‘We still need to find results’ Cheveldayoff addresses state of struggling Jets, affirms faith in team he assembled

After a disastrous few weeks that has put the Winnipeg Jets playoff hopes in serious jeopardy, it made sense that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff waited until after an impressive win to finally field questions about what might be ailing his club.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/02/2022 (185 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After a disastrous few weeks that has put the Winnipeg Jets playoff hopes in serious jeopardy, it made sense that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff waited until after an impressive win to finally field questions about what might be ailing his club.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff spoke to the media at the Canada Life Centre in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

But as well as the Jets played Tuesday night, battling to a 2-0 win over the visiting Minnesota Wild in what might have been their best effort of the year, what’s tougher to grasp is just how few and far between the victories have come through the first half of a 2021-22 NHL season filled with heady expectations.

And it’s especially puzzling given the roster Cheveldayoff assembled over the summer, a stretch that saw him spend millions of dollars to address glaring needs up and down the lineup, leaving the team with little money left over on the US$81.5-millon salary cap.

“When you’re the general manager, it is always on your shoulders,” Cheveldayoff said when asked how responsible he should feel for the current state of the Jets. “You feel responsible for all aspects of the organization, whether it’s the on-ice product here, the on-ice product with the Moose, the level of prospects in your system, the lack of draft picks that you’ve had over the last few years to try and chase it down.”

Winnipeg Jets’ Mark Scheifele (55) celebrates his goal against the Minnesota Wild with Kyle Connor (81) during the first period of NHL action in Winnipeg on Tuesday February 8, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade

Considered among a small list of contenders to win the Stanley Cup prior to the start of the season, the Jets have instead struggled to keep their heads above water through 43 games.

Winnipeg is 19-17-7, good enough for sixth place in the Central Division, ahead of only the lowly Chicago Blackhawks (16-23-7) and Arizona Coyotes (11-31-4). They are seven points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, with five teams ahead of them fighting for the second wild-card spot.

Special teams have also left much to be desired. For as gifted as the Jets are offensively, having the 14th ranked power-play is hardly an accomplishment. With the upgrades on defence and arguably the game’s best goalie in Connor Hellebuyck, to be 28th on the penalty kill is downright embarrassing.

“When you’re the general manager, it is always on your shoulders.”
– Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff

“It’s been a very unique season. Obviously, lots has transpired in a short period of time,” Cheveldayoff said. “When you sit back and look at it, all the different things that the group has had to endure, it’s been an emotional season. It’s had its ups, it’s had its downs.”

He added: “For us, the main focus has to be the stretch run, this next part of it. We’ve had a lot of games postponed and pushed into this second part here and we need to take advantage of that opportunity moving forward.”

The Jets have 39 games remaining on the season, and with seven of those postponed from earlier in the year, it leaves them with little to no time for practice. In fact, interim head coach Dave Lowry, following Wednesday’s optional practice, confirmed that Thursday’s workout “will probably be our last full team practice outside of morning skates.”

Under Lowry, the Jets are 6-7-2. They’ve played some impressive games with him at the helm, including wins against the Wild, St. Louis Blues and Vegas Golden Knights.

CP
The Winnipeg Jets record is 6-7-2 under interim head coach Dave Lowry. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

But the Jets have been arguably even more inconsistent than when Paul Maurice was behind the bench, considering they’ve yet to put a win streak together that’s greater than three games since his departure in mid-December. And before the victory against the Wild, the Jets had lost seven of their previous eight games.

That lack of consistency has many questioning whether there’s enough buy-in from the players to play the fast-and-hard-to-play-against style Lowry has been preaching the last seven weeks. Cheveldayoff disagreed with the notion, but nonetheless noted an urgency to improve.

“AT the end of the day, we still need to find results here,” Cheveldayoff said. “From that aspect of things, we need to find a way to win on a consistent basis. That’s going to be playing a team game no matter who is in the lineup. You’d like to see some consistency; you’d like to see some chemistry that can develop.”

“… we need to find a way to win on a consistent basis. That’s going to be playing a team game no matter who is in the lineup. You’d like to see some consistency; you’d like to see some chemistry that can develop.”
– Kevin Cheveldayoff

The Jets GM acknowledged throughout his nearly 30-minute chat the many obstacles the Jets have had to face this year. While the coaching change brought on its own unique set of challenges, Winnipeg has also had to contend with several injuries and multiple COVID-19 outbreaks.

But these excuses hold little water when compared to the rest of the league, all of which have had to endure similar hurdles. There’s also been some good with the bad; without facing a roster crunch, there’s little chance the Jets witness the emergence of young players such as forward Cole Perfetti and defenceman Ville Heinola.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files
Jets No. 1 Mark Scheifele has been suspended four games by the NHL.

As much as the Jets need everyone to give more if they hope to make the post-season, that’s especially true of their veterans. There’s been a specific spotlight on centre Mark Scheifele, who has struggled in the defensive zone and, at times, has appeared disinterested in games.

Cheveldayoff has come to know Scheifele well over the years. He acquired him with the Jets first official draft pick since moving from Atlanta, selecting Scheifele with the seventh overall pick in 2011.

“I’ve never questioned his commitment to the organization, now or certainly in the future, from the day he signed his contract with us,” Cheveldayoff said about his No. 1 centre. “There’s a strong work ethic in that room, there’s a strong work ethic amongst the players like Scheifele. And it’s just a matter of finding that consistency with our group.”

Whatever the issues are plaguing the Jets this season, the runway for a significant turnaround isn’t getting any longer.

“I’ve never questioned his (Scheifele’s) commitment to the organization, now or certainly in the future, from the day he signed his contract with us.”
– Kevin Cheveldayoff

Many NHL pundits are predicting that to make the playoffs in the West it will require a team reach 95 points. For the Jets, who have 45 points right now, that means an extra 50 points or 25 wins in their next 39 games.

“The only people that can really effectuate things are the players,” Cheveldayoff said. “The coaches, certainly you want the coaches to put the right kind of game plan, the right kind of thoughts into things.

“But it’s the players that are the ones that go out there and do it, and ultimately that’s why I still feel confident in this group. There’s a good group of players there that can find a way to get together and overcome yet another challenge that this group has had to face.”

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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Updated on Wednesday, February 9, 2022 9:33 PM CST: Corrects spelling of Cheveldayoff

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