Winnipeg Jets trade targets: 9 defenders who could help bolster the blue line

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Arizona Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong has his own first-round pick in the next three drafts. He has 10 second-round picks and seven third-round picks in that same time frame, gathered from years of cap brokerage and big trades, like the one that sent Jakob Chychrun to Ottawa.

It’s an incredible haul — no doubt about it — but the Coyotes’ 0-10-2 slide has Arizona searching for more.

Enter the Winnipeg Jets. Armstrong has partnered with Kevin Cheveldayoff before, sending a fourth-round pick to the Jets for Bryan Little and the rights to sign Nathan Smith in 2022. They had a lengthy chat at press level prior to Sunday’s 4-3 Jets overtime win and, whether the topic of discussion was trade-related or not, their teams make realistic partners heading into the trade deadline.

Arizona’s two biggest rental assets are Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker. The Jets kicked tires on Dumba during his Minnesota Wild days, back when he was a high-event, point-producing speedster with a physical element. He’s signed to a one-year, $3.9 million contract and the Coyotes will almost certainly move him. Zucker may have appeal from his productive, top-six days in Pittsburgh and Minnesota and could bolster a Jets team whose current deployment leaves plenty of room for another middle-six scorer. Zucker’s $5.3 million contract expires this summer.

Dumba seems like the more realistic acquisition to me. He might not attract the same type of bidding war as more impactful players like Chris Tanev will, while being able to help to some degree sheltered third-pairing minutes. I’m a big believer that teams who go deep in the playoffs need to be able to lean on their No. 6, 7, and 8 defencemen and sometimes beyond.

Meanwhile, Nate Schmidt and Logan Stanley are rotating in and out of the lineup and Winnipeg’s top two pairs appear to be straining to win their minutes like they did during the Jets’ dominant first half of the season.

Who can help bolster the Jets’ playoff push?

I see Tanev as the most ideal fit for Winnipeg but expect he’s a more expensive addition. Perhaps the Jets show interest — and perhaps they even land him — but it seems more likely to me, as with Elias Lindholm, that Winnipeg ends up needing a contingency plan.

Who might they be targeting?

Chris Tanev, RD, Flames

Age: 34

Contract: $4.5 million cap hit, 10-team no-trade list, UFA 2024

Usage: First pair at five-on-five, first PK unit

Production: 1 goal, 11 assists, 12 points in 55 games

I can’t think of a better stylistic fit for the Jets’ defence. Tanev is a rare shutdown workhorse who threads the needle between physically punishing and analytically effective. He delivers second pairing value and big PK minutes by being good at defence-first, old-school defending — he’ll do anything to win the puck back — and by being effective at getting the puck out and onto teammates’ sticks once he’s got it.

It’s easy for me to imagine Winnipeg running a second pair of Brenden Dillon with Tanev on his right and an all-Hermantown third pair of Dylan Samberg and Neal Pionk; Tanev would also take Schmidt’s penalty killing minutes in this scenario. That said, Tanev checks a lot of boxes for a lot of teams and may be more of a luxury than a must-have in Winnipeg; I wonder about the Jets’ willingness to fight to the front of the line in terms of asset cost.

Winnipeg went toe to toe with Tanev in a 6-3 loss last week and his skills were on full display; Calgary ran him hard against Mark Scheifele’s top line, keeping Winnipeg’s scorers off the board when he was on the ice.

Age: 35

Contract: $3.25 million cap hit, UFA 2024

Usage: Third pair at five-on-five, first PK unit

Production: 3 goals, 0 assists, 3 points in 48 games

His NHL career has lasted nearly two decades. He’s provided first-pairing value, second-pairing value, power-play production, shots, hits, blocks and plenty of tenacity throughout his career, but now plays 14 minutes per game for a struggling Sabres team. Forget the metrics, though: Johnson’s appeal is in his veteran leadership, his size and toughness, his quality of play en route to his 2022 Stanley Cup with Colorado, and the way he could come into and out of the lineup as the Jets required.

I expect Winnipeg will appreciate the way Johnson battled through injuries and went on to go all the way on that star-studded Avalanche team. The Jets’ only Cup winner, as of today, is Laurent Brossoit. I could see the Jets, targeting Johnson or someone like him to offer one more veteran look. It’s also notable that he kills penalties and plays on the right side.

Winnipeg has rotated Schmidt and Stanley in and out of the lineup on that third pair; I take that to mean both are options in the playoffs but neither is seen as a perfect solution.

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Noah Hanifin is the No. 1 player on The Athletic’s trade board. (Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

Age: 27

Contract: $4.95 million cap hit, UFA 2024, eight-team no-trade list

Usage: First pair at five-on-five, first PK unit, second PP unit

Production: 11 goals, 22 assists, 33 points in 58 games

Hanifin is first on The Athletic’s trade board and the truth is I don’t understand why. He’s a top-pairing calibre defenceman who seems to fit the age band of Calgary’s core group. The Flames have pushed hard to get him signed, per Chris Johnston, which shows me they recognize the peril they’re in with only MacKenzie Weegar and Rasmus Andersson signed beyond this season. If the divide is only about dollars, I can’t help but think Calgary needs Hanifin in the fold.

All of that said, there are so many things to like about him as a player. He’s a quality penalty killer, despite more of an offensive reputation. He and Tanev play the best competition and handle it well.  If he is available and if he would waive his no-trade clause for a move to the Jets — or even to sign in Canada, long term — then Winnipeg could really make some noise. I just don’t see it in the cards from where I sit.

