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High-performance Chevy

Having proven his savvy with the Blackhawks, Cheveldayoff top contender for GM position in Winnipeg

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TORONTO -- A front-runner has emerged to be the general manager of Winnipeg's new NHL team.

Chicago Blackhawks assistant GM and senior director of hockey operations Kevin Cheveldayoff is hot on the radar of Canada's seventh NHL franchise.

After a Thursday meeting with True North chairman Mark Chipman and hockey senior vice-president Craig Heisinger at the NHL's scouting combine, current Atlanta Thrashers GM Rick Dudley does not appear to be a slam-dunk to retain his current job in Winnipeg. Neither Chipman nor Heisinger would talk about it but there were strong rumblings here Friday that Dudley will either be re-assigned or dismissed, that True North wants to go in another direction with its own people.

The Free Press spoke to Cheveldayoff here Friday morning. His first response when asked for a conversation was that such a request would have to go through the Blackhawks.

On his way out of the Toronto Congress Centre, he stopped to talk, even joked he had heard about some big announcement in Winnipeg this week.

Cheveldayoff said, however, that he couldn't shed much light on the subject, in particular that he couldn't comment about the possibility that he'd spoken to Heisinger in previous days or that Winnipeg has asked for the Hawks' permission to talk to him.

Late Friday in a radio discussion including the Free Press, True North president and CEO Jim Ludlow said: "(Cheveldayoff has) got many things going for him that would fit with our culture."

It's believed that True North will not take many more days to make key decisions about its hockey department, including Cheveldayoff's potential hire. It's guaranteed that Heisinger will play a significant role and will clearly be the most significant voice in the organization's choice for a GM.

Cheveldayoff, 41, might seem an unlikely choice, given some rival history between himself and True North, which has operated the Manitoba Moose since 1996.

The Saskatoon native became the GM of the rival Chicago Wolves in 1997. The Wolves and Moose had several heated playoff series -- always won by Chicago -- during their years as opponents in the old IHL and the current AHL.

In his 12 seasons as GM of the Wolves, Cheveldayoff guided the club to four minor-league championships.

In 2009, he graduated to his first NHL management job with the Hawks.

The fact that the NHL draft is now less than three weeks away makes it a delicate subject among NHL teams when one is looking to hire personnel from another, even if it's a promotion. Friday, the Blackhawks did not respond to a question about having been asked by Winnipeg for permission to talk to Cheveldayoff.

Prior to joining the Hawks, Cheveldayoff was a candidate in 2007 for the then-vacant GM job with the Phoenix Coyotes, subsequently filled by Don Maloney.

At the time, here's what he told the Arizona Republic about himself, and it would seem to be a very good fit in Winnipeg today: "I guess I'm someone who wasn't blessed with a lot of talent. I was a kid who had to work hard for everything. I grew up the son of a farmer, and I guess I probably learned that work ethic from him. I don't characterize myself as a hard worker. I characterize myself as that's what I do, and that's the only way I know how to operate."

In his playing career, Cheveldayoff was a tough-as-nails defenceman who played three seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings -- another plus for the new Winnipeg entry -- and was chosen in the first round of the 1988 draft by the New York Islanders.

He never played an NHL game and his career was cut short by injuries. He retired after the 1993-94 season with the IHL's Salt Lake Golden Eagles.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 4, 2011 C1

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