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Contending Jets address current, future needs

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has built a reputation as a patient, exacting NHL executive with a very long-term view of his organization's growth.

Cheveldayoff spoke with the Winnipeg media Wednesday after the Jets' blockbuster trade that sent left wing Evander Kane, defenseman Zach Bogosian and prospect Jason Kasdorf to the Buffalo Sabres for defenseman Tyler Myers, forward Drew Stafford, forward prospects Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux, and a first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.

"It was a situation where I wanted to look at the best interests of the organization, and there was an opportunity here to address something right now and to address something for the future," Cheveldayoff said.

"This was not a knee-jerk reaction. This was something that, any time you can put together something like this, it takes a lot of work. There was an abundance of caution that went through a lot of the decisions. There was an abundance of time that went through a lot of these things as well.

"I feel good with the now, but I'm really excited about the prospects of the future in this whole deal."

The mood inside the Winnipeg dressing room took a more short-term focus. Adding two major pieces will have major ramifications throughout the lineup.

The Jets are attempting to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2007 when the franchise was the Atlanta Thrashers. That is the only playoff series for the franchise in its history and they were swept in four games by the New York Rangers. Bogosian and Kane were among the two young players who never sampled playoff hockey since reaching the NHL.

This season, the Jets have positioned themselves as a Western Conference contender. Their 2-1 overtime win against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday left them holding the Western Conference's first wild card. Winnipeg is five points ahead of the Vancouver Canucks, who are in the second wild-card spot, and seven points clear the Minnesota Wild, the top team outside the playoff picture.

"I think anytime that something like this happens, it's always sad to see guys who have been a part of the organization for many years leave, but you're also excited about the prospect of bringing in two guys who can help our team win right now," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said.

"Anytime that you can add to our team right now, [Cheveldayoff] sends a message that he believes in our group."

Defenseman Mark Stuart, part of the Winnipeg blue line tasked with easing the adjustment for Myers, endorsed the move.

"We as a team have extremely high confidence in our management," Stuart said. "We know that they're always trying to make us better. Today was a step that they felt that we needed to take, and we're fully behind them."

Myers and Stafford will join the Jets on the road for their game Thursday against the Nashville Predators, the last of seven consecutive against Western Conference opponents. Another road game Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings will not leave much time for acclimatizing the new players to the Winnipeg system, but right wing Blake Wheeler does not foresee any difficulties.

"It's going to be really easy," Wheeler said. "We're such a tight-knit group. We take care of our own. I think you've heard we're a family a number of times, and we have two new members of our family. So they're going to come right in and we're going to try to get them fit in as [quickly] as possible."

Beyond the additions of Myers and Stafford, the Winnipeg dressing room might have reason to believe there could be more reinforcements on the way for the stretch drive.

"The ability to add right now was very important," Cheveldayoff said. "It still remains very important. The [players] will do their job, and we're going to continue to keep looking to try to see whether there are other options out there as well.

"You have to assess what might be out there or not out there. If there is a good match, if it's a good fit, I'll sit down with [Jets coach Paul Maurice], and we'll talk about things. That's standing here today. Obviously [Thursday] is a game day. You have to be able to roll with everything in this regard.

"Make no mistake: Our focus is here and now in the sense of working hard to keep pushing for this group right now."

Maurice announced Wednesday that Dustin Byfuglien will again return to play defenseman. Byfuglien started the season as a forward before his move back to his natural position in December after a crush of injuries. Kane's shoulder surgery last week pushed Byfuglien back to a role as the right wing on Winnipeg's second line.

Maurice said he has line combinations and defensive pairings in mind, but he will wait until Thursday to unveil them. He has more options at hand than he had before the trade because Kane will miss the rest of the season.

"[Kane was] a big piece that wasn't going to be a Winnipeg Jet for the remainder of the [season], so now we don't have to wonder what our team [will look] like in August or how Evander would fit or what we would look like two weeks from now," Maurice said.

Are the Jets a better team after the trade?

"We've got to prove it," Maurice said. "But we took one NHL player out of our [present] lineup and added two."

The Jets believe a new start for Myers inside their defensively minded system will benefit him.

"When we talk about young players and draft picks, we always internally talk about the foundation of a player and the ceiling of a player," Cheveldayoff said. "Tyler has a tremendous foundation. He is big, he can skate, he can shoot. He is going to have the opportunity to play with a deeper [defensive] corps. He can log a lot of minutes."

Stuart said he sees a good fit for Myers with one of the most physical teams in the League and one that emphasizes speed.

"I think for him, he'll enjoy our system," Stuart said. "He is a really good skater. He is a big body. As defensemen, we like to be up in the play, be aggressive, to have good gaps, and I think he'll fit right in with that."

Stafford will be an unrestricted free agent this summer; for now, he fills a major hole in Winnipeg's top-nine, and Cheveldayoff said he believes he could have a longer future with the Jets.

"He is a player that is obviously looking for an opportunity to grow, to play in this League in a situation in which he can flourish, and we think we can offer that opportunity," Cheveldayoff said. "So we're not looking at this as a short-term thing, but once he gets here and gets to know our group, our family, our coaching staff, our city, I think he is really going to like it."

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