Mike Gillis’ firing in Vancouver and the naming of Trevor Linden as President of Hockey Operations has fans in the city feeling a sense of relief and new found optimism. With the Canucks positioned similarly in the standings to the Jets – the situation begs the question, should Kevin Cheveldayoff’s performance as GM be evaluated and is his job safe? Cheveldayoff is consistently accused of inactivity and mediocrity by the fans. I’m not sure how he’s done in the eyes of True North Sports & Entertainment, but I figure we might as well review it anyway.
Chevy took over a squad that had a vast majority of the same young core that we see today. No need to go through them all, you Jets fans are well aware. Keep in mind the Jets core was three seasons younger, and unpolished. Cheveldayoff’s job at that point was to make them relatively competitive by putting effective pieces around to support the young core, and making sure he had a coach who would help them grasp the NHL fundamentals and I would say he did that with Claude Noel. Let’s go through some of the actual transactions Cheveldayoff has made. He shipped out Johnny Odouya who simply was awful in Winnipeg for a draft pick. He brought in Kyle Wellwood for next to no money. Wellwood played third and fourth line minutes, some Powerplay, all while producing and exceeding expectation. Then Chevy found untapped Grant Clitsome on waivers for nothing, he’s turned into a solid player for us (minus the injury riddled season). The team didn’t make the playoffs, but competed to the bitter end. Jokinen was a big signing for him the following off-season although at the time viewed as overpriced – has overall been a beneficial signing for Winnipeg. Montoya was acquired as a viable option in goal (again for next to no money). He’s brought in guys like Ellerby, and Hutchinson who are young men entering into their prime, with tons of upside. Adam Pardy has proven to be effective for cost as well, finding new life with the Jets at 30 years of age.
I’m aware that as we’ve progressed this list we haven’t discussed every single move and that not one player mentioned will win the Jets a cup. Though let’s recount what Cheveldayoff’s job was, “to make them relatively competitive by putting effective pieces around to support the young core.” That young core has now progressed through three consecutive and intense playoff hunts, albeit coming up empty handed every time. We as Jet fans get so angry because we’re so passionate. We want playoff hockey. But we forget that this was an inherited team! Cheveldayoff has done three years of building (his team) through scouting and the NHL Draft and here’s what the notable picks look like: Mark Scheifele (forward), Adam Lowry (forward), Jacob Trouba (defenceman), Lukas Sutter (forward), Nicolas Petan (forward), Josh Morrissey (defenceman), J.C. Lipon (forward), Scott Kosmachuk (forward), and Eric Comrie (goaltender). Scheifele and Trouba already have been and will continue to be relied on in NHL play as two of our elite players. The other young stars mentioned are only 1-3 years away from making an impact within our organization. You may recall Nic Petan from his World Junior performance in which he led Canada in goals. Adam Lowry was the captain for the WHL during the Canada vs. Russia Subway Series. There is a ton of hype surrounding our young defenceman Josh Morrissey (who hasn’t even left junior hockey), and J.C. Lipon who amassed 38 points in St. John’s this year. When it comes to Lukas Sutter – come on, he’s a Sutter (look into his lineage if you don’t already know – Lowry’s for that matter too).
With a bright young future just on the horizon, the Jets don’t want to start rushing development now. With the core they have currently in place solidified - this off-season should be a fun and interesting one for the Jets GM. They have UFA’s such as Jokinen, Setoguchi, Thorburn, Montoya and Pardy. Notable RFA’s include Ellerby, Frolik, Halischuk, Wright, Hutchinson, Klingberg, Cormier and O’Dell. Kevin Cheveldayoff has the opportunity to make a few more minor tweaks to what has been ultimately “his” vision. No doubt there are a couple of absolute must re-sign’s on the aforementioned list. But if the Jets can add a few more pieces to add a deeper supporting cast then they may fair better in the immediate future. Hopefully without sacrificing that ever crucial development stage for their young stars. Keeping in mind that this was an injury filled year for the Jets, next year should be better for us regardless of who the GM adds in the off-season.
Adding to the to-do list this off-season is naming a head coach. Although it is public knowledge that the Jets want Paul Maurice, his future remains to be seen. If and when he is named – he will be Kevin Cheveldayoff’s second coach during his tenure as GM. If the Jets don’t start winning with the team they have, and a semi-new coach to get them motivated – at that point Chevy may start feeling the heat.
Drawing back to the initial comparison – Mike Gillis had an above average core to begin with. He had the same job as Cheveldayoff. Put good pieces in place as a supporting cast. He didn’t do that. He went through two coaches, two goalies, and a variety of underachieving players trying to fill holes in his line-ups. He traded away prospects like Cody Hodgson and Michael Grabner, given away draft picks for players that were proven to be completely ineffective. Now there’s a huge mess left in Vancouver for Trevor Linden and Co. to clean up.
We all agree that our situation is nowhere near as dire as it is in Vancouver. We know too that it’s time for the playoff hockey in Winnipeg, there’s no doubt about that. What I’d say for certain though is that Cheveldayoff has done his job. He’s built us a solid future. He’s made us competitive every year that we’ve had our revered team back. Now is the time we need to start seeing some results. If our new coach can motivate some of our guys who underachieved this past season, this coming year could be the year for us, with effective development happening in our system. As far as I’m concerned his job is safe for the time being, we owe him at least that much.