exchange, the Jets land Myers, a 6-foot-8 behemoth of a player who has underperformed in recent years on a going-nowhere Sabres team. If Myers can regain some of the flash and dash of his rookie season, when he scored 48 points and won the Calder Trophy, the Jets are set on defence for years to come.
"When we talk about young players and draft picks internally, we talk about a player's foundation and his ceiling," Cheveldayoff explained. "Tyler's got a tremendous foundation. He's big. He can shoot. He's going to have an opportunity to play with a deeper defence corps. He can log a lot of minutes.
"Sometimes, in this game, fresh starts are really welcome for players that have lots of expectations heaped on them, and lots of hype as young players – because it is a hard game to play as a young player and even harder as a young defenceman."
Buffalo will give Kane a fresh start, too, and a chance to prove that his reputation for off-ice drama will not necessarily interfere with a successful NHL career. If McDavid lands there, or even Eichel, Kane will get a chance to score a lot of goals in the years to come.
But every team inquiring about Myers secretly thought the same thing: That a change of scenery just might turn him into the next Zdeno Chara or Chris Pronger, both of whom took until their mid-20s to become genuinely elite defencemen in the NHL. If that happens in Winnipeg, it's a home run for the Jets, no matter how well Kane develops in Buffalo. With Josh Morrissey coming, Myers and Jacob Trouba there now to play on a defence corps that also includes Dustin Byfuglien and Toby Enstrom, the Jets are as deep as anyone on the blueline.
Stafford, at 29, is the oldest player in the deal, and has played all nine of his NHL seasons with the Sabres. He topped out in 2010-11 as a 31-goal scorer. But he will likely play a top-six role for the Jets and hopefully pick up some of the scoring slack they lost when Kane went out of the lineup. The Jets are hoping Stafford likes Winnipeg enough to want to stick around, when his contract expires at the end of the season.
Philosophically, Cheveldayoff said the trade didn't deviate at all from the organization's long-standing strategy of trying to keep an eye on both today and tomorrow.
"This was not a knee-jerk reaction," Cheveldayoff said. "Anytime, you can put together something together like this, it takes a lot of work. There's an abundance of caution and time that went into the decisions.
"Having a deal come together like this, in the salary-cap and contract world we live in, is very difficult. My hat goes off to [Sabres GM] Tim Murray, because it takes two to make a deal. I'm excited for what this trade brings to our organization and if we were in Tim's press conference, he'd probably say the same thing."
With the NHL trading deadline less than three weeks away, it is hard to imagine any deal still to come will have anywhere near the impact that this one did.