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Jets brass still flying

Players locked out, but management still locked in on building future

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NHL activity has come to a grinding halt amid a labour dispute but the league's newest organization, the Winnipeg Jets, has not suspended its franchise-building.

The team is presently scattered far and wide -- including four playing in Europe -- when it should have been tuning up with its final two exhibition games tonight and Saturday.

"There's not much I can say," Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff told the Free Press on Wednesday. "It's a difficult situation. The focus and our thoughts are just hoping that the two sides can come to an agreement because obviously we'd love everybody playing here."

While they aren't, Cheveldayoff has not been moping about his office, depressingly staring at the walls.

For one, he's off on a western scouting mission this week.

And he's given several components of his hockey department a clear mission to prepare for next June's NHL draft, when the team, as of today, has six picks in the first three rounds.

"It's very significant," Cheveldayoff said. "For us, six picks in essentially the top 90 is important for the long-term future of our franchise. It's something we're spending a lot of time on right now with scouting on the amateur side. It's full steam ahead there.

"We're being very diligent and thorough. We're fortunate even during the uncertain time with the work stoppage that our ownership has viewed the amateur scouting and scouting in general as an investment in the future."

Even before the lockout began, Cheveldayoff was trying to arrange the pieces of his franchise to incubate future growth.

He signed veteran free agent forwards Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky. He signed regulars Ondrej Pavelec, Toby Enstrom, Jim Slater and Evander Kane to longer-term deals.

"We have improved in some areas that we identified," the GM said. "We're obviously hopeful that improvement will continue from within. Again, for us to be a consistently competitive playoff team, it has to come from within to a substantial degree.

"Free agency is for some teams, their sole method of trying to improve. Us, we're fortunate that we have some young players that by experience and maturation are going to continue to improve... but the proof really is when you get on the ice and start playing.

"You try to look at other areas as you go along. You're constantly doing that. There's never a point in time where you sit back and go, 'Whoa, we're good.' "

While he has spent some money since the Jets last played in April, Cheveldayoff has not exactly been lavish with the cash as he tries to stay within a responsible small-market budget. Going into the lockout, his team is barely $2 million above the NHL's "expired" salary-range floor of $54.2 million.

"We don't know the new system," Cheveldayoff said. "Certainly during the summer there was a period of time we were operating under the old CBA but since Sept. 15, we're not really operating under anything right now. Once the new system comes into place, whatever it is, we'll act accordingly."

While he's keeping busy and his scouts have an important mission ahead of them in the next eight months, Jets coaches would seem to be the ones most likely to be bored. Not so, Cheveldayoff said.

"The coaching staff has been fairly busy, working internally, having time now to really dig down deep into systems and teaching methods and ways to present it," he said. "I know they've done an extensive amount of video work internally.

"The addition of Perry Pearn has given an opportunity for the whole staff to group together and discuss a lot of things philosophically. I know they all want to be out doing what they do, which is coach."

He said Jets assistant coaches have each been active away from the MTS Centre. Charlie Huddy, for instance, will be lending a hand to the University of Manitoba Bisons, while Pascal Vincent has spent some time scouting in Quebec and goalie coach Wade Flaherty is with the AHL's St. John's IceCaps. Pearn will join that mission soon, while head coach Claude Noel is likely to be observing a wide variety of games involving prospects and future picks.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

more nhl coverage C4

 

Pavelec's DUI

conviction hot topic

 

MORE than four months after goalie Ondrej Pavelec was busted for drunk driving in his native Czech Republic, the matter still doesn't appear to be resolved internally with the Winnipeg Jets.

Asked Wednesday if the air was now clear between them, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff didn't choose yes or no.

"Obviously when he comes to Winnipeg, (at) the eventual coming to a (labour) agreement, we'll continue to have conversations and go from there," Cheveldayoff said. "But obviously the big thing for us is that we want to have everybody in Winnipeg sooner than later."

Cheveldayoff gave no indication that there's been any face-to-face meeting of the kind the Jets hoped to have had by now.

In their July 17 statement -- five days after Pavelec's June 12 conviction had been discovered, and three weeks after the goalie had signed a five-year, $19.5-million contract with the team -- they said they expected to meet with Pavelec to discuss the matter.

"We will determine our course of action once we have the chance to meet and discuss with Ondrej in person, which we expect to do at the earliest possible opportunity," the team statement said.

In the two months between then and the start of the lockout, that meeting did not take place in Winnipeg and with the NHL now in lockout mode, Pavelec has stayed in the Czech Republic and is playing in the league there in Liberec.

Cheveldayoff did say today he has spoken with Pavelec.

"Certainly, I have talked to him since the issues," the GM said. "But the focus has been on the hopeful starting of the season. We spoke on the phone and the unfortunate side of how things have turned out with the situation we're in, the logistics didn't make that possible."

Pavelec, it's worth noting, apologized for his actions in July.

"I'm disappointed in myself for this error in judgment," he said in statement issued through the team. "I'm thankful no one was injured as a result of my actions."

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 4, 2012 C1

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