Winning the Winnipeg way got its start in Chicago

Making Jets the 'Blackhawks of the North' has always been the plan

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The team had moved to Winnipeg, but the plan from Day 1 back in 2011 was for Jets 2.0 to do things — on and off the ice — in the "Chicago Way."

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/11/2016 (2206 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The team had moved to Winnipeg, but the plan from Day 1 back in 2011 was for Jets 2.0 to do things — on and off the ice — in the “Chicago Way.”

From the hiring of former Blackhawks assistant general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff as the Jets first GM to the appointment of a former Blackhawks player in Andrew Ladd as the team’s first captain, the hope was that the same formula that just a year earlier had won Chicago its first Stanley Cup in 49 years could be imported to “The Chicago of the North.”

It was a prescient decision: the Hawks would go on to win two more Stanley Cups in 2013 and 2015 and what the Jets figured out back in 2011 — those guys in Chicago are on to something — is now widely recognized across the NHL as the blueprint to build a lasting contender: hang on to your draft picks and choose carefully; build — and spend — up the middle on a core of centres, defencemen and goaltenders; be wary the free agent, but always be on the lookout for a cost-effective role player; go all-in when you’re finally close.

John Woods / The Canadian Press Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien attempts to get past Chicago Blackhawks' Brian Campbell Tuesday at the MTS Centre.

There’s nothing flashy about it. And it is a plan that requires a lot of patience. While it now seems like the Hawks have been good forever, it’s worth remembering that the juggernaut that pulled into MTS Centre Tuesday night was a very long time in coming.

Consider the Chicago core: defenceman Duncan Keith was drafted back in 2002, while defenceman Brent Seabrook and goaltender Corey Crawford were drafted the following year. Centre Jonathan Toews was taken third overall in 2006, while sniper Patrick Kane was drafted first overall in 2007.

All of which is to say the Blackhawks, like Rome, were built in something more than a day.

And that should come as heartening news to Winnipeg hockey fans, suggesting as it does that the Jets — for all their ups and downs through the first five seasons in Winnipeg — are actually right on schedule right now as this nascent team shows the first real signs of being able to compete with hockey’s biggest boys.

A total of 14 players on the Jets 23-man roster right now were acquired via the draft, including the defacto No. 1 netminder Connor Hellebuyck, a top pairing defenceman in Josh Morrissey and the entire top line of Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine.

It’s taken some long winter nights to get to this point, but now that it’s finally starting to come together, there have been flashes this season that suggest this plan is now rolling in a whole new gear.

Take Tuesday night’s remarkable 4-0 Jets win over Chicago, a dismantling of a very good and — until they hit Winnipeg — red-hot Blackhawks team.

Morrissey opened the scoring for the Jets, making him the fourth Jets player this season to score his first NHL goal. After trusty old Chris Thorburn made it 2-0 for the Jets in the third period, Laine provided some further insurance, scoring his league-leading 12th of the season, followed by Nic Petan with his first of the season.

Throw in a 27-save shutout performance by Hellebuyck and what you had Tuesday night was the Jets blueprint in all its glory, humbling the very team they stole it from.

It might have started out as the Chicago Way, in other words, but it’s got a defiantly Portage and Main windy twist on it nowadays.

Chevy’s still at the controls upstairs, but Ladd has now come and gone and the dressing room these days is under the control of Blake Wheeler, who told me Tuesday the Blackhawks influence on this Jets team has moved out of the room and onto the ice.

“I think this year, maybe a little bit more than others, our philosophy is just to get on the puck as much as possible all over the ice,” said Wheeler. “And that’s what their good players do — Jonathan Toews gets a lot of credit for his 200-foot game. He’s on the puck all the time.

“They’ve got guys like that and you look at the guys we’ve brought in, we’re like that as well. It makes us tough to play against.”

Jets head coach Paul Maurice says the nucleus the Blackhawks assembled through the draft and which carried them to three Stanley Cups in six years is coming together before our eyes in Winnipeg.

“We’re in that process right now of assembling the core and I think identifying the core of guys,” said Maurice. “And then you will protect that core and have movement in and out on the periphery. I think that was Chicago — and probably a lot of the other teams.”

Like every championship team, the Blackhawks gave rings to their players and front office personnel after that historic Stanley Cup win in 2010.

Like everyone else with that club, Cheveldayoff got one of those rings. But he also got something else that year that was unique to the Hawks — Chicago also gave out inscribed championship watches, something their players and staff could actually wear on a daily basis unlike those gaudy championship rings.

It was a unique touch, another thing that was the “Chicago Way.”

Chevy wears that watch every day. It marks time, while also marking a moment.

And it also ticks toward a day when maybe, just maybe, the Winnipeg Way will have its own long-awaited moment.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

History

Updated on Wednesday, November 16, 2016 7:24 AM CST: Edited

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