July 20, 2018

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Cheveldayoff knows Vegas will be tough test

Jets GM proud of steps team has taken this season

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Jets head coach Paul Maurice (left) and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff greet the press at Friday’s news conference. </p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Jets head coach Paul Maurice (left) and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff greet the press at Friday’s news conference.

Kevin Cheveldayoff is justifiably proud of the giant steps his Jets have taken in 2017-18.

The Winnipeg GM has also been impressed with what has been built in Vegas, where the Golden Knights have challenged many preconceived notions about expansion teams. Expansion teams are historically a bad bunch — but not these Knights, who won a Pacific Division title in their inaugural season and will challenge Winnipeg in the NHL’s Western Conference final.

“You could tell right away with the selections that they made (in the expansion draft) that they had a plan in mind, and that plan was going to be centred around speed and the way the game is played today,” Cheveldayoff said Friday on the eve of tonight’s Game 1 at Bell MTS Place. “It had balance throughout the different positions. They did a fantastic job of obviously going through the expansion process. Certainly, very, very quickly you could tell that team came together, gelled together and was very, very well coached and that there was a genuine bond with those guys.

“Full marks, they’ve earned everything they’ve gotten. I think it’s beyond the thought process of them being an expansion team. All those players there are good players. All the players there are in a better situation than in their prior teams as far as ice time, and a lot of them have blossomed.”

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Kevin Cheveldayoff is justifiably proud of the giant steps his Jets have taken in 2017-18.

The Winnipeg GM has also been impressed with what has been built in Vegas, where the Golden Knights have challenged many preconceived notions about expansion teams. Expansion teams are historically a bad bunch — but not these Knights, who won a Pacific Division title in their inaugural season and will challenge Winnipeg in the NHL’s Western Conference final.

"You could tell right away with the selections that they made (in the expansion draft) that they had a plan in mind, and that plan was going to be centred around speed and the way the game is played today," Cheveldayoff said Friday on the eve of tonight’s Game 1 at Bell MTS Place. "It had balance throughout the different positions. They did a fantastic job of obviously going through the expansion process. Certainly, very, very quickly you could tell that team came together, gelled together and was very, very well coached and that there was a genuine bond with those guys.

"Full marks, they’ve earned everything they’ve gotten. I think it’s beyond the thought process of them being an expansion team. All those players there are good players. All the players there are in a better situation than in their prior teams as far as ice time, and a lot of them have blossomed."

The Jets GM and Vegas assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon have a history that goes way back to when Cheveldayoff was a star defenceman on the Brandon Wheat Kings during the late ’80s. McCrimmon was first an assistant coach with Brandon and became GM of the club before Cheveldayoff graduated to the pro ranks.

Friendship will be put off until the end of this series.

"We exchanged text messages. I texted him after they clinched, he texted me yesterday and then we both agreed to burn each other’s numbers after that," Cheveldayoff joked. "You know what? The job that George (GM McPhee) and Kelly have done in building that team is exemplary. They’re good hockey people. I’m excited for what he’s accomplished. For us, the focus is on the here and the now. Real proud of our group and the guys on the ice, the guys in the dressing room, the coaching staff. It’s one of those things, we’re just going to focus on that."

The Winnipeg-Vegas rivalry also has an off-ice edge.

At the league’s Feb. 23 trade deadline, the Golden Knights reportedly thwarted Winnipeg’s attempt to acquire veteran centre Derick Brassard with a complex three-team deal also involving the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins.

The two-time defending champion Penguins landed Brassard and forward prospects Vincent Dunn and Tobias Lindberg in the swap, while the Knights got forward Ryan Reaves, a fourth-round draft pick in 2018 and retained 40 per cent of Brassard’s salary. Ottawa, meanwhile, received goaltender Filip Gustavsson, defenceman Ian Cole, a first-round pick this June and a third-rounder in 2019.

Cheveldayoff went to Plan B, acquiring centre Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues, instead.

"I don’t really have any comments on that," Cheveldayoff said of the Brassard deal. "I don’t know much about the stories that go around. I know what happens within our group. The trade deadline is a fast and furious period of time. We talked about our group, that we were only going to make a trade if we felt that the trade was going to upgrade us or help us. And it had to have the right fit. And Paul Stastny was the right fit.

"If we weren’t able to acquire him, we may not have made any moves at the forward position."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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