Top Shelf: Jets GM finally takes the plunge

Philadelphia, PA ( - Of all the general managers to kick NHL trade season into high gear, Kevin Cheveldayoff's name had to be at the bottom of the list.

For years, the Winnipeg Jets GM was criticized for his reticence at the trade deadline, but when Cheveldayoff finally decided to pull the trigger he made it worth the wait.

Although he has been the GM in Winnipeg since the franchise relocated from Atlanta prior to the 2011-12 campaign, Cheveldayoff had never made an NHL player-for-play trade until Wednesday's blockbuster deal with the Buffalo Sabres.

When the smoke cleared, seven players switched organizations and four of them were of the NHL variety. Although Evander Kane getting shipped to Buffalo was the name in bold letters for many people, this trade was about Cheveldayoff's vision for his club and not the drama surrounding Kane's inevitable departure from Winnipeg.

Whispers of Kane's tension with his now former club flooded the hockey blogosphere over the last week or so, and there is really nothing left to be said about the embattled forward's tumultuous tenure with the Jets. After all, Kane is expected to miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury and the rebuilding Sabres aren't going anywhere positive for the time being.

The Jets, however, have a great deal riding on the next few months. Although it has come close, the franchise has failed to qualify for the playoffs in each of its first three seasons since the move from the American Southeast to the Canadian Prairies.

The team currently is in playoff position, but Cheveldayoff knows he may not keep his job if the Jets miss out on postseason play due to another late- season swoon.

Cheveldayoff, of course, has taken the brunt of the blame for Winnipeg's inability to qualify for the postseason. That's simply part and parcel of holding a GM post in the NHL, where making the playoffs more often than not is seen as minimum requirement of the job.

And while fans will spit-roast a GM over hot coals for making bad trades, it may be even worse to have Cheveldayoff's reputation as guy who does nothing for fear of making a mistake.

Fittingly, his first foray into the world of meaningful trades comes with little risk. Due to his injury and problems off the ice, Kane likely had played his final game with the Jets already and the other NHL player Winnipeg surrendered in the deal was Zach Bogosian, a talented but oft-injured defenseman.

The return of forward Drew Stafford, a right winger like Kane, undoubtedly improves the club's offensive depth. Once a 30-goal scorer for the Sabres, Stafford will get to skate with better players in Winnipeg and, hopefully, can provide a scoring boost down the final stretch of the regular season and beyond.

"It's easy to upgrade over a spot that we didn't have a guy playing in," head coach Paul Maurice said of Stafford's addition.

Maurice also was excited about adding 6-foot-8 defenseman Tyler Myers to a roster which already boasted tremendous size. Myers has a lanky build compared to Winnipeg's defenseman/forward hybrid Dustin Byfuglien (6-foot-5, 260 pounds) but both players are similar in that they can push the puck up ice with excellent speed for their size.

Fellow blueliners Ben Chiarot, Mark Stuart and Jacob Trouba are each 6-foot-2 or taller, giving Maurice plenty of options when he has to match size against size. The biggest problem for the coach is finding playing time for everybody.

"Our back end is enormous right now," Maurice said. "You look at that right side, we're going to have to find minutes for everybody, but we have a big solid back end that's got a nice identity. A lot of those big guys can really move the puck and move their body."

After standing pat at the last few deadlines, Cheveldayoff decided to strike early this season. By making this move weeks before the March 2 cut-off date to make trades, the team has given itself time to evaluate how well the new pieces fit into the puzzle and to determine whether or not additional moves will be needed.

Cheveldayoff may have been overly cautious in the past, but Wednesday's move was too good to pass up. Instead of ridding himself of Kane with a much simpler trade, he and Buffalo GM Tim Murray agreed on a more impactful deal which makes sense for both sides.

Who knows? Maybe the Jets fall short of their playoff goals once again, but at least Cheveldayoff is prepared to go down swinging.