Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

How will losing play out?

It's a virus that can eat at an organization's guts

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Losing is the most virulent virus that can infect an organization. It can destroy the best of plans, relationships and character. It will eat away at a group like sun on snow.

The Winnipeg Jets, both the team's management group and the players in the dressing room, have shown no cracks in their united facade to date.

But with the team currently on pace to win around 20 games this season, the potential for a whole lot of losing could test this club's foundation.

The Jets like to pride themselves on their organizational mission statement, and one of the key unwritten but oft-spoken tenets focuses on hiring good people. "First and foremost, he's a good person" is something we've heard over and over from the folks at True North when asked about hiring decisions.

Losing can do many things to different people. Some will curl up and quit, some will go a little sideways and others will answer the challenge and grow. We're going to find out how "good" these people really are.

One way we'll see the effects of losing infecting the team's core will be players wanting out. Already, a hot rumour has developed on Twitter and websites in Winnipeg that Evander Kane has demanded a trade.

"I've spoken with Evander and this is completely untrue," said agent Craig Oster. "Neither he nor us have talked about a trade. Evander is very excited to be in Winnipeg and about his future with Winnipeg."

The seven-game road swing the club embarks on today could go a number of ways, but if the trends established so far in this young season continue, the Jets will struggle and losses will pile up.

How will that affect the team, and maybe more importantly the men running it?

Throw a group of ultra-competitive people unfamiliar with losing into a vortex of defeat and the results are difficult to predict.

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff hasn't done much losing, winning seven championships in his 15-year management career, including four titles with the Chicago Wolves and a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Winning is second nature with Cheveldayoff; it's his expectation, not his wish. How he handles the ups and downs of developing an organization from the ground floor -- which is exactly where the Jets are at this point -- will determine much of what we see.

The Jets, like most NHL organizations today, are very intent on controlling the message. Coach Claude Noel goes a little rogue from time to time, but for the most part, what the media and eventually the public get to see and hear is planned and then executed.

The actions of the organization, however, will speak far more than any words spouted by the GM or anyone else.

To date, the moves have all been measured and methodical. From spending very little in free agency this summer while other organizations overpaid, to sending rookie Mark Scheifele back to junior, the Jets believe winning will come as a result of development from within, and that takes time.

Management is likely braced for tough times. That won't stop them from getting cranky over all the losing, but it should prevent them from making rash decisions.

The expectation here is that the Jets will remain steady and stable.

But losing can change everything and make a franchise unpredictable.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 27, 2011 C3

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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
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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