WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets' fortunes this week might test general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff's steadfast commitment to a long-term draft-and-develop philosophy.
The Jets' 4-6-3 record since Jan. 27 has jeopardized what once appeared to be a very solid grip on a Stanley Cup Playoff spot. Winnipeg's skid has allowed what was an eight-point cushion on a Western Conference wild-card position to dwindle to three points.
Winnipeg's roster sustained another blow Monday with the announcement that rookie defenseman Ben Chiarot will be out for most of the regular season. Chiarot had surgery Sunday after injuring himself in a fight with Daniel Winnik of the Toronto Maple Leafs last Saturday in a 4-3 overtime loss.
Chiarot joins versatile left wing Mathieu Perreault (lower body) on injured reserve. Right wing Blake Wheeler did not practice Monday because of a suspected leg injury.
The injuries have left Winnipeg's forward depth very thin as the franchise attempts to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien could remain a forward when the Jets host the Dallas Stars on Tuesday to begin a critical four-game homestand if Wheeler is not able to play. Byfuglien's absence from the Winnipeg blue line, where he routinely plays at least 25 minutes per game, will be another issue for coach Paul Maurice to sort out.
The Jets' lack of depth has often forced Maurice to shorten his bench and skate three forward lines. In the overtime loss at Toronto, fourth-line players Carl Klingberg (2:51), Anthony Peluso (2:37) and Jim Slater (6:15) saw little ice time. In the third period, Klingberg and Peluso each had one shift, and Slater skated two shifts.
However, Maurice said Monday that he is neither expecting nor pushing Cheveldayoff to add reinforcements before the NHL Trade Deadline on March 2 at 3 p.m. ET.
"[Cheveldayoff] has a really strong idea, and he has since the first phone call [when Maurice was hired in January 2014], of how the build was going to happen with the young players coming in," Maurice said. "For me, I'm always only concerned with the guys that we have. That's my job."
The trade market and what is available also does not necessarily mesh with the Jets' long-term philosophy, according to Maurice.
"It seems different this year to me," Maurice said. "The number of, and the names that are out there, it's not that [teams] are waiting for five or six big guys to move that usually do."
"There just is not an awful lot out there, and given my choice, I really don't necessarily want to see anybody come in that takes ice time from one of our younger players," Maurice said. "It's too important a time for them. They need to play now. That's the whole point of having some younger guys in those positions."
Jets center Bryan Little acknowledged that a boost to the roster would be nice, given the Jets' injury situation, but he and his teammates are not awaiting any saviors.
"With some of the guys that we have out of the lineup, it definitely wouldn't hurt," Little said. "It's out of our control. The players, we just go out there and play the game and do what we're told."
"[The Deadline is] not really our focus right now," Little said. "We're not waiting for someone to come in save our team."
After Dallas visits MTS Centre, the Jets will receive visits from the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. St. Louis likely has pulled too far ahead of Winnipeg; however, fending off Los Angeles will be critical. The Kings' seven-game winning streak has pushed them firmly into the wild-card race.
For a team that has had injury problems all season as well, any further blows to the lineup could also dictate Cheveldayoff's actions.
"Injuries do, and they have, change some things for us," Maurice said. "We'll see how the next week goes in terms of our health. That may have an effect on that, but I'm not banging on the door for more help."