Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Chevy gets gun, waves it at Walsh

Gustavsson obvious Pavelec bargaining chip

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PITTSBURGH -- As they say on the street, Kevin Cheveldayoff is now packing heat.

The Jets GM bought himself a Saturday Night Special and never even took the time to holster it before sticking it in the ribs of agent Allan Walsh. From the gun counter right into action.

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Walsh has been waving around a pistol of his own for weeks, so at least this standoff over the future of Jets goalie and restricted free agent Ondrej Pavelec can now be characterized as a fair fight.

The Jets don't like to use the word leverage in any of their negotiations, but that's what this deal has been about since the day word leaked out that Pavelec was pondering a deal worth $5.5 million in the KHL, giving Walsh the upper hand.

Cheveldayoff, by flipping a conditional seventh-round draft pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs for the rights to goalie Jonas Gustavsson, threw a jab of his own on Saturday morning. If nothing else, he got Walsh's attention.

Minutes after the draft ended, Cheveldayoff climbed into the stands at Consol Energy Center and waded into a lengthy and animated discussion with Walsh.

While the arena floor emptied and executives, coaches and scouts from all 30 NHL teams departed for flights and post-draft parties, Cheveldayoff and Walsh engaged one another for a long time. Long enough for them to be the only two people remaining in the stands when they finally stood up and shook hands before going their separate ways.

The discussion very likely was the beginning of one of two things -- the road to a deal and new contract for Pavelec or the penultimate scene in a standoff that could shake the Jets to the core.

Let's be clear: The Jets getting Gustavsson's rights and the opportunity to talk with him and try to make a deal prior to his becoming an unrestricted free agent on July 1 is an option, but a secondary one.

Cheveldayoff said so himself on Saturday -- signing Pavelec is the priority. But there's a distinct gap in negotiations between the two parties right now and there hasn't been much give to this point.

The Jets aren't going to trade Pavelec. He's 24 and could be on the verge of establishing himself as a top-10 goalie in the NHL. So it's either get a deal done or let him bolt to the KHL for a year and start this dance again next summer.

Goaltending is key in the NHL, and the good variety that Pavelec has supplied at times is hard to come by. The Jets can't and won't cut ties. Pavelec is key to the foundation of the organization and its future.

If Cheveldayoff has to wait a year, he will. The Jets are far from a lock for the post-season next year and the future is what counts in the GM's mind. He'll protect that rather than sign what he considers a bad deal just to have the goalie in camp next fall.

If Pavelec decides he wants the big rubles and can't accept what the Jets are willing to pay him, Gustavsson gives Winnipeg a Plan B.

The 27-year-old Swede came to the NHL with the label, "best goalie in the world not playing in the NHL," but never lived up to the billing.

Many blame that on injuries and a style switch insisted upon by Leafs goalie guru Francois Allaire. Many in-the-know hockey people from the Toronto market were complimentary of Gustavsson on Saturday, saying a change in scenery could result in improved play. Is he as good an option as Pavelec?

Not at this point, but Cheveldayoff has to cover his bases. Gustavsson also provides another goalie in the Jets system should unrestricted backup Chris Mason remain unsigned.

The Jets now have three balls in the air where their netminding is concerned and will likely sign just two. The Pavelec-Mason tandem of a year ago is still the preferred route, but business gets in the way of the best laid plans.

Is Gustavsson the No. 1 goalie Winnipeggers want to see in net next season? Likely not. But when Ilya Bryzgalov left the Phoenix Coyotes last off-season and Mike Smith moved into the picture, it looked like a major downgrade. All Smith did was rebound with the Yotes and lead them to the Western Conference final.

Jets fans should be so lucky.

Life goes on, and teams deal with injuries and defections on a daily basis. No one is irreplaceable.

Both Cheveldayoff and Walsh have sidearms now. The next thing to learn is which one is willing to fire real bullets.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 24, 2012 B2

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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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