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Have Jets finally arrived?

Playoff payoff would vindicate Chevy's faith

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Sooner or later the dice stops tumbling and it can be determined whether a bet placed was good or bad.

According to several members of the Winnipeg Jets, the time is now, when conclusions can be drawn upon a wager on their worth.

If the high-priced, long-term contracts Kevin Cheveldayoff has showered the core of his Winnipeg Jets with result in a playoff berth, this could be the dawning of a long and prosperous era of pro hockey in these parts.

The opposite is also true. If these Jets don't announce themselves as playoff contenders soon, we could be stuck with a load of duds for some time.

The Jets, depending on who makes the club out of camp, will enter the season with a cap hit around $63 million.

Over and over this summer, the question was asked by hockey people: Did Cheveldayoff pay too much? The answer to that question comes in many forms but if this group reaches the playoffs this year, no one will be questioning the GM's allocation of funds.

Cheveldayoff took some time to evaluate his roster and determined the core was substantial enough to be the foundation for a winner. So he locked them up.

The other path would have been to blow this roster up and start from scratch. Cheveldayoff didn't do that and this summer, in Year 3 of his plan, he spent a lot of money to secure his core.

"They showed a lot of faith in the group of us. We have a lot of guys on long-term contracts. They've done their part. Now it's time for us to show what we can do and reward them. We need to make the playoffs this year," said centre Bryan Little, who was inked to a five-year, $23.5-million contract this summer.

"It started out this city was just happy to have a team back. Now they want us in the playoffs. And they should. That's not unreasonable. It's time to do our part."

It's one thing for coach Claude Noel to spout about the playoffs and another for fans to clamour. But it's something altogether different when the players step forward and state the time is now.

The Jets opened their third training camp since their return and there is one story that rides higher than all others this season.

Have the Jets finally arrived?

They've been a cute story so far. Lots of "glad to be back" stuff. But when the hometown hero comes back after being away, the glory soon fades unless new triumphs are achieved.

The men who run the Jets and the players in the uniforms might pay polite lip service to all the nostalgia storylines but the reality is they are in this business for one reason: To win.

Zach Bogosian takes it one step further, saying titles are the aim.

 

"Our goal is to win a championship and making the playoffs would be the first step," said Bogosian, who bristled when asked if missing the playoffs this season would represent a failure. "I'm not thinking about not making the playoffs. We have to have a positive outlook that we're going to make it."

Bogosian is driven to be the best at his position. It can be seen every day in the way he approaches his job. He's in elite condition and he loves to compete. Bogosian says a new contract, a seven-year deal worth $36-million, must spur him on to be better and not give him reason to relax.

"We can't just sit back and be comfortable. I can't sit back and say, 'I've got a seven-year contract,' and then just mail it in," said Bogosian. "I need to show that I've earned it and do it every night. I'm confident the entire group will have the same mindset."

The future of the franchise doesn't rest on this season's results. And it may turn out the Jets still have a way to go.

But it's clear the expectations are now higher. From within the organization and without.

Failure to take the next step will, to some degree, be an indictment against the players Cheveldayoff has secured. Reaching the playoffs will be an affirmation of these players and the organization's plan.

Higher and more defined expectations result in clear results. The payout could be bigger this season.

Or the losses.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 13, 2013 C1

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Updated on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 8:08 AM CDT: Adds photo, adds videos

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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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