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Maurice signing another good step

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Kevin Cheveldayoff, if one is to listen to the howling of the Twitter-verse and the demands of fans who seethe by way of their email accounts, should abandon his plan and throw caution to the wind right bloody now.

Big-name free agent signings, player-for-player trades. Make it happen and make it happen now.

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Cheveldayoff, say the screamers, is afraid of risk and won't make the bold moves required to move his franchise forward.

It all sounds good on paper or at the bar or on a blog or Twitter but even if Cheveldayoff could make such moves (and that's a very big if) it's not the mandate set down to him by ownership.

Draft and develop was the organizational strategy from Day 1 with these Winnipeg Jets and there has been no wavering. Three seasons outside of the playoffs hasn't been fun for Cheveldayoff, the players and ownership but as he said Wednesday, "you can't lose sight of the long-term plan as a result of disappointments along the way."

The long-term plan has shown clear evidence of improvement from top to bottom, if not a playoff berth. The Jets are much deeper as an organization today than when Cheveldayoff took the reigns.

The first-time NHL GM was handed an inferior NHL roster and a farm system not only bereft of prospects but also stuck in a horrific drought.

Three years later and the list of futures from Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba with the big club to Adam Lowry, Nic Petan, Josh Morrissey, Eric Comrie and Connor Hellebuyck all in the system is vastly superior to what the Thrashers had in the pipe.

Wednesday's announcement of Paul Maurice as the head coach with a four-year contract is another step in the right direction. Claude Noel, as much as I consider him to be a strong hockey coach, didn't fit this group of players and their unique demands to the same extent as Maurice. Maurice finished with an 18-12-5 mark. If he can extrapolate that over a full season, he'll be a success.

Cheveldayoff has been saying most of what he said again Wednesday since he took this position and owner Mark Chipman has continually supported his man with both words and actions, such as the five-year extension he granted Cheveldayoff last summer.

Cheveldayoff isn't perfect. The Devin Setoguchi trade was a bust and the jury is still out on goalie Ondrej Pavelec. Staleness might also be settling into his core as they reach their prime and having very little playoff experience as a whole.

A trade to bolster his forward group this summer is a possibility, he said, and while he labelled Pavelec as his No. 1 for next season, there's no question he'll have to look at trades and free agency options in the crease.

Cheveldayoff was tapped by Chipman to be GM of the Jets for moments such as this when all around would bark for change while the owner would prefer deliberation.

Chipman doesn't pander and he won't march to the orders of the media or the masses.

And he doesn't want his No. 1 to soften when the winds pick up.

Chipman studied the NHL for a number of years before buying a franchise and he formulated an economic strategy he believed would, to borrow his phrase, "entrench," the team in this community for years. It's based on long-term, sustainable competitiveness and can't be achieved overnight.

Success for an NHL franchise in this city, most of you will remember, hasn't always been a guarantee. Chipman doesn't like to fail and spending the money of his family and that of David Thomson's is a venture he takes seriously.

This GM was handpicked for the vagaries of this market. Big-name free agents haven't shown an inclination to move here. The Jets are a budget team and most years won't spend to the cap. These are the realities Cheveldayoff must operate within.

Cheveldayoff is in fact taking the biggest risk of his career by sticking to his plan. This is his chance to make his mark and he's pinning his reputation on patience.

Draft and develop isn't a half-measure approach. Cheveldayoff had his fingers singed on the Setoguchi deal, swapping a second-round pick for a player he thought would make his team better immediately.

If anything, this trade will stand to remind the GM of what he's trying to do and increase his level of discipline.

Winnipeggers have suffered through three losing seasons to get to this point. Abandoning the plan now would be a slap in the face.

Cheveldayoff's true constituents are the people that buy tickets to Jets games and they recently voiced their support by re-upping their contracts at near perfect rate of 96 per cent. If your stance is Cheveldayoff should listen to the fans, well, they spoke. With their wallets.

Chipman gave Cheveldayoff the hammer. Ticket buyers have told him to keep using it. He's got his orders.

March on, Chevy. To the beat of your plan.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 17, 2014 D1

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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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