It will work in Winnipeg: Chipman and Co. set to contend for a long time
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/04/2015 (2965 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
ANAHEIM, Calif. — It’s one thing for zealots wearing white from head to toe to pine for the playoffs and beyond. It’s another thing altogether for the man footing the bills to admit internal expectations have now been raised as well as the ability to pay for them.
For an organization that has repeatedly talked of patience and following a plan, Jets chairman Mark Chipman’s exclusive remarks to the Free Press on Thursday morning were more than just a little revealing.
How far the Jets go this playoff season is difficult to predict. It’s their first time in the Stanley Cup tournament, and there are many unknowns. But it’s fairly evident this team is on the cusp of a several-year run as a post-season qualifier.
GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and his management group have amassed a quality group of young players at both the NHL and prospect levels. The Jets are roundly considered to have the best prospect pool of any team in the NHL, and they’ve now qualified for the post-season with one of the NHL’s youngest rosters.
Cheveldayoff has done exactly what he said he would do. He drafted and developed, but for Jets fans the next question is can he retain what he’s built?
Chipman was standing just outside his team’s dressing room in a casual blazer over a Jets golf shirt a handful of hours prior to his team’s first foray into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The car dealer’s son-turned sports and entertainment operator remains a pivotal piece in the Jets management puzzle as he oversees the business. And the Jets are a business.
Not a billionaire’s plaything where the bottom line doesn’t matter. Cheveldayoff has a budget to work with, and it’s predicated on the revenue the business generates.
The Jets spent a little less than $7 million under the cap this season, but with a number of players heading toward unrestricted free agency and a crop of young players soon to be looking for big raises, fans in Winnipeg have grown restless about their team’s ability to keep its best players.
The previous Jets franchise was unable to afford elite players when they hit their peak, but Chipman says that won’t happen with his team. Jacob Trouba isn’t going to prove too expensive for the market that developed him as a hockey player.
“We can manage being a cap team, and in fairness to the prior NHL team in Winnipeg, they didn’t have a cap, they didn’t have revenue sharing, they had a wide-open marketplace that was not manageable, and the economics of the league and the economics of our community were going in different directions at that time,” said Chipman. “So certainly it was no fault of the previous Winnipeg Jets that they couldn’t — and those names were Alexei Zhamnov and Teemu Selanne and Keith Tkachuk — and as I recall they weren’t able to hold on to all of them. I don’t see that being an issue for us at all.”
Cheveldayoff was part of a regime in Chicago that saw the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in the early summer of 2010 and then immediately begin trading away young players in line for new contracts such as Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd to be compliant with the salary cap.
A major component of draft-and-develop is making sure there are prospects in the system ready to come on stream when a roster grows top-heavy with players nearing UFA status. There’s only so much money to go around.
Chipman says his team is ready for such an eventuality. They have youth in the pipe. He also discounts the notion that making the playoffs will put his team on the path to attracting free agents. More importantly, it will aid in keeping what the Jets already have in house.
“First of all I don’t think we’re a league of attracting free agents anymore, I think that’s a thing of the past. I mean, there’s certainly a component of that for every team every summer. But if you look carefully at what’s happened since this new agreement’s been in place and how it’s actually operated, I think most teams are building their teams, and there isn’t that rush to free agency in the summer,” said Chipman.
“So that’s never been really a concern or a hyper-focus of ours. I think my assessment is that players want to be where they have a chance to win hockey games, because they’re very competitive by nature and they’re very smart and their representatives are smart, and they’re able to assess where their chances of having success are. And I think we’re a team amongst many that has, you know, evidence the fact that we’re in the playoffs, we have a chance now and in the years to come to have success.”
Chipman said the organization is still on a path to entrenchment, putting itself in a financial position where it can thrive and enjoy long-term sustainability despite being the league’s smallest marketplace, and will have the cash to become a cap team when required.
For players such as Ladd and Byfuglien, who will be eligible for unrestricted free agency in July of 2016, some obstacles to remaining in Winnipeg are beginning to fall by the wayside.
Conceivably, should Cheveldayoff deem it prudent, the money will be there to fulfil their contractual needs. The opportunity to win has now arrived as well. Leaving could become a decision to regret. Having slogged through the hard times, departing just as the fun starts would have its obvious downsides.
A bright future was once feared in Winnipeg and considered unaffordable. It was like getting accepted to an Ivy League school and then not being able to pay the tuition. Wasted promise.
The statement has been made in this space that Chipman would never forsake the viability of his franchise for a quick and ill-fated run at the roses. He’d rather operate a financially stable franchise unable to contend rather than put Winnipeg’s future in the NHL at risk.
This argument, however, has become specious. The Jets will be able to afford the chase for a championship and keep the banks happy.
They said it wouldn’t work in Winnipeg. Not financially and not from a competitive standpoint. They didn’t know what they were talking about.