WINNIPEG - Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff pulled off a blockbuster trade Wednesday in a bid to get his team to the playoffs for the first time since they moved to Winnipeg.
Controversial Jets forward Evander Kane is gone in the deal with the Sabres that also sent defenceman Zach Bogosian and goaltending prospect Jason Kasdorf to Buffalo for former NHL rookie of the year defenceman Tyler Myers, veteran winger Drew Stafford, prospects Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux and a 2015 first-round pick.
"Anytime we can add to our drive right now, I think (Cheveldayoff) sends a message he believes in our group," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said. "I know he's pretty happy with how things have played out this year and then the work that we've put in, so as a player it's exciting to have a couple guys come here to try to help us win some games."
The Jets haven't been in the playoffs since the former Atlanta Thrashers franchise relocated to Winnipeg before the 2011-12 season.
"(Cheveldayoff) is just trying to help us, give us the best chance we can here during the stretch run to ultimately reach our goal and make the playoffs," said forward Blake Wheeler.
Winnipeg (28-18-10, 66 points) is holding down the first wild card spot in the Western Conference standings entering Wednesday's play.
"I'm excited about what this trade brings to our organization," Cheveldayoff said. "At the end of the day it is a big deal, but we think it's something that's going to help us both in the short-term and really help us in the long-term."
It's been a turbulent week for the Jets as controversy swirled around Kane and issues in the dressing room.
On Feb. 3, Kane was made a healthy scratch for the club's overtime loss in Vancouver. A source told The Canadian Press at the time that Kane violated team rules by showing up to an afternoon meeting that day in a track suit, with Dustin Byfuglien later throwing the garments into the shower. Kane didn't get on the team bus to the arena and was scratched for the game in his hometown.
Kane then missed a Jets practice for a medical appointment after returning to Winnipeg. It was announced Friday he was having season-ending shoulder surgery, which he did the next day amid trade rumours.
The team has since won back-to-back games and will look to build on that Thursday in Nashville.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice was asked if trading Kane, who had 10 goals and 12 assists in 37 games this season, provided a resolution to the situation.
"A resolution in so far as the speculation was that he was on the move," Maurice said. "Or we had to wait for him till training camp … to come back and play.
"That's a big piece that wasn't going to be a Winnipeg Jet for the remainder of the year, so now we don't have to wonder what our team looks like in August or how Evander would fit."
Maurice said he'll miss some of the "exceptional things" Kane can do, but he'll get the chance in Buffalo to be "the No. 1 guy" he wants to be.
"In his mind, he probably wanted a more important role," echoed Sabres GM Tim Murray. "He can be an important guy here. He's going to be a big part of any success we have here, I believe. He plays hard, he plays in traffic. He doesn't play a perimeter game. He plays the game right."
Kane said via Twitter he was happy to "start a new chapter."
Maurice said he hasn't talked to players about how the trade will affect the lineup, but Byfuglien goes back to defence.
Armia, Lemieux (the son of former NHLer Claude Lemieux) and the first-round pick — Buffalo will decide which of its three picks the Jets get — can build for the future or be used as assets before the March 2 trade deadline.
After all, Cheveldayoff may not be done dealing for the playoff push.
"Will we be actively looking and actively evaluating from now till the trade deadline? Yes," he said.
— With files from The Associated Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had Winnipeg in the second wild-card spot in the West instead of the first.