July 15, 2020

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Chevy made right move by not moving, but fans expect action-filled summer

Opinion

In a society where we all tend to crave instant gratification and immediate fulfilment, there are likely many Winnipeg Jets fans who aren't very happy with general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff right now.

After all, how could anyone view the club's latest lacklustre effort and come away thinking that's the group you want to tie your Stanley Cup hopes and dreams to?

Yet, by standing pat at Monday's NHL trade deadline, that's essentially what Cheveldayoff is doing. What you see is what you get. In this case, that means more of the same lot responsible for Sunday's disheartening 2-1 loss to Buffalo, in which they showed absolutely no urgency and generated a grand total of zero shots on goal in the final nine minutes against a third-string goalie on a non-playoff team.

Winnipeg's second road defeat in as many days has them on the wrong side of the playoff line with just 18 regular-season games left, and it's safe to say hope for a third consecutive playoff appearance is starting to fade.

Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel is checked by Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dylan DeMelo Sunday in the Jets disheartening 2-1 loss to the Sabres. The Jets generated no shots on goal in the final nine minutes of the game.

(AP PHOTO/JEFFREY T. BARNES)

Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel is checked by Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dylan DeMelo Sunday in the Jets disheartening 2-1 loss to the Sabres. The Jets generated no shots on goal in the final nine minutes of the game.

Defenceman Josh Morrissey isn't expected to be out long, and forwards Adam Lowry and Mathieu Perreault will, hopefully, return from injuries as well in the coming weeks. But if the Jets are going to keep playing hockey beyond early April, it's going to have to come from within. There is no Paul Stastny or Kevin Hayes swooping in to join the cavalry and bolster the attack as we've seen the last two years. A couple of smaller depth pieces this time around will have to suffice.

And as hard as that may be for some to swallow, it ultimately was the right play.

The Jets haven't looked like a legitimate contender for most of this season, so there was no reason to try to act like one Monday. As other GMs around the league were paying big prices to go all-in, Cheveldayoff was wise to sit this one out on the sidelines.

No, that doesn't mean waving the white flag and booking tee times. But it also doesn't mean mortgaging your future for what would amount to a hope and a prayer.

Just as Cheveldayoff deserves credit for the success of the past two seasons, he also deserves blame for the current predicament. The Dustin Byfuglien situation couldn't have been anticipated, but Winnipeg's blue line was already going to be thin even with the veteran in the lineup.

Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff shouldn't be blamed for the Dustin Byfuglien situation this season.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff shouldn't be blamed for the Dustin Byfuglien situation this season.

Failing to adequately address that in the off-season or making early in-season adjustments has proven costly, with the Jets consistently getting outplayed and out-chanced on most nights and having to rely on No. 1 goalie Connor Hellebuyck to save the day all too often. That's led to a bit of smoke and mirrors when it comes to where this team really stands and the large holes that exist.

However, the biggest mistake Cheveldayoff could have made would be desperately trying to dig his way out by pulling the trigger on something rash.

A draft-and-development franchise such as the Jets can't continue to ship high draft picks out, the way they have the last two years, and not pay the price. In that sense, trading the first- or even second-rounder in what's believed to be a deep draft this summer should have been a non-starter, and apparently was. The prospects cupboard needs to be restocked, as illustrated by the rough season the Manitoba Moose are currently having.

Cheveldayoff threw his troops a couple of bones last week by landing defenceman Dylan DeMelo and forward Cody Eakin. Both are pending unrestricted free agents. but it sounds like there's a good chance one, or both, could ultimately re-sign here. Giving up a third- and fourth-rounder for them, respectively, would appear to be a small risk worth taking, especially if they end up being more than just rentals for the final quarter of the season

It also sent the right message to a group that has battled through plenty of adversity this season and managed to stay in the playoff fight. As did not trying to land some late-round picks for any pending UFAs he might have been able to sell off to another team looking to add depth for a lengthy run (Laurent Brossoit, Dmitry Kulikov, Nathan Beaulieu, Anthony Bitetto, Luca Sbisa, Nick Shore, Gabriel Bourque, Logan Shaw).

The Jets have had to rely on No. 1 goalie Connor Hellebuyck to save the day all too often.

(AP PHOTO/JEFFREY T. BARNES)

The Jets have had to rely on No. 1 goalie Connor Hellebuyck to save the day all too often.

So, in that sense, I'm letting Cheveldayoff off the hook for Monday's impression of the Maytag Repairman.

But make no mistake. With coach Paul Maurice recently handed a shiny new three-year extension, the majority of the pressure falls in the lap of Cheveldayoff and his management staff to get this fixed ASAP and have the Jets right back in the mix as a Stanley Cup favourite by next season.

The organization will have plenty of cap space to play with in the summer with Byfuglien and Kulikov expected to come off the books. With no big-name restricted free agents to worry about like last year, money shouldn't be much of an object when it comes to quickly retooling the roster.

Whether it's landing a prized free-agent fish or two or swinging a major hockey deal, Cheveldayoff has plenty of flexibility. He indicated some groundwork may already have been laid when it comes to potential player-for-player deals based on conversations he had leading up to the deadline.

Perhaps that was a bit of a shot across the bow to those on the current roster not to get too comfortable, that changes could be coming. Which, judging by their most recent outing, would be a smart move.

Cheveldayoff spoke Monday about having the "appetite" to take another "big swing" and why it didn't make sense at this time. Fair enough. But in a community hungry for a hockey championship, he better find a way to hit a grand slam this summer.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

Read full biography

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