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Injuries up front could lead Jets to seek further help

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff's list of decisions to make before the NHL Trade Deadline expanded Wednesday.

The announcement that the Jets could be without left wing Mathieu Perreault until the end of the regular season further complicated Cheveldayoff's roster. Perreault, who sustained a lower-body injury in a 5-4 shootout win against the Edmonton Oilers, has helped to anchor the second line with center Mark Scheifele and ranks third on Winnipeg with 18 goals.

Right wing Drew Stafford was injured against Edmonton and is day-to-day. Cheveldayoff acquired Stafford from the Buffalo Sabres in the Evander Kane trade on Feb. 11. Stafford immediately solidified the top-six forward group and had been promoted to the top line before sustaining his upper-body injury

Stafford did not practice Wednesday, but Jets coach Paul Maurice said he might be able to play Thursday against the Washington Capitals. If not, defenseman Dustin Byfuglien would move to forward.

"When [Stafford] comes back, we'll make a decision whether we have enough depth up front to drop [Byfuglien] back to the blue line," Maurice said.

If Byfuglien remains at forward, that could put a strain on the Winnipeg blue line. Byfuglien has helped to bring along rookie defenseman Ben Chiarot and played a team-high 25:54 against Edmonton. Byfuglien's season average of 23:04, which includes time spent as a forward, is third among all Winnipeg players.

Cheveldayoff also has a decision to make regarding right wing Michael Frolik, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Frolik has 11 goals and 18 assists this season, can play anywhere on the top three forward lines and also play an important special-teams role.

Does Cheveldayoff move Frolik before the deadline on March 2 at 3 p.m. ET to avoid risking him departing this summer? If not, how certain is Cheveldayoff that he can re-sign Frolik?

However, moving Frolik could potentially leave another hole in Winnipeg's group of forwards that already lacked depth even before Perreault's injury.

It is possible Cheveldayoff could leave his roster intact as the franchise attempts to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the Atlanta Thrashers got there in 2007.

The Jets survived losing their top four defensemen earlier this season, and Maurice said Byfuglien's versatility is a unique advantage.

Winnipeg has a six-point lead for the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference. The Jets will have a lighter schedule down the stretch than many of the teams chasing them.

"I'll coach the guys that we have," Maurice said. "I mean, you never like losing anybody long-term. But we've survived it before with three or four guys going down long-term."

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