Expect Winnipeg Jets to be ‘active’ in free agency, maybe with trades, says GM who’s mum on Laine’s future

Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff says he won’t shy away from the free agent and trade market this off-season — but he refuses to say if he’s shopping around Patrik Laine, the subject of trade speculation. 

Cheveldayoff held court with media on Monday morning, ahead of a frantic week for his club’s future that is marked by the NHL draft on Tuesday and the opening of free agency on Friday.

The general manager acknowledged his team’s holes at the centre and defence positions when speaking of his potential involvement in trading and free agency.

“We’re actively looking and planning to be in both of those markets if possible,” he said.

Cheveldayoff said any acquisitions would complement the team’s strong core of players, specifically among top forwards. The Jets were bounced from the playoff qualifying round this season. 

“There’s obviously desires to be active in the free agent market and desires to potentially be active in the trade market if something is there that makes sense that we feel makes our organization better.” 

Laine the subject of trade talk

His team would change significantly if star forward Patrik Laine departs. The 22-year-old is being floated as trade bait in media reports, with several suitors reportedly making a bid for the Finnish phenom. The second overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft was good for 63 points in 68 games last season. 

Cheveldayoff wouldn’t entertain any questions about Laine’s future with the Jets. He said he wouldn’t discuss the level of interest any team is showing toward any player.

He later said it wasn’t out of the ordinary that a player of Laine’s calibre would be the subject of trade talk.

“It’s just the way the game is, with respect to looking at all the different options,” Cheveldayoff said, adding private conversations between the brass of NHL teams are happening behind closed doors.

The Jets will get a shot at adding to its core Tuesday at the draft, with the Jets scheduled to make the 10th overall selection.

The Winnipeg Jets playoff hopes died this summer before they even began. The team was kicked out of contention during the playoff qualifying round in August. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

Cheveldayoff said moving up from the 12th overall selection to the 10th pick gives the team a “cluster” of good prospects now available for picking. He said the Jets would pick the best player available, regardless of position.

The general manager said the free agency period will be a uncertain time, considering the economic uncertainty during the pandemic and a flat salary cap. However, Cheveldayoff said the Jets would continue to be a team that spends at or near the salary cap maximum.

He offered no update Monday on the status of Bryan Little, who suffered a season-ending head injury last year that may end his NHL career.

If Little is placed on long-term injured reserve, the Jets may have more money to spend on salaries. 

The Jets will try to bring back some of its unrestricted free agents, Cheveldayoff told reporters, but he wouldn’t reveal who the team would invite back. Cody Eakin, Dylan DeMelo and Dmitry Kulikov are among the potential free agents.

Cheveldayoff is happy with his netminding duo. He celebrated the recent extension of backup goalie Laurent Brossoit to a one-year contract, who’d support Connor Hellebuyck, the league’s top goalie last season. Cheveldayoff said he believes Brossoit has a “higher ceiling” in terms of his development.

On Sunday, the Jets made qualifying offers to six players: Jack Roslovic, Mason Appleton, Jansen Harkins, Sami Niku, Nelson Nogier and Manitoba Moose forward C.J. Suess. 

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