November 18, 2019

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Opinion

Quick fix unlikely for Jets

Playoff berth will be long shot in 2014-15

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/10/2014 (1866 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/10/2014 (1866 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg Jets very likely won't make the playoffs this season.

What does that mean big picture? Not much, other than some short-term disappointment, which is almost a given when one is thinking long term.

Goalie Ondrej Pavelec will need to raise his game by a significant amount for the Jets to contend for a post-season berth this season.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Goalie Ondrej Pavelec will need to raise his game by a significant amount for the Jets to contend for a post-season berth this season.

Players, management, coaches and fans all want the Jets to qualify for the post-season. No one will be happy if they don't.

The players and coaches will be entering this season fully expecting to beat the experts and qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. It's not a given they won't. The Jets could surprise. There could be enormous internal growth and coach Paul Maurice may have the key to unlock what has prevented this team's core from living up to its promise.

But it's unlikely. There are too many questions heading into this season to reach a positive conclusion. Goaltending, the blue-line, team defence, overall depth and leadership are all areas of concern.

Maybe Maurice can fix all this but to expect him to do it in one season is overly ambitious. He's going to need time and better players.

The good news, however, is those players are on the way. We saw as much at training camp. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff may not be making noise on the trading floor but he's quietly stocking up on prospects. There is talent in this organization. It just hasn't all hit the top floor yet.

This organization is still in the journey phase of its process and not yet the destination segment.

If it's wins and losses you want to focus on this season and are ultimately banking on watching playoff hockey at the MTS Centre in the spring of 2015, my guess is you will be disappointed.

If you're a Cheveldayoff basher or an Ondrej Pavelec hater, it's quite possible you'll have some ammunition as this season unfolds and ultimately ends with a whimper.

But if you've been paying attention and listening to what the owner of this team has had to say and the very clear and transparent words of his No. 1 hockey employee, you will be able to step back and gauge whether there has been progress. And it's there to see.

Mark Chipman didn't bring the Winnipeg Jets here to fail as a financial or hockey entity. He studied the NHL long and hard. He put together a team and they cracked the CBA code. They ran numbers back and forth. They created a formula that would work in Winnipeg with its limited revenue streams.

Their conclusion was a draft-and-develop plan where they could use the CBA to their benefit and lock up their own players for longer terms at reasonable rates. They would try to achieve cost certainty and not fall prey to the seduction of free agency.

This is exactly what the Jets are doing and what this hockey community is living.

The smart guys who poke the Jets for not making enough racy transactions blithely ignore these facts.

Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke said this the other night: "In a cap world, every contract you sign has to be considered under a 10- or 15-year cycle. Every deal has to fit."

Add the limitations of a budget, an inability at this point to attract free agents and no-trade exemption lists that almost never include Winnipeg and Cheveldayoff is quite limited in his ability to make change other than through the draft.

Instead, Cheveldayoff has locked up Toby Enstrom, Blake Wheeler, Evander Kane, Bryan Little and Zach Bogosian with none of them ever to exceed $5.75 million on their current contracts. And he's drafted the likes of Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Adam Lowry, Nic Petan, Nik Ehlers and Josh Morrissey.

Could he achieve all this and wheel and deal his way into an NHL roster capable of reaching the playoffs? Maybe. Cheveldayoff's focus, however, has been to establish a roster that will one day allow the organization to have consistent success in the playoffs. Three years isn't a lot of time when one considers what he started with.

Cheveldayoff likely has to resist the urge to vary from his path on a daily basis. No doubt his phone rings with trade requests for everyone from Wheeler to Kane to Trouba. And no doubt the losing and failures on the ice wear on his mind and his heart.

I don't know Cheveldayoff very well. I've never shared a meal with him or a beer. We had a coffee in New York City once and the conversation didn't go very well.

I have, however, observed Cheveldayoff for a very long time. First as a GM of the Chicago Wolves, then as an assistant GM with the Chicago Blackhawks and now as GM of the Jets. He hates to lose. He's smart. He works hard. He's stubborn.

Maybe that last trait has led to some mistakes with his roster. But it will also lead to him sticking to what has to be done here in Winnipeg.

If you're teaching a child to ride a bike and they fall off once, do you throw out the bike? Fall off twice, throw out the child? No, you stick to it and eventually have to chase a runaway stream of pigtails or turned-around baseball cap as the kid goes screaming down the street.

The Jets aren't ready to run away with anything. But the plan is progressing. No need to throw anything out just yet.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter @garylawless

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History

Updated on Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 7:58 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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