Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets won't deviate from master plan

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Mark Chipman looked tanned and relaxed after a week of vacation prior to the game, but by late Saturday night he wore a grim mask of disappointment.

Chipman didn't like the way things went for his Winnipeg Jets in their 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning and the acknowledgement that his team had been officially eliminated from the post-season chase sat awkwardly as well.

By Sunday morning the disappointment had ebbed a bit but his competitive fires were still burning.

"It's disappointing not to make the playoffs -- for our players, our coaches, our management team and our fans," said Chipman in a telephone interview Sunday. "It's been a great year and to crown it with a playoff berth would have been something special."

Some will argue that this comeback campaign in Winnipeg was a success before the season even began and that the city should be happy just to have its NHL team back. Don't count Chipman in that group.

"I think you have to believe... and we did in this group. Making the playoffs was our objective. It wasn't like it was 'wink, wink, we want to make the playoffs.' Certainly not for Claude (Noel) and Chevy (Kevin Cheveldayoff) and Zinger (Craig Heisinger) and myself," said Chipman. "We have a good hockey team here and that had to be our objective. At the same time we're very, very committed to building this team according to a plan and that hasn't changed. As has been previously explained that will be through the draft and developing our younger players. But at the same time it would be great to have some immediate success and gain some momentum. We'd all like to have it both ways.

"The long-term success is what we're about, but at the same time we think we are very close to having some short-term as well. I don't know how far or how deep (a playoff run) would have got, but you play 82 games and you want a reward. Our players have gone through an incredible test of endurance and everyone wanted to make the playoffs."

Missing the playoffs this season doesn't taste very well for fans but it's not an automatic that it's going to change right away. As much as the Jets want to get into the post-season it will simply not come at the cost of the long-range plan.

"I'd feel the same. Not terribly different," said Chipman, when asked what it would be like if the Jets missed out again next season. "With this team, and for sure we are going to try and get better, it's young and it will take time. There are no quick fixes. You don't pull out an NHL catalogue and find players to fill your needs. It's a long-term process. We have to build this slow and steady.

"Since the lockout, if you look at the teams that have had success and won -- Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit, they build from within. The best example for us is Nashville. They draft well and develop and provide a stable environment that fosters winning. They're the best example for us. Now that they're close, they're trying to make a few tweaks to go after the Cup. The Nashville example is very fitting for us."

Chipman says the Jets have come a long away in under 12 months as an NHL franchise on the ice and in the front office.

"We've naturally matured over one year. We're much more grounded than we were last summer. Our players have gotten better. Everybody in the organization has gotten to know one another. The biggest thing for Chevy and his team was to get to know all our players," said Chipman. "The ones in Winnipeg, in St. John's, in junior and college and the ones in Europe. It's why Craig Heisinger has spent so little time in Winnipeg. It's why I haven't laid eyes on Jimmy Roy's face all year."

Chipman says the plan is clear and there will be no deviation.

"It's to be a team that is a perennial playoff team. A team that is going to have a .600 winning percentage or better and be consistently in the playoffs," said Chipman. "And then, given the right circumstances to go deep into the playoffs and eventually contend for a championship."

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 2, 2012 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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