Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Chevy won't be pushed off his long-term game plan

Like a rock

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Right about now Art Rooney would tell Chuck Noll to stay the course. Right about now Sam Pollock would be locking his first-round picks in a vault until late June.

Right about now Harold Ballard would be firing a young Roger Neilson or trading blue-chip Lanny McDonald. Change for the sake of change.

Which kind of organization do you want? One with a bedrock foundation like the Pittsburgh Steelers and Montreal Canadiens of old? Or a foolishly fickle operation with no blueprint or direction?

Winnipeg is the smallest market in the NHL and the stewards of its franchise can never lose sight of that status. There is a way to build success, but it will take time and discipline.

The Jets are 5-8-2 and losers of three straight and with each passing day look more and more like a team that won't make the post-season for the third straight year since moving north from Atlanta.

 

This shouldn't be a surprise. From Day 1 this has been about taking sure steps, not risky leaps. Missing the playoffs once again would be a disappointment, but not an indictment. Unrealistic expectations can't be allowed to steer the ship.

Stubborn resolve is what's called for at this moment, rather than rash leaps into the unknown.

Now is when we find out what Mark Chipman and David Thomson are all about. And we find out how stiff Kevin Cheveldayoff and Craig Heisinger and Claude Noel can be in an assault from all corners. The rest of the NHL is waiting for them to flinch and then pick clean the carcass.

Panic is easy. You see it all the time. But the man or woman standing still and measuring the situation while all around them are losing their minds is the rare one. They're also the people you want handling your stock portfolio, operating on your heart, or, as it is in this case, running your hockey team.

What should the Winnipeg Jets do right now? Nothing. Absolutely nothing except flip their collars up against the wind and rain. Now is the time to hunker down and wait out the storm.

Trade now? From a position of weakness? That's what loser organizations do. Organizations destined to rot for decades and treat the odd season of mediocrity as something to celebrate.

Want your Jets to reach the playoffs this year? Cheveldayoff can likely make it happen. But at a cost that will rob this franchise of any chance for sustained success.

By success, I don't mean reaching the post-season and then getting drummed out in four straight. I'm talking about winning three rounds, or the near unthinkable prize that comes after four playoff rounds.

Cheveldayoff didn't leave the Chicago Blackhawks to host a couple of playoff games. He came to Winnipeg to build something that makes the rest of the hockey world take notice. Something that can't be erected overnight.

It's been two years, you say, And a third is burning before our very eyes.

Two years? Three years? What business gets properly judged in such a short time-frame? What career? What marriage? What anything in life?

Many are screaming for change right now. Fire the coach. To what end? Clipping Claude Noel would be a temporary distraction. It wouldn't change the deep-rooted issues from which this club suffers.

 

Will a new coach bring blue-line depth? Will he upgrade the quality of players at centre ice? Will he conjure up elite goaltending? Nope.

"Trade for a first-line centre" we hear on the call-in shows and read on the message boards. Find me a legitimate first-line centre available on the market and I'll be glad to listen. But it's a mirage, people. No one trades those players. They draft them and then fight like hell to keep them.

Are there trades that can help the Jets? Maybe. Cheveldayoff could trade some of his roster players tomorrow. But the highest value he could get in return would be in draft picks.

Accelerating the process is near impossible. Some want it both ways. They don't want the Jets to finish near the bottom of the NHL where teams get picks for players like Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby. But they still want that quality of player on their team, as if by magic.

Cheveldayoff has had three first-round picks. He's selected Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey. Trouba appears to be a home run. Scheifele is struggling while playing a man's game in a boy's body and Morrissey is still in junior.

The development of these players and the others Cheveldayoff has selected will tell the tale of this franchise. They, and the core players he's signed long-term, will mix together to create his team.

Jumping off the cliff right now would put asunder the work Cheveldayoff has done to date. It would be akin to changing crops in midseason before garnering a single harvest.

Patience isn't the fan's job. But it is a GM's most critical tool.

Cheveldayoff will stay the course. He won't waver. All the screaming in the world won't change his plan or his mind. Just watch him.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 4, 2013 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 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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