The Winnipeg Jets are a better team and deeper organizationally today than they were yesterday. This is the double-down people in the hockey world have been waiting for from Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. He delivered it in game-changing fashion Wednesday.
"It just fit," Jets coach Paul Maurice told NHL.com in a phone interview. "It fits what we're trying to do."
The Jets acquired defenseman Tyler Myers, right wing Drew Stafford, forward prospects Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux and a first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft from the Buffalo Sabres for forward Evander Kane, defenseman Zach Bogosian, and college goalie Jason Kasdorf, a junior at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
This trade works for the Jets on multiple fronts, which is why it's a home run for Cheveldayoff, his first in four seasons as Winnipeg's GM.
Before Wednesday, Cheveldayoff had never made an NHL player-for-player trade. Everything he had done was about draft picks and prospects and building and sticking with the same core that to this day has produced exactly zero Stanley Cup Playoff appearances.
Cheveldayoff changed all of that with this trade. He set up the Jets to be a legitimate playoff team this season (they have a seven-point cushion for a Western Conference wild card with 26 games remaining) and a consistent playoff contender for several years to come. He gave this franchise a chance to succeed now and later.
"That's what it's about," NHL Network analyst Craig Button said. "It's about being in position to succeed. [Detroit Red Wings GM] Kenny Holland says that all the time. You're not going to win the Stanley Cup every year, but you can be in a position to succeed."
In the micro sense, or what this trade means for the Jets and their playoff hopes this season, it is essentially a 2-for-1 swap of NHL players with Myers and Stafford joining the Jets and Bogosian leaving.
Kane is done for the season because of shoulder surgery, so he didn't factor into Maurice's immediate plans. And don't be confused, this season matters greatly in Winnipeg.
The Jets are legitimately and intimately involved in the playoff picture for the first time since the NHL came back to Winnipeg in 2011-12. They were a fringe team for a few seasons under former coach Claude Noel, but they faded at the end because they weren't deep enough, didn't play strong enough defense, and their goaltending wasn't good enough.
They're deeper up front now with Stafford filling a spot that was vacated by Kane.
"It's easy to upgrade over a spot that we didn't have a guy playing in," Maurice said.
Stafford can play in the top six, potentially on a line with Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault. The Jets had Dustin Byfuglien on the right side of Scheifele and Perreault on Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild. Now Byfuglien can go back to playing defenseman, which is where he fits best.
Myers can become Toby Enstrom's new defense partner. That was Bogosian's role. It's an easy swap, particularly because Myers, like Bogosian, is a righty.
Look at the size that the Jets have on the right side of their defense now:
Defense - WPG
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 9 | PTS: 13
SOG: 72 | +/-: -15
Myers is 6-foot-8, 219 pounds; Byfuglien is 6-5, 260; and Jacob Trouba
is 6-2, 200. The left side features Ben Chiarot
(6-3, 215), Mark Stuart
(6-2, 213) and Enstrom (5-10, 180), who is usually the first guy on the wall anyway.
"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."
In the macro sense, or what this all means for the Jets down the road, this trade is a steal for them.
It starts with the fact Kane's time in Winnipeg appeared to have run out with his teammates turning on him and Maurice backing the group, not Kane. That's not an issue anymore.
Moving along, the trade works for the Jets on a long-term basis because they got potentially three high-end prospects without giving up any.
Armia was the No. 16 pick in the 2011 draft and, according to Button, could develop into a solid second- or third-line scoring wing.
"You're hopeful of getting 20 goals out of him," Button said. "I'm projecting him to be a skilled, scoring winger."
Lemieux, the 31st pick in the 2014 draft, is a prototypical power wing in the sense that he's 6-foot, 206 pounds, and rugged. Button said Lemieux goes hard to the net and can score. He has 35 goals in 46 games for the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League this season.
"My line for him is he's a geometry lesson, because the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and he goes in a straight line," Button said. "He has the ability to get his game up to a higher level at most critical times. He's unique. Power wingers that can score, they're not easy to come by."
The Jets system is loaded now with Armia and Lemieux, a late first-round pick this year from Buffalo, plus a host of high-end prospects they have already drafted, including forwards Nikolaj Ehlers, Nicolas Petan and Andrew Copp, defenseman Joshua Morrissey and goalie Eric Comrie.
If Cheveldayoff wants to, he has the ability to trade some pieces out of his deep prospect system before the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline on March 2 (3 p.m. ET) to make the current roster even better.
The Jets could use help in their bottom-six forward group.
"Getting [Stafford and Myers] in here early enough is a big help because in two or three weeks we get to re-evaluate where we're at and what our needs are," Maurice said. "A big deal gets folded into your team and you can assess it to see if there are other areas to see if you can improve."
The Jets still have time to improve. They don't have to settle for being mediocre anymore. Their general manager legitimized them with one massive, game-changing trade Wednesday.