And now, for his next trick, Kevin Cheveldayoff will…
Actually, let’s begin by saying what the man who generally manages the Winnipeg Jets will not do in the wake of his club’s ouster from the Stanley Cup tournament—he will not jerk his knee. Neither one of them.
If we’ve learned anything about Cheveldayoff during his stewardship of the local National Hockey League outfit, it’s that he is a man with a slow hand. Many of us, myself included, had him figured for a dithering, do-nothing dullard whose management-by-paralysis methods were stunting the growth of a team that arrived in River City with a ready-made core. A few bold strokes and it would have been playoff worthy.
Except Cheveldayoff didn’t do bold strokes. Instead, he preached patience. Draft and develop.
Many of us believed him to be gun shy. That he functioned in fear of being fleeced by a wiser, more deal-savvy NHL general manager, who would pick his pocket and expose him as hopelessly inept.
We now know otherwise, don’t we?
In banishing both Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian to Buffalo in February, an initiative that spurred the Jets toward a much-anticipated post-season perch, Cheveldayoff proved that dashing and daring are part of his makeup. He wasn’t gun shy after all. Just cautious in how he used his bullets.
So what now?
The Winnipegs have taken that next step, the one Jets Nation had been awaiting since the club set up shop at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie in 2011. This is a playoff team. As it turns out, it isn’t a good enough playoff team, because the Disney Ducks got the brooms out and swept the locals away in four games, the minimum number required to move on to the second round of the NHL’s championship tournament. Those four games revealed the Jets to be short on top-end skill, short on depth, short on elite goaltending and short on the experience required to close the deal.
Thus, Cheveldayoff must roll up his sleeves and do some heavy lifting.
No doubt, he will receive ample advice. All unsolicited. Indeed, we are hearing yelps from the rabble, and the body is still warm. Get rid of Dustin Byfuglien, they bray. He is a defensive liability, with gusts up to disastrous. Put Toby Enstrom on the next stage coach out of Dodge, they insist. Too small, too easily pushed around by the big, bad dudes in the Western Conference. Surely the time has arrived for Ondrej Pavelec, despite a run of magnificence at the tail end of the regular season, to occupy another team’s blue paint. And let’s not forget the captain, Andrew Ladd, whose penchant for taking ill-timed and thoughtless penalties appears to be both chronic and unfixable. Gotta get rid of him, too.
Well, save your oxygen. None of this is going to transpire any time soon.
There is always an emotional reflex at the conclusion of a crusade, like that which the Jets completed with their 5-2 loss to the Ducks on Wednesday night. People see the good. They believe the club is positioned to become a perennial playoff participant. But they also see the not-so-good, the components that left the Jets lacking. They want change. Swift change. Perhaps even voluminous change.
Already I have heard noise about a substantial youth movement. Bring in Connor Hellebuyck to play goal. Josh Morrissey is ready for prime time. Ditto Nik Ehlers and Nic Petan.
Sorry, but you don’t want to go there. Put those four players in the Jets lineup and what do you have? The Edmonton Oilers. A team full of flash and dash and one that gets the No. 1 pick in the NHL entry draft every summer.
Consider, for example, Mark Scheifele. He’s young, talented, enthusiastic, determined. He now has two seasons on his resume. How well did he perform in his playoff baptism? He drowned. That’s how well. Jacob Trouba, destined to become a stud defenceman, struggled mightily. How did Adam Lowry measure up against the cagey antagonist, Ryan Kesler? And you want to add four more neophytes to the stew?
I would be shocked if Cheveldayoff goes that route. It’s a recipe for disaster.
I’m sure the Jets GM will, as is his wont, take a measured approach to roster reparations this off-season. If I’m wrong (that’s been known to happen) and the Jets ice a lineup that includes a combination of Scheifele, Trouba, Lowry, Hellebuyck, Morrissey, Ehlers, Petan and Andrew Copp next October, be prepared for a long season.
And forget about the playoffs.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.