PHILADELPHIA -- Three years into his tenure as the first GM of Winnipeg Jets 2.0, Kevin Cheveldayoff has arrived at an unprecedented opportunity to move the franchise forward.
By his own admission, he's been involved in talking and listening to fellow NHL GMs -- several who are brand new to their jobs -- who are also eager for change. The Jets' hockey boss has presided over three non-playoff teams since the 2011 relocation, and the streak is seven dark springs in a row if you count the late inept days in Atlanta.
And so, with almost all important league personnel descending on Philadelphia this week for the annual entry draft, one or more forks in the road are straight in front of Cheveldayoff.
There's lots of chatter that he's been making pitches to his colleagues. It's unknown if Evander Kane or Dustin Byfuglien or prospects or draft picks are being shopped or dangled but opportunities are surely in play this week.
Just how Cheveldayoff will push his club from close-but-no-cigar also-rans to into the mix of eight Western Conference playoff teams isn't that clear. His commitment to draft-and-develop is as staunch as it's ever been, unaffected by his baying critics, but it's more evident every day that while the population of Jets Nation isn't on full boil, it's well beyond a simmer when it comes to abandoning the status quo.
Choosing a course of action, if one is actually to be chosen this week beyond Cheveldayoff simply making his seven draft selections, will require some vision, some risk. If it were easy, it would already be done and you'd be counting the sleeps until the opening to training camp.
Entering the potential action of draft week, it might be good to review Cheveldayoff's five most difficult decisions so far:
1. FIRING CLAUDE NOEL AND PERRY PEARN LAST JANUARY: While no one was terribly surprised about the coaching change, since the team was slumping and obviously off track, GMs don't normally turn worlds upside-down with such moves unless they've agonized about them for days and weeks. In Cheveldayoff's case, ditching Noel and his program was an admission of failure, a disruption of the organization's original plan and was more than an unpleasant bit of business.
2. DECLARING ONDREJ PAVELEC HIS NO. 1 GOALIE AT THE END OF 2013-14: Five days after the regular season ended, Cheveldayoff stood up and took the bull by the horns, addressing questions about his beleaguered starter by expressing faith in Pavelec and leaving no doubt who would top the depth chart at training camp. The stats say Pavelec has not improved. The GM is adamant that Pavelec will benefit from new coach Paul Maurice and better team defence. It may be nuance, but standing behind Pavelec was probably easy, given Cheveldayoff's passion for these matters, but for someone who rarely goes out on a limb, declaring into the wind of the storm had to be difficult.
3. SCHEIFELE, NOT COUTURIER: The debate over the Jets' first pick of the 2011 draft in Minnesota still rages in some corners, and the call could not have been easy when it came time to choose. Sean Couturier, who went No. 8 to the Flyers, was touted by many and would have been the safer pick. He played in the NHL that fall. Mark Scheifele, chosen by the Jets at No. 7, was not ready in 2011-12, or after the lockout ended either. But his upside has recently come into clearer view.
4. TRADE DEADLINES: The common thread through three trade deadlines is that Cheveldayoff has yet to make a player-for-player deal to add to his team. In 2012, he subtracted Johnny Oduya, a pending UFA, for two draft picks. In the subsequent two seasons, with his team not that far from that elusive playoff line, he was unwilling or unable to pay the prices demanded at deadline day. Especially in 2014 after his team rebounded from the coaching change to get into the playoff race, the temptation to deal must have been significant. Scheifele's knee injury on the eve of the deadline complicated this year's picture but in the end, Cheveldayoff was unwilling to forfeit the future for a quick fix.
5. SUMMER SIGNINGS: They've been called a lot of things from wise to foolish, but most would agree last summer's quick contract strikes for forwards Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little and defenceman Zach Bogosian can be called bold. Cheveldayoff committed $93.1 million of his owners' money over six, five and seven years respectively for three of the team's core players, none of whom have a playoff track record. Tossing that kind of cash around in a small market would not have been a decision taken lightly.