Two months ago, the Winnipeg Jets were destined to be sellers at the deadline. They floundered at the bottom of the Central Division under coach Claude Noel for most of the first half, and the playoffs seemed like a pipe dream.
But since firing Noel and hiring Paul Maurice, the Jets have gone 11-3-1 and are within striking distance of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Their goals against and goals averaged have significantly improved, and even oft-maligned goalie Ondrej Pavelec has looked competent between the pipes.
But considering the competition in the West and the makeup of the roster, it's safe to say the Jets aren't ready to contend for a Stanley Cup just yet. With that in mind, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will have to decide very soon whether Winnipeg will be buyers or sellers.
Whether the Jets are buyers or sellers doesn't matter: teams will be inquiring about Dustin Byfuglien's availability.
While "Big Buff" doesn't exactly possess impressive defensive senses, his offensive upside should be enough to keep teams interested. He's once again among the top five defensemen in the NHL in scoring and is a dangerous weapon on the power play.
He's also an asset who could significantly improve Winnipeg's organizational future. Any return for Byfuglien at the deadline would have to be sizable. If Cheveldayoff decides to be a seller, he'll have to seriously consider dangling Byfuglien.
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The Jets are not in a position to contend for the Cup this year, so Cheveldayoff will likely ship out one or more of his impending unrestricted free agents.
Of those, the most enticing name is Olli Jokinen. The 35-year-old center is currently sixth on the Jets in scoring and would be a healthy addition to a playoff contender's roster. He doesn't have much playoff experience, but he can create plays and could make an impact in a non-critical role. He also enjoyed an impressive Olympics.
Other than that, Devin Setoguchi is a streaky scorer some teams might take a flier on. Defenseman Mark Stuart fits the Rob Scuderi mold of "solid blueliner with leadership qualities" that Stanley Cup contenders covet.
If Winnipeg falls out of the race, then expect Cheveldayoff to try to offload most, if not all, of these players. Winnipeg's prospect pool is still fairly thin and this could be Cheveldayoff's last chance to really inject some potential into the system.