Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Chevy needs to add affordable horsepower

Team intensity still in question as mid-season and playoff run draw nearer

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The games will get harder, that we know for sure, but how the Winnipeg Jets will handle the increased intensity is still a question mark.

The Jets are hot in the hunt for a playoff spot as the mid-season mark rapidly approaches and have shown no sign of fading.

But history, in particular last season when they were still known as the Atlanta Thrashers, suggests there will be a second-half slide.

Cutting off any slippage will largely fall to GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. The first-year GM must continue to add useful players and upgrade his roster if they are expected to succeed.

A blockbuster isn't needed or expected, but Cheveldayoff has so far proven to be the master of the quiet tweak. It's been effective and inexpensive to date, but the job isn't complete.

Coach Claude Noel has handled injury issues, the transition of a franchise from Atlanta to Winnipeg and the implementation of his systems and expectations with great aplomb.

No one would have been overly surprised if the Jets had been a flop on the ice this season with all they had to go through, but Noel has been near perfect in his handling of the club. He's pushed when it was called for, backed off at the right times and generally had perfect timing in administering his coaching moves.

Cheveldayoff has had a positive effect as he has added talent and depth when it was available while living under the constraints of a tight budget.

Additions like this week's waiver claim of Antti Miettinen and the late summer pickup of Kyle Wellwood have been astute, if not flashy. That's the reality of Cheveldayoff's situation, as any improvement to the Jets needs to be made within the budget he's been handed by his bosses.

 

So don't expect Cheveldayoff to be taking on big salary in his attempts to improve the roster. But improve it he must if the Jets are to continue to be a team on the upswing.

The players Noel has right now have been a fine story in the second quarter of the season. They've piled up wins and shot up the standings. It's been great to watch, but now isn't the time to stand still.

Too many games have hinged on goaltender Ondrej Pavelec standing on his head, and that's a tightrope walk that sooner or later can end in disaster.

The Jets also have a handful of forwards playing above their natural station in life. Can that last forever? Unlikely, and Cheveldayoff knows this. He needs to find a way to flesh out his forward group.

Once the blue-line is healthy, Cheveldayoff will find himself able to deal from a position of strength. The Jets have used 12 defencemen already this season and have a couple on the farm capable of logging NHL minutes.

Let's not call it an embarrassment of riches, but it is the deepest part of the roster. Dealing one useful part for another won't get Cheveldayoff a cover piece in The Hockey News, but it will help the progression of a young and developing team.

The Jets aren't on the clock just yet, but it's coming, and their ability to make positive change in the next month or so will go a long way in telling the story of this season.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 16, 2011 C1

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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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