BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Kevin Cheveldayoff, despite being almost a continent away from his team, distilled its situation in one simple sentence.
"At the end of the day we have to win our own games. If we don't win our own games, it doesn't matter what happens anywhere else. We need to focus on our own games and we have to get some wins," said the Jets boss during a lunch break at the NHL's winter GM meetings.
Cheveldayoff, who has watched his club fall out of the playoff picture in the last couple of days, took time out from his meetings with the league's other 29 general managers to talk with the Free Press about his own team as well as the game-shaping discussions going on in Florida.
"I don't think you can ever shut it off. I can't get back for the game on Wednesday but I structured my flight so I'll have a layover in Chicago and I can watch it," said Cheveldayoff. "It is difficult. We knew this was going to be a tough stretch. We're getting some rest but other teams are catching up to us in terms of games played. One of the things that always concerned us in the standings was the games in hand other teams had. You can't do anything about it but win your own games. Certainly we didn't help our cause the last two games but we talked about it after the game in Calgary before we left. We have to put those games behind us and we have to focus on what it's going to take to win the next game."
Looking at the schedule is a dangerous trap. The Jets need to live in the moment now more than ever.
"When we won a whole bunch of games in a row, everybody got real high and now that we've lost a couple, you can't think that the mountain is going to be too high to climb," he said. "You really have to break it down. Maybe there is some magic number but I don't know what the wins and losses of other teams are going to be. Everybody has gone from saying it would take 94 points to 88 points."
The Jets have 21 wins at home but just 11 on the road and that more than anything is to blame for their precarious playoff situation.
"It's a difficult thing. We've talked about it in a lot of different ways and I don't understand it yet," Cheveldayoff said about the road woes. "The players' mindset, we enjoy playing at the MTS Centre, we have a lot of confidence and why we can't translate that on a consistent basis on the road?"
Cheveldayoff has a quiet demeanour and understands the hierarchy in place at these meetings. But he's intelligent and has paid his dues in hockey. He may do a lot of listening, but the NHL would be wise to take notice when he does speak up.
"This is a very large responsibility. When I received the agenda and the topics for these meetings I discussed them with Zinger (Jets assistant GM Craig Heisinger) and Mark Chipman. We're not only shaping our game, we're shaping our franchise. I don't have anything on the agenda here. I've had some discussions with people that do have some things on the agenda. A lot of the things we're talking about here revolve around player safety and you have to be passionate about that. You can't be passive and just sit back," said Cheveldayoff, who was an elite junior before having his pro playing career cut short due to injury.
The NHL uses these meetings to learn what its leaders think of the game on the ice and find ways to improve the product.
"It's good in the sense that you hear other opinions when they can be open and candid. There's no trying to gain an advantage over anybody. It's all about the greater good of the game. The crux of the conversation here has been player safety and it's a big issue with us. We want to make sure the game is in the right place for the players for their long-term safety and for fans to be able to see the best players all the time," he said. "I like the game right now. I like the speed of the game. I like the intensity. I like the fact it gets emotional at times. As we get towards the playoffs and hopefully in the playoffs you're going to see that passion and speed come to the forefront."
Cheveldayoff says he's seeing a change in the way players approach the physical aspect of the game.
"We talked about player discipline and where we're at with standards. We saw some videos with explanations of why calls were made and why calls weren't made. Trying to take the grey areas out of the game with respect to supplemental discipline," said Cheveldayoff, referring to meetings with NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan. "I think he's done a really good job and I think players are beginning to understand."
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