February 25, 2023, 7:42 p.m.
WINNIPEG – This deal is enticing, but considering Kevin Seveldayoff gave up in a trade to acquire Nino Niederreiter, the Winnipeg Jets GM still has enough draft pick and prospect capital to give this dish another bite or two. . .
With his team 6-9 in its last 15 games, Chevaldayoff went on a preemptive strike Saturday afternoon, acquiring a perennial 20-goal winger from the Nashville Predators for a 2024 second-round pick.
It’s a big first move for Cheveldayoff, who is looking to address his team’s recent scoring woes and add a player with an extra year on his contract at a reasonable AAV of $4 million.
Niederreiter will not be in the Jets’ lineup on Sunday against the New York Islanders, but could make his debut Tuesday against the Los Angeles Kings in the team’s final game before Friday’s NHL trade deadline.
Niederreiter is a guy who can play on either flank, although his preference is on the right side (his offside) and his skill set should allow him to thrive alongside Pierre-Luc Dubois or Mark Scheifele. Will is in his mind.
The 30-year-old Swiss is strong on the puck and excellent around the net, a bona fide fat shredder with soft hands.
There’s a good chance he’ll play a role in front of the net in the Jets’ power play, primarily on the second unit.
His finishing ability should give the Jets’ attack a boost, though Niederreiter can handle the occasional cold stretch that accompanies his hot streak.
However, he was able to consistently put up numbers with the New York Islanders, Minnesota Wild, Carolina Hurricanes, and most recently, the Predators.
Niederreiter already has five 20-plus goal seasons, and is on his way to sixth in 2022-23 with 18 goals and 28 points in 56 games.
His best season came in 2016-17 when he had 25 goals and 57 points in 82 games for the Wild.
He is a prolific shooter (130 shots this season and 1,555 in his career) who has posted a 12.9 shooting percentage in his 788 NHL games.
That number is even more impressive when you consider that he only scored one goal on 74 shots in 55 games in his first full NHL season (1.4 shooting percentage) with the Islanders.
Another thing Niederreiter brings is Stanley Cup playoff experience, racking up 82 postseason games in his previous 11 seasons, with 15 goals and 30 points.
Niederreiter also has a Game 7 overtime winner in the first round against the Colorado Avalanche in 2014 on his resume.
The move isn’t a panacea for the Jets, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction for a team that seemed in need of a shakeup after Friday’s 5-1 loss to the Avalanche.
Despite recent setbacks, the Jets are at the center of the hunt for the top spot in the Central Division, and this move is the latest example of Cheveldayoff showing his confidence in the group.
According to PuckPedia, the Jets currently have about $4.8 million in cap space and that number could increase to about $5.5 million by Friday’s deadline, without moving anyone active.
That means the Jets still have room to add at least one player, although that player is not expected to be Timo Meyer of the San Jose Sharks.
Meyer was believed to be a prime target for the Jets, though the cost of the acquisition would be too high without a long-term contract extension.
Another six middle forward could be on the Chevleyoff wish list, with the Blues’ Ivan Barbashev ($2.25 million) or the Arizona Coyotes’ Nick Bjukstad ($900,000 AAV) making sense as two players.
It’s very possible that the Jets will opt to use the available salary cap space to improve the blue line, but only Cheveldayoff knows that.
Now is the time to see how the Jets will respond to a team with players who expressed a desire to be on the buyer’s side earlier this week.
It already was after Friday’s disappointment, but the stakes have never been higher for the franchise going into these final 23 games of the regular season.
It’s the most important of the 12 NHL trade deadlines Cheveldayoff has prepared for, and how he handles the next seven days will have ramifications that could extend beyond April.
It was absolutely the right move for Cheveldayoff to get the ball rolling on Saturday rather than waiting until the last minute, but the next one (or several) will be just as important, if not more.