Re-acquiring Paul Stastny will benefit Jets in multiple ways

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  Sportsnet

WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets are heading back to the future in a move that should help temper the rumours regarding a trade of Patrik Laine.

With free agency set to open on Friday morning, the Jets have made a deal for veteran centre Paul Stastny from the Vegas Golden Knights.

Teams don’t often get a chance to rewrite history, but a Stastny move is an interesting one because he nearly stayed with the Jets in the summer of 2018 before ultimately signing a three-year deal worth $19.5 million with the Golden Knights as an unrestricted free agent after helping Winnipeg reach the Western Conference Final.

The Jets put together a competitive package to retain his services, but Nevada is a tax-free state and the Golden Knights satisfied another important category as a contender — having just beaten Winnipeg in five games in that Western Conference Final before losing the Stanley Cup to the Washington Capitals.

Fast forward two years and the Jets are still looking to fill a void with a second-line centre.

Kevin Hayes and Cody Eakin were acquired at the past two NHL trade deadlines, but neither enjoyed the same level of success as their predecessor.

Although Cole Perfetti projects to eventually fill that second-line centre role after the Jets picked him 10th overall in the 2020 NHL Draft, adding Stastny provides a perfect bridge for the short term.

Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff took care of an important piece of business on Wednesday, inking defenceman Dylan DeMelo to a four-year contract with an AAV of $3 million to help stabilize the back end.

Earlier this week, Cheveldayoff said the Jets were still planning to be involved in trade discussions and would scour the free agent market for potential additions and possibly a bargain or two of the depth variety.

Instead of going after a free agent like Alexander Wennberg, Erik Haula or Vladislav Namestnikov, the Jets instead picked up a proven commodity in Stastny.

Vegas is under a cap crunch and are also actively looking for a new home for goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, with the expectation being the organization is going to take a run at coveted free agent blue liner Alex Pietrangelo.

Moving Stastny’s contract was a logical way to clear room, especially after the Golden Knights signed Chandler Stephenson to a four-year extension on Wednesday.

Vegas also has 2018 first-rounder Cody Glass ready to become a full-time NHLer and eat up some of the available top-six minutes Stastny’s departure creates.

With 17 players signed, the Jets have roughly $4.55 million in cap space available.

Stastny was an unexpected addition for the Jets in 2018, when Blues general manager Doug Armstrong made the controversial decision to move out the veteran despite his team being within striking distance of a playoff spot.

The move raised eyebrows at the time, but it hastened an overhaul at the centre position for the Blues that included a trade for Ryan O’Reilly and adding Tyler Bozak in free agency.

St. Louis captured the Stanley Cup in 2019, so Armstrong obviously knew what he was doing even if it wasn’t a popular move in Missouri at the time.

As for Stastny, he was a perfect fit in Winnipeg, making a seamless transition while playing mostly on the second line with Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers.

After waiving his no-movement clause to join the Jets, Stastny had four goals and 13 points in 19 games before adding six goals and 15 points in 17 games during the playoff run.

For a young team with limited playoff experience, Stastny brought plenty to the table and one of his most important moments came on the road in Game 7 of the second-round series with the Nashville Predators.

Stastny scored twice and added an assist in a decisive 5-1 victory over the Predators, who had won the Presidents’ Trophy.

A move for Stastny isn’t without risk, as he’s set to turn 35 in late December.

Stastny still produced 17 goals and 38 points in 71 games this season while averaging 17:08 of ice time (which was down two minutes from his career average).

A year earlier, Stastny averaged nearly a point per game (42 points in 50 games) but missed 32 games due to injury. But throughout his career, Stastny has been durable and his smarts allow him to be an effective player.

A trade for Stastny in an attempt to rekindle some chemistry with Laine and Ehlers is a much better alternative for Cheveldayoff than moving Laine in a trade he might end up regretting.

Stastny is a highly-analytical player who loves to talk about the game, which allowed him to build a fast friendship with Jets top centre Mark Scheifele. Stastny is also close with Jets captain Blake Wheeler and it’s possible those two could play together on a line at some point, much like they did during the 2012-13 lockout when they were teammates in Germany in the DEL with Munich EHC.

