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Re-acquiring Paul Stastny could benefit Jets in multiple ways

WINNIPEG — The Winnipeg Jets appear to be 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 appear to be closing in on a deal for veteran centre Paul Stastny from the Vegas Golden Knights.

Teams don’t often get a chance to rewrite history, but a potential 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 would provide 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 appear to be honing in on a proven commodity in Stastny.

The Golden Knights are facing a salary-cap crunch, so the Jets are probably looking for a sweetener in the deal — which could be holding things up.

The Jets are familiar with such a deal, as they sent Joel Armia to the Montreal Canadiens along with goalie Steve Mason back in the summer of 2018 in a move that was designed to create the cap space required to try and retain Stastny.

Vegas is 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 is a logical way to do that, 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 would create.

With 17 players signed, the Jets have roughly $10 million in cap space available, so they would be able to absorb the $6.5 AAV left on the last year of Stastny’s deal.

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.

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