By Scott Taylor and Scott Billeck
There were a number of comedic Tweets this afternoon as it appeared the Winnipeg Jets had no desire to take part in the National Hockey League’s annual free-agent frenzy.
“The Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets all have the same plan on free-agent day.” said one of many Twitter comics. Hi-freakin’-larious.
“Guess Chevy didn’t bother to go into work today,” said another. That’s just gut-busting, isn’t it?
Of course, by the end of the day, our comics looked like idiots. Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff was not only engaged, he was in the process of making the Jets a considerably better hockey team.
The Jets sent a second-round pick in the 2014 NHL draft to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for rightwinger Devin Setoguchi. It was an outstanding deal and when you combine it with the trade that sent two virtually meaningless draft picks to Chicago in exchange for Michael Frolik, suddenly the Jets are a much better team today than they were a week ago.
Now I didn’t agree with many of things old Jets GM Mike Smith used to say, but I did agree with this: “I would rather have a player who has demonstrated he can play in the National Hockey League than an 18-year-old second- or third-round draft pick who likely won’t ever play in the NHL.”
This week, Cheveldayoff, the guy the media says is a patient and will build his team through the draft, traded away three draft picks that might, or might not (probably not) pay dividends at the NHL level to acquire to hockey players who have already shown they can play with the best in the NHL.
And Chevy didn’t go out and sign two old men (like he did last year with the free-agent signing of slug-like Olli Jokinen). He signed 25-year-old Frolik and 26-year-old Setoguchi and got a great, gritty penalty killer and playmaker in Frolik (who has had two 20-goal NHL seasons) and a pretty decent scorer in Setoguchi.
In fact, Setoguchi had 13 goals and 14 assists in 27 games last season and would have been the Jets fourth leading goal scorer and sixth leading scorer, overall, had he played in Winnipeg last year. He also got both of them for $5.125 million. That’s a bargain.
Listen, these two moves weren’t Boston signing Jarome Iginla to a one-year, $6 million deal or Columbus signing Nathan Horton to a seven-year, $37.1 million contract or Toronto signing David Clarkson to a seven-year, $36.75 million deal.
However, these two deals made the Winnipeg Jets a better hockey team. And when you consider they’re moving into a very tough division in 2013-14, they were both moves that had to be made.
“We feel we’re a much better team today than we were entering the NHL entry draft with the two players (Frolik and Setoguchi) we were able to acquire,” Cheveldayoff said via conference call on Friday afternoon.
“I guess the first time I had a conversation with Chuck Fletcher (Minnesota Wild GM) was on the draft floor. We were looking to do something with some of the picks we had acquired. At that point in time Chuck wasn’t prepared to do anything, so we went ahead with the Frolik deal but kept in touch as the days transpired, and then it kind of came together late this afternoon.”
Cheveldayoff proved something on Friday. He proved that within the financial boundaries with which he must operate, he is doing whatever he can to improve his hockey club. He also proved that you can really look like an idiot when you Tweet out funny stuff early in the afternoon and it stops being funny before the end of the day.