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Reading between the lines

What Chevy said... and what he meant

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Winnipeg Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff talks to the media about his decision to fire Claude Noel and hire Paul Maurice as the new head coach yesterday.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Winnipeg Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff talks to the media about his decision to fire Claude Noel and hire Paul Maurice as the new head coach yesterday. Photo Store

Given he's the ultimate hockey boss of True North and the Winnipeg Jets, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff stood under a hot light on Sunday afternoon.

 

And really, it was for the first time.

The Winnipeg honeymoon has likely been over for some months, but the first hard and painful decision has been reached and Claude Noel (and assistant Perry Pearn) have been sacrificed because they couldn't get enough change or improvement out of the players that populate the roster.

Paul Maurice and his 460-457-167 record is in.

Cheveldayoff took questions from reporters for more than 25 minutes and there was more meat in his answers than on many other occasions. He is a good orator, excellent in philosophy and approach but often hard to pin down, in part because hockey can be an inexact science.

Let's review some of Cheveldayoff's responses on Sunday and fill in a little between the lines

 

1. Trending?

"It just became apparent over the last little while here that things were not trending in the right direction and we were going to have to do something to try and move things back into the fashion of moving forward."

Cheveldayoff is not that dull to have meant this -- because the trend has been in place since before Day 1 in Winnipeg -- and he actually corrected himself later in the press conference about running a team that seems magnetized to .500 hockey.

"We always ask ourselves internally, be it Claude and myself whenever we chatted... 'Why .500? Why one ahead, one back?' " Cheveldayoff said later Sunday. "Two ahead, two back? It was obviously something we've talked about tremendously and will continue to be talked about until we can get it going in the right direction."

What went unsaid Sunday is if Maurice can't change this mentality in the organization and especially in the dressing room, he is bound to fail at everything else.

 

2. Experience

"He's coached a lot of different types of teams, he's had experience with both veteran players and young players and has had success with both," Cheveldayoff said. "He's experienced both sides of things. He's experienced success, he's experienced failure. He's battle-hardened. He's energetic and chomping at the bit to get back in the National Hockey League. Someone with a lot of experience will be invaluable to us as we continue to evaluate what we have here and what changes in the future might be necessary."

Experience is by far the most important element in the GM's choice on who takes over. Noel had many ideas, theories, and he was a thinker. Maurice has those assets, but also more than 1,000 games coached in the NHL and by all reports, is wise and confident enough to know when it's time to raise the roof and when it's time to build bridges.

Given the roster, it's certain Cheveldayoff had no option but to find experience for this job and this time. And a pair of eyes from outside the True North and Cheveldayoff world might not be a bad thing.

 

3. The Players

Cheveldayoff addressed the players after giving Noel and Pearn the bad news. "The nuts and bolts are going to stay within the room," the GM said. "But, generally speaking, any time good people lose their opportunities at their job there's responsibility that has to be taken by everybody. We talked long about that. We talked about the life of being in professional sports and the accountability and levels people are held to in those regards. We talked that it's not always fair, but there are some realities, and each and every one of them and all of us have to look at how we can be better and see where maybe we would have done some things differently and not get to this point."

If the GM was that nice and polite about it, it would be discouraging. The right message would have been to be offended by their collective work and to play up the accountability angle that seemed so important to this club as it broke training camp in the fall. If you'll recall, they used the word quite a bit.

 

4. Interim?

Nobody said the word "interim" but on evaluation, this sounds like interim.

"With the timing of everything, we've agreed to a contract to the end of the season right now," the GM said. "We've agreed we'll continue to talk. The biggest thing for us was getting him in here. We don't have anything on paper. We have a handshake over the phone."

Maurice is said to be confident and eager to get back to the coaching wars. Some think the actual deal will be for longer than what was said, but is it that far-fetched to think Cheveldayoff isn't keeping his options open for the coming summer when a wider range of good candidates might be available?

 

5. Responsibility

Cheveldayoff was asked if to this point, he'd done everything he could to help the fired Noel.

He took some ownership.

"If I'm being honest, I'd say no," he said. "For me, I've sat back over the course of 24 hours and sat there saying, 'Can I do something else? What else can I do?' What I have to be cognizant of is that I don't do something that pushes the franchise backwards from an asset standpoint.

"Again, this is not without responsibility on my side, too. I ultimately made the call."

In other words, he's knows he's wearing some of this, he's changing coaches but not philosophy.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 13, 2014 C2

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