Winnipeg Jets: A heavy influx of youth won’t be Kevin Cheveldayoff’s next move

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.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti 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.

Don’t blame Chris Thorburn for being Chris Thorburn

It is 2:07 in the morning where I live. Rain is performing a delicate tap dance on my window, a gentle reminder that the wet season soon shall be in full voice for those of us who long ago fled to the left flank of the country to escape winter’s wrath.

I’ve always regarded that as a favorable exchange. White stuff for wet stuff. Many to the distant east of our little island don’t understand this. How, they wonder, can we function with rain. Every. Single. Day. For five months. They posit that it must be “soooooo depressing.” Well, it can be. But it isn’t the rainfall that has kept my eyes open for the past hour and a half this morning. It’s Chris Thorburn.

If Chris Thorburn wasn’t Chris Thorburn, you see, I’d likely be REM right now.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming Thorburn for my lack of shuteye. I cannot blame the rain for being wet, and I cannot blame Chris Thorburn for being a skill-challenged, fourth-line, sometimes-third-line (do I hear second line?) Winnipeg Jets winger. I blame myself because I care. About Chris Thorburn.

He is a much-maligned man. It’s as if the sole purpose of his backside is to accept the swift kicking feet of the frustrated faithful of Jets Nation. He’s absorbed more public floggings than Gary Bettman during the last lockout and the Arizona Coyotes circus. And what are Thorburn’s trespasses? Well, he had the bad manners to accept a three-year contract worth $3.6 million. His use of his nightly allotment of seven-eight minutes ice time is an exercise in non-productivity. And, as stated, he is a skill-challenged, fourth-line, sometimes-third-line (do I hear second line?) winger.

I submit, however, that it is not Thorburn’s fault that he is placed in a position whereby the hockey puck and his hockey stick often conspire to make him look every bit the fool.

Kevin (The Possum) Cheveldayoff takes the rap for that. Paul Maurice is his willing accomplice. These are the two men who insist on the existence of Chris Thorburn. The general manager does so with the ill-advised use of Mark Chipman’s and David Thomson’s piggy bank, while the head coach does so via his on-ice deployment. They have determined that if the Jets are to fail to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament for a fourth successive spring, they shall fail with Chris Thorburn.

It’s unfair to Thorburn, but he has become the measuring stick for the advancement of this National Hockey League outfit. As long as there’s room in the Jets lineup for a player whose usefulness is limited to his bare knuckles (and even that’s a stretch, given the current anti-fisticuffs climate), it is seen as the spinning of wheels. Kevin the Possum and coach PoMo can talk all they like about a cupboard that is no longer bare. A cupboard that now includes Nik Ehlers and Nic Petan and Josh Morrissey, among other prospects. But those kids aren’t in River City. Thorburn is. And he will be next season. And the next. That’s what many of the faithful find confusing. They hear much tall talk about the big picture, but they cannot see Thorburn in that picture. At any price.

Thus, they lash out at him.

Thorburn is the wrong target, though. If you think he belongs on a slow train ride to the Rock, reserve your cat o’ nine tails for the aft half of general manager Kevin the Possum and coach PoMo. He wouldn’t be the player he is today if not for them. Literally.

In the meantime, I need some sleep because I have a two-mile walk in the rain ahead of me this morning, and I can already hear the exchange with my doctor.

“Patti Dawn,” he’ll say, “you look like you didn’t sleep a wink last night.”

“I didn’t,” I’ll reply.

“Why not? Something troubling you?”

“It’s Thorbs.”

“Thorbs? I don’t believe I’m familiar with that particular ailment. Does it hurt?”

“Only when I watch and only for about seven-eight minutes a night.”

“There’s a simple remedy for that, young lady—less ice.”

“Don’t tell me, doc. Tell Kevin the Possum and coach PoMo…they’re the ones who have a bad case of Thorbs.”

(Editor’s Note: It doesn’t actually rain every day for five months of the year where I live. We just tell everyone from the east that so people like Don Cherry and Glenn Healy don’t move here.)

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg hockey and the Jets for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of hockey knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for literary contributions to the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.