Record: 52 – 20 – 10
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/10/2016 (615 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was the fall of 1986, and Kevin Cheveldayoff represented much of what hockey fans in Brandon had to look forward to.
Although he played for one of the worst teams in major-junior hockey, the 16-year-old Wheat Kings defenceman from Blaine Lake, Sask., had promise and an unbridled enthusiasm for what he was doing.
He loved the rugged WHL, was fiercely protective of his teammates and fought often to protect them. He displayed a cheerfulness and willingness to talk with the media — becoming a go-to person for reporters during that lost season. He was thoughtful in ways you didn’t always expect from a hockey player.
In an era when junior players often paid little attention to school, Cheveldayoff was an academic star. He went on to be the league’s scholastic player of the year, but also developed his game enough to become a first-round (16th-overall) pick of the New York Islanders in the 1988 NHL Draft.
He was the quintessential stay-at-home defenceman. Tough as nails, he joked about his shortcomings as a skater and playmaker, but his energy and resourcefulness on the ice were impossible to ignore. He seemed assured of a future in the NHL.
That is, until the middle of the 1989-90 season, when Cheveldayoff crashed awkwardly into the boards during a game, tearing the ACL, MCL, LCL ligaments and two-thirds of the PCL ligament in his left knee. The only thing holding the joint together was the patellar tendon.
It was a catastrophic injury. Although he would eventually sign with the Islanders, Cheveldayoff struggled in the aftermath of the injury and never played in the NHL. He toiled for four seasons in the minor leagues before turning to coaching and then, management, climbing the ladder in the minors and NHL.
Twenty-six seasons later, the 46-year-old general manager of the Winnipeg Jets seems as driven as ever.
He’s also being tested like never before in his professional life. Restricted free-agent defenceman Jacob Trouba has asked for a trade and has declared his intention to stay at home in Michigan until his demand is met. Plus, the club recently demoted long-time No. 1 goalie Ondrej Pavelec to the AHL.
If he’s feeling the heat, Cheveldayoff isn’t saying. He also wants nothing to do with a public discussion about Trouba.
"I worry about what goes on with the guys that are here, the coaches that are here," Cheveldayoff said prior to Winnipeg’s regular-season opener Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes. "I worry about getting ready for the draft. I worry about preparing for the (2017 NHL) expansion draft. My job entails a lot of things on a daily basis. It’s all part of the day-to-day operations of a National Hockey League team."
As for the possibility of having Trouba’s situation resolved by the league’s Dec. 1 roster deadline, Cheveldayoff isn’t biting.
"I’m not really going to comment on the Trouba situation," he said. "I’m here to talk about the Winnipeg Jets. I’m here to talk about the game, the people, the players on the ice at this point in time. Anything hypothetical about dates or the what-ifs, it’s hard for me to comment on."
As for the goaltending scenario, Cheveldayoff seems content. Pavelec has taken his $US4.75-million salary to the AHL and a relatively untested Connor Hellebuyck has become the heir apparent in net.
Hellebuyck’s inexperience, the GM suggested, is nothing to get worried about.
"If you want to factor in the world championship experience, factor in the games he played at the National Hockey League level, I’m sure he’s well over 100 pro games... If you want to look at it that way, it’s certainly going to be a work in progress," said Cheveldayoff. "There’s no magic formula. He’s passed all these different tests that have been thrown at him. We’ll give him a chance and a chance to Hutch (netminder Michael Hutchinson) to take the ball and we’ll see where they go with it."
During the 40-minute conversation, here’s what Cheveldayoff had to say on some other topics:
On his conservative management style: "Your style is dictated somewhat by what you have in front of you and what you have to do. Making trades for the sake of making trades never works... and (if you do, you) don’t do it for a long time. For me, it’s all about building within the confines of how we want to build the organization."
On his willingness to spend money: "We signed Shawn Matthias (in the off-season) because we felt (he) fit. We still have ample salary-cap room to do whatever needs to be done in the organization. For us, that’s by design to have that available and we’re prepared to use it. We just have to use it judiciously."
On whether he’s worried about the wear and tear on fab teen NHL freshmen Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor: "It’s always a concern when you have young players. We went through it last year with Nikolaj Ehlers and you’re going to have periods of time where, physically, it’s going to be demanding on them. From an emotional standpoint, mental standpoint. That’s all part of being a rookie and being a young player. Ehlers went through it... If you handle it properly, if you give them the opportunity to grow and excel and they take the opportunities, you’ll see the confidence level grow."
On adding depth to the organization: "I want next year’s training camp to be even tougher than this year’s... because what it means is it solidifies certain spots. When (centre) Mark Scheifele signs an eight-year deal, that spot’s going nowhere."
On the fate of Jack Roslovic, a 19-year-old centre who signed with the Jets after his freshman U.S. college season and has started 2016-17 in the AHL. Roslovic could still end up with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights: "We’ll see how that plays out. We haven’t closed the door (on London). We think he’s going to be a fantastic, skilled hockey player for us."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Updated on Saturday, October 15, 2016 at 8:03 AM CDT: Headline tweaked