Age: 29

Contract: $2.65 million, UFA 2024

Usage: Second pair at five-on-five, second PK unit

Production: 5 goals, 15 assists, 20 points in 58 games

There are times when I think Walker is a no-go for Winnipeg, owing to his 5-foot-11, 190-pound stature and the number of similar players among the Jets’ current group. There are others when I think his transition game would be a perfect complement to Samberg on Winnipeg’s third pair. Rick Bowness and Scott Arniel talk a lot about getting offence from the defence and Walker’s quality when he jumps into the attack seems tailor-made for that role. His role on the Flyers’ penalty kill is also important to note; Winnipeg tends to spare Josh Morrissey on the PK, leaning on him heavily at five-on-five and on the power play. This means that any time Samberg, Dylan DeMelo, Dillon or Pionk take a penalty, the Jets need someone to step up.

Schmidt and Stanley are a big part of that when they play. If anyone is meant to take their spot, they need to be able to do the same.

Age: 27

Contract: $2.5 million, UFA 2024

Usage: Second pair at five-on-five, second PK unit

Production: 4 goals, 13 assists, 17 points in 53 games

Carrier is the second straight 5-foot-11 defenceman on this list, which will trouble some observers, but Carrier comes with a highly competitive reputation while playing tough minutes in Nashville. The Predators are more conscientious about the difference between roles for their first and second pair than most; Carrier and Jeremy Lauzon get a tough, defence first job that helps free Roman Josi to go on the attack.

He’s the sort of “all hands on deck” defender who can be trusted to protect the guts of the ice when shifts go awry. I think he’d be a great depth addition for a contending team, including Winnipeg.

Age: 30

Contract: $775k, UFA 2024

Usage: Third pair at five-on-five, second PK unit

Production: 1 goal, 9 assists, 10 points in 58 games

Philadelphia has done well with its depth additions in recent years and has quality options like Travis Sanheim and Jamie Drysdale signed long-term. The Flyers’ multiple options on defence make me think that pending free agents like Walker or Nick Seeler should be readily available on the trade market. I also think there should be some level of buyer beware; can Walker and Seeler defend as well as their metrics suggest or are there some serious systems and coaching impacts going on in Philadelphia? Even Rasmus Ristolainen, whose numbers were awful for ages in Buffalo, is associated with great defensive metrics. Perhaps the individuals deserve credit — I’m not saying they don’t — but my view is that any acquisition from Philadelphia will depend heavily on pro scouting.

Age: 29

Contract: $2.75 million, UFA 2024

Usage: Third pair at five-on-five, second PK unit

Production: 0 goals, 4 assists, 4 points in 54 games

If Philadelphia context inflates defensive metrics, my guess is that playing Anaheim deflates them. I expect that Lyubushkin provides size and depth and struggle to see him as a top-six defenceman on the Jets. His right-handed shot could give him an advantage, perhaps, but if Winnipeg is shopping in this aisle it’s either because the Jets are looking for insulation at the very end of their roster or because their pro scouts see something in his hard-nosed game that they think translates well to the playoffs. As it stands, he gets buried in scoring chances.

Joel Edmundson 2 scaled

Joel Edmundson is a Stanley Cup champion and a Manitoba native. (Patrick Smith / Getty Images)

Age: 30

Contract: Edmundson’s cap hit is $1.75 million; Montreal retained half of his $3.5 million salary in a trade. He has a 10-team no-trade list

Usage: Second pair at five-on-five, second PK unit

Production: 1 goal, 4 assists, 5 points in 40 games

I’ve never been able to shake the idea that Winnipeg and Edmundson could be a fit. The Jets got a front-row seat to perhaps the best hockey Edmundson has ever played — pure size, strength and net-front clearance for Montreal in the Canadiens’ 2021 playoff sweep. He was also part of the Blues team that rolled Winnipeg on the way to the 2019 Stanley Cup and then took the Cup to the Keystone Centre in Brandon to honour his hometown roots.

There’s so much to like about those items that it’s easy to overlook a lengthy track record of poor results and hope that a homecoming has more of an impact than it should. Ideally, he’d play the right side.

Matt Dumba, RD, Coyotes

Age: 29

Contract: $3.9 million, UFA 2024

Usage: First pair at five-on-five, first PK unit

Production: 4 goals, 5 assists, 9 points in 52 games

Isn’t this where we came in? Dumba isn’t a defensive wall and has never been one; the alarming thing is that his offensive impact has progressively diminished from his Wild days to now. He’s not the 50-point player he once was, leaning on power-play production to create an impressive value proposition for his high-event five-on-five game.

The Coyotes don’t use him on their power play — Sean Durzi gets those minutes. Dumba plays on the top pair and PK unit, fighting uphill on a team that started hot but has had a miserable second half. If he still has his wheels, I believe he could provide plenty of surplus value on a third pair, if the Jets provided him that kind of sheltering; I think he has more to give than his poor metrics and low point totals imply. I still see him as a high-event defender, creating chaos at both ends of the ice, and I’m not sure that’s the most ideal fit.

He’s getting moved — this much I’m confident in — and it seems realistic that the Jets will continue that conversation.

(Photo of Matt Dumba and Mark Scheifele: Darcy Finley / NHLI via Getty Images)

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