Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No quick fixes in the future

Jets' GM Chevy sticks with long-range plan of improving team through development

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It lasted roughly 42 minutes -- 41 minutes and 58 seconds, to be exact -- and nowhere in Kevin Cheveldayoff's season-ending state of the Winnipeg Jets media address was there a sense of defiance or combativeness, resignation or embarrassment.

His bosses did not take out full-page newspaper ads apologizing for the season -- as they did in Toronto this week -- and there were no announcements of sweeping changes to management teams or coaching staffs.

So compared to what has unfolded with the Maple Leafs or in Montreal, or the questions being raised about the hockey departments in Edmonton and Calgary, the Jet GM's confab with the local media was short on drama and intrigue.

And, not surprisingly, that's just how Cheveldayoff and his True North bosses want it.

Yes, it's true this franchise has missed the playoffs for five straight seasons and qualified just once in 11 campaigns in Atlanta, but Year 1 in Winnipeg went pretty much as expected given the sudden upheaval and a new management team. Still, listening to the Jets GM speak Tuesday it was also easy to get the sense that now that the season of upheaval is complete and the honeymoon is over the real work of making their blueprint come to life -- all the while under the microscope that comes with operating in a Canadian market -- is about to get underway.

Asked what his message to the fans might be, especially compared to the drama that played out in Toronto on Tuesday, Cheveldayoff said:

"The fans get an unwavering commitment from me that this is a start of something really good. It's something where we're going to keep moving forward as hard as we can and leave no stone unturned when it comes to improving this team.

"Someone asked me what I felt at the end of the season when we didn't make it (to the playoffs). My feelings are unwavering: There is not a moment in time when I looked back and said the direction of this team is in jeopardy. I look at the group of young guys we have, they're one year older and tremendously more experienced. We're going to have the opportunity to keep on adding. We're not going to mortgage the future by trading away young players for quick fixes. From a fan's perspective I would hope that they would understand that is a true commitment."

Officially, the Jets registered just three more wins and four more points than last year's crew in Atlanta. But the progress Cheveldayoff spoke of Tuesday, he insists, doesn't necessarily translate to the black and white of the NHL standings. He pointed to the growth of the team's young talent corps -- players like Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and Alex Burmistrov -- and a changing of the expectations and approach to winning within the walls of the organization.

"Culture change is an interesting dynamic because you don't just walk in and say, 'Gentlemen, we're changing the culture,'" Cheveldayoff explained. "It has to be demonstrated through different actions and beliefs by the players that it is going in the right direction. That's what changes the culture. Changing the things behind the scenes, changing how you do business, changing what we're all about... those are the things we want to get the players to buy into and believe this organization is about."

That was gist of the subjective part of Cheveldayoff's speech.

But when it came to the meat and potatoes issues -- how to fix a roster that finished closer to last in the Eastern Conference than to a playoff spot -- the Jet GM did preach patience and stressed "there's tremendous room for improvement in many different areas."

"I'd love to get bigger," he added. "From a size perspective there are areas we would like to address, be it short term or in the long term. That is an area we could certainly improve upon."

Cheveldayoff also indicated that building through the draft and not mortgaging the future doesn't have to mean suffering in the short term. He said he will attempt to be a player in free agency if the right pieces are there and that ownership will spend more if the need/opportunity arises.

"True North has never ever wavered from their commitment to me that when we need the money to keep or get the players available to us, the money will be there," he said.

"We'll see how things present themselves. We'll be aggressive. We'll be a team that makes outgoing calls to see if there's opportunities to target different players that we may like in other organizations. These are things that, now being in the job and having the opportunity to move forward with a year's experience with this roster, you can try to do with greater certainty. That doesn't necessarily mean that it will fall into place right away."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

 

Chevy's highlight reel

On what the asking price would be for the team's first-round draft pick:

"It would be extremely high. We're talking about the future of this franchise. My commitment to not mortgaging the future, that will be unwavering. It will be a process that, at times, people may say we need to accelerate. If the right pieces are there to accelerate the process, then we will. If it involves a draft pick or a player, we're not going to be afraid to make that move."

-- On what might be atop his personnel wish list:

"If we had the opportunity to either get more experience and upgrade or get some young talent at forward that would fit into our corps, that would be something that would be very helpful in pushing the process along. There's a tremendous opportunity on defence to improve. But, I want to keep myself very open and flexible. We need to find more depth in the organization, top to bottom."

-- On which move improved the team the most this past season:

"We did some things in the short term to give us an opportunity to compete and Kyle Wellwood was a good signing. A lot of people scratched their heads when we brought him in, wondering why, but he was someone that fit in very well."

-- On what's atop his 'To-Do' list:

Cheveldayoff leaves today for the world under-18 championships in the Czech Republic.

"There's a strong focus on the amateur side of things right now with respect to the draft and getting a chance to see as many of the potential prospects as we possibly can."

 

-- Tait

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 11, 2012 D3

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