One shouldn’t discount the importance of this as it relates to Laine.

This move would likely mean Laine will be reunited with someone he had success with, albeit in a limited sample size.

Although Laine would probably still prefer top-line minutes (and might still get them), the gesture of acquiring Stastny would be appreciated.

The Jets power play was also incredibly efficient with Stastny playing on it — and that’s an area the team is looking to improve again next season.

Add it all up and bringing in Stastny looks like a move that could end up paying some serious dividends for the Jets.

When you have a Vezina Trophy-winning goalie in Connor Hellebuyck and many other important pieces of the core locked up to contracts that expire in four seasons, the time to try and build a winner is now and adding Stastny would hasten that process.

This type of pre-emptive strike probably means the Jets will be focusing mostly on the periphery of the roster, though it’s possible they seek additional help on the blue line to provide a safety valve for top prospects Dylan Samberg and Ville Heinola — both of whom will be trying to lock down a spot in the top-six this season.

In what is arguably his most important week on the job since becoming the Jets general manager in 2011, Cheveldayoff has already addressed his two most glaring needs.

Stastny Trade Clears Cap Space for Golden Knights to Target…Whom?

The Jets get a badly needed fix at their No. 2 centre position, while the Golden Knights appear to be preparing for big-game hunting via free agency or the trade market.

The Vegas Golden Knights were close. Real close. Before their scoring dried up in the Western Conference final against the Dallas Stars, the Golden Knights arguably looked like the post-season’s most dominant team. It’s not surprising, then, to see GM Kelly McCrimmon clearing the decks in preparation for what will likely be one or more major moves.

With goaltender Robin Lehner inked to a five-year, $25-million extension and battery mate Marc-Andre Fleury’s cap hit still on the books for now, the Golden Knights found another way to clear salary space. They have sent No. 2 centre Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets for defenceman Carl Dahlstrom and a 2022 fourth-round draft pick, per TSN’s Darren Dreger.

Stastny, 34, has one season left on his contract at a $6.5-million cap hit. Moving him creates some crucial financial breathing room for McCrimmon, and Vegas has repeatedly appeared on top UFA defenceman Alex Pietrangelo’s shortlist. The puzzle is not complete for McCrimmon, however. Vegas still has to clear more cap space to land Pietrangelo, who will likely sign for an AAV of $8.5 million at minimum. There’s still pressure on McCrimmon to move Fleury’s $7-million cap hit if Vegas really wants to be a major player in free agency, and Fleury still has control over where he goes thanks to a 10-team no-trade list in his contract. With goalies absolutely flooding the UFA market, Vegas doesn’t have a ton of leverage in trade talks, either. Also: moving Stastny, creates quite a hole at centre for Vegas, a team already in need of a true top-line star at that position. Cody Glass will continue to get more opportunities but is not a lock to take a big step forward yet. So are we sure Pietrangelo will be the target? Vegas is already strong on defence. Would it make sense to take a run at a top-end centre instead? It just so happens Steven Stamkos is not on Tampa’s list of untouchable players, and the Lightning are even more desperate than the Golden Knights to clear cap space.

As for the Jets? They badly needed a second-line centre with Bryan Little’s career in jeopardy because of an eardrum injury sustained in 2019-20. Stastny filled that role admirably for the Jets as a trade-deadline rental in 2017-18. He had six goals, 15 points and three game-winning goals in 17 playoff games that year and found good chemistry on line with Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine. Should the Jets choose not to trade Laine, they could try out that line again. Stastny remains an underrated play driver. Per naturalstattrick.com, Among 340 forwards with 1,000-plus minutes at 5-on-5 since he joined Vegas in 2018-19, Stastny ranks a solid 77th in primary assists per 60 minutes, right between Sebastian Aho and John Tavares.

So the Jets cross an item off their shopping list, and the Golden Knights make room to go shopping.