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For first time, Jets GM Cheveldayoff is poised to put stamp on the franchise

Posted: 05/2/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 05/2/2013 6:25 AM | Updates

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They call it a 'tell' in poker. It's a tip -- usually coming via a physical reaction, a habit or behaviour -- that can help a player judge what kind of hand an opponent might have, good or bad.

We bring this up after spending a half hour listening to Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff in his annual post-season state-of-the-franchise media address on Wednesday that touched on a lot of subjects, but was thin on detail.

And, of course, that's exactly as the Jets boss wants it. You see, if dealing with the media is akin to game of poker, then we can freely admit that Cheveldayoff is killing it with a ginormous stack of chips piled up in front of him.

A couple of examples:

-- When asked about the status of coach Claude Noel, who is entering the final year of his contract: "Claude Noel is the head coach of the Winnipeg Jets. He's under contract."

And then, without taking a breath, he added:

"I know you're going to ask me about an extension. There's processes that have to go through, there's different things you discuss, you talk about, you meet as a group, as a staff. We met with the coaches the other day and we talked about a lot of the things I'm talking about here: 'How do you get better? What are you going to do? What's your plan?' "

-- When discussing the team's nine restricted free agents, a list that includes Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian, Alex Burmistrov, Paul Postma, Zach Redmond, Anthony Peluso, Eric Tangradi and Arturs Kulda, Cheveldayoff said they are "very much priorities.

"There's lots of work that needs to be done there. There's lots of work that has started behind the scenes. Are we negotiating with anyone yet? No. We haven't started, but those are things that sitting here May 1, there's a lot of work ahead."

And so it went, the whole session left most with a strange sensation, kind of like leaving an all-you-can-eat buffet still sporting hunger pains.

But through it all there were a couple of tells that did hint at what this summer might be like for the Jets GM.

You could sense his frustration after another season of inconsistent hockey that has left the franchise with a modest on-paper improvement but still without a playoff berth.

"The hard part for me is knowing how close we were," said Cheveldayoff. "You see teams in the playoffs right now with 25-26 wins and in the middle of the pack in the playoffs. Just to sit back and think maybe there was a game or two where you could have got a point or swayed a point the other way and you're sitting there with 26 wins."

And then there was this answer to a question about fans who want change and how hard it is to ask for patience in a win-right-stinking-now environment:

"There's not a moment that goes by that I don't think about that," said Cheveldayoff. "There's not a day for, whatever reason it is, that we don't think about how we're going to get this team better and what can we do different. Rest assured that whenever we feel there's an opportunity in front of us that can help us, we're going to do it. But to try and manufacture something, this sport doesn't happen that way."

All of this, in a roundabout way, brings us to this conclusion: For the first time since he was named GM, Cheveldayoff has a real opportunity to put his stamp on the franchise. Let's face it, of the list of nine unrestricted free agents -- Nik Antropov, Kyle Wellwood, Mike Santorelli, Antti Miettinen, Aaron Gagnon, Ron Hainsey, Grant Clitsome, Derek Meech and Al Montoya -- none would be labelled franchise cornerstones.

He won't be handcuffed by cumbersome contracts from a previous regime or a declining salary cap that may have teams dumping talent. He's got his own draft picks like Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Adam Lowry and Zach Yuen ready to turn pro, either here or in St. John's.

More than anything, Cheveldayoff understands his team needs more talent and more depth developing in Newfoundland. And you get the sense -- because he's certainly not dropping many hints -- that he likes the core he has, but now has the chance to surround it with their own players, not castoffs from other clubs or remnants of the past bosses.

A big summer? Yeah, you could say that.

"We've got to get better," Cheveldayoff said. "We've got to find ways, whether it's finding other free agents that fit the mould or continuing the slow process of drafting and developing our young players.

"We're two years into my tenure as general manager. Hopefully now we'll start seeing some of the fruits of our labour with respect to drafting. Even still, the process of drafting a player two years ago doesn't mean they step right into the National Hockey League."

That's a tell and a cover-up all in one answer. The real proof will come soon enough in the next few months and the moment Cheveldayoff starts laying some cards on the table.

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

lowry earns WHL player-of-the-year honours d6

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 2, 2013 D1

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Updated on Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 6:25 AM CDT: adds video and fact box, changes headline, replaces photo

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