I don’t know Kevin Cheveldayoff. I’m sure he’s a very nice guy.
But, I do know it’s time someone started questioning his ability and whether or not he should still be the General Manager of the Winnipeg Jets. Those suggesting Paul Maurice is the problem are misguided. Many of the pro-Cheveldayoff fans (and there are a ton of them) point to his prowess at the draft table. Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Josh Morrissey all look like steals relative to where they were picked in the first round. That’s to say nothing about Jack Roslovic and Kyle Connor, who haven’t arrived yet but are 1-2 on the AHL Manitoba Moose in scoring as 19 year-olds. Patrik Laine fell in the lap of the Jets thanks to the lottery, so I am not willing to include him at all in this. So, on the surface, Cheveldayoff is the man when it comes to drafting. A deeper look and one should question whether it’s Cheveldayoff being an all-knowing super power when it comes to evaluating young talent or does he rely on his scouting staff and then make the final decision based on the information presented to him? If Cheveldayoff is racking up air miles across the world evaluating amateur talent, then he’s wasting True North money on scouts and he needs to hire a General Manager. I suspect Cheveldayoff watches a few players that the scouts suggest to him need a closer eye, but that’s it. So, I will only issue a partial credit to Cheveldayoff on drafting. The bulk goes to the scouts.
Too bad the scouts can’t trade and sign free agents and waiver wire types. Because, Cheveldayoff gets a grade lower than F in this area. And, that’s why it’s he and not Maurice who should be replaced heading into the 2017-18 season. The Winnipeg media will tell you that Cheveldayoff is uber patient and they may be right, but that’s not what this franchise needs now. The building blocks are in place with Laine, Scheifele, Ehlers, Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler, and Bryan Little. What this needed to be a playoff club was a simple grab off the waiver wire to help the defense and the willingness to eat a little bit of salary to stop the bleeding in net. Neither of these needs were addressed, so it’s pointless to go on an even bigger rant and say that with a couple of