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This article was published 25/4/2015 (2348 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There was a major change of gears for Kevin Cheveldayoff’s post-season press conference, Season 4.
No longer was the Winnipeg Jets GM being probed about his appetite for change and could he make it happen yesterday?
After the Jets reached 99 regular-season points and qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since the 2011 relocation, Cheveldayoff made it pretty clear on Friday his priority is trying to keep as much of his team together as is feasible.
Contracts are always expiring and GMs always have at least one eye on the NHL’s salary cap ($69 million, might stay flat or go down slightly next year) but Cheveldayoff was more definitive than he often is when it comes to talk of the future. And more than once on Friday.
"I like the group," Cheveldayoff said. "I like the core. I like some of the prospects of the youth that’s coming.
"We certainly still need to draft well, to develop well, but we’re getting an opportunity now to try to keep some guys together. We can maybe have some of the young guys that have to come in and really push someone out of a job as opposed to trying to force a young guy into a situation or force ourselves to look outside of the organization to try to get other people."
Immediately in front of him, Cheveldayoff has nine unrestricted free agents as of July 1 (Drew Stafford, Michael Frolik, Lee Stempniak, Jim Slater, Jiri Tlusty, Adam Pardy, Matt Halischuk, T.J. Galiardi, Eric O’Dell) and four restricted free agents (Anthony Peluso, Ben Chiarot, Paul Postma, Keaton Ellerby).
Likely as important, two of the team’s leaders, captain Andrew Ladd and defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, have contracts that run through the end of 2015-16 and the window to start negotiating extensions for them opens July 1.
"Particularly in those guys’ situation, they’re a big part of our team, big part of our leadership group," the GM said.
"They’ve been part of this group since it moved here to Winnipeg and I would hope and I would do my best to continue to have them as part of our team for many years to come."
That will be good news for Ladd’s camp, though the devil will always be in the details. The captain didn’t hold back Friday in his optimism for the future here.
"I like what’s going on here and the process that’s gone on and the steps that have been made," Ladd said. "I’m excited to be a part of it and want to be a part of it and I’m excited for the years to come here. I think we can do some good things."
He said he would be willing to start talking about an extension this summer.
"I would," he said. "Obviously, I’d have to talk to my family about it, but we enjoy it here. Hockey-wise, we see the excitement around the team and what’s gone on here and now more than ever you want be a part of it."
Cheveldayoff had a little more than $6 million of cap space that went unused in 2014-15, so he’ll have some room to manoeuvre for next season at least.
Beyond that, there are other variables to be mindful of.
"You can’t jump out and over-extend yourself because every decision you make from a financial standpoint affects you for years and years, positively and negatively," he said.
"You have to really make sure the numbers you do give out fit. Because there’s not a lot of mechanisms to be able to have a correction if they don’t fit properly."
All that said, the Jets organization is starting to take shape the way he envisioned it, where good drafting and development leads to young players pushing for jobs, which leads to improvement and a surplus of assets, which can help the GM improve the team via deals.
"We’re on the way into that process," he said. "Now, it doesn’t guarantee you’re going to be in the playoffs every year."
Friday, Stafford and Stempniak expressed a near-eagerness to return to the Jets. Frolik has played his cards a little closer to the vest, but said again he likes it here.
The variables will now be tossed around in some serious brainstorming, with head coach Paul Maurice playing a lot of what-if on the lineup whiteboard in his office.
"I’m going to be really, really brutally honest in my assessment of each one of those players, from a positive and a negative point of view and then Kevin has to weigh that, in terms of the resources we have to sign them," Maurice said. "That’s why you don’t have these meetings right now, because you’ve got to get away from the playoff series."
A week or two will pass before it begins in earnest, but July 1 isn’t that far off.
"We were very fortunate to be able to pick up Matty Perreault from free agency last year, so there are opportunities, but I want to try to do my best to try to take care of the guys at home here first, to see if that can really help us to take the steps beyond the ones we took this year," Cheveldayoff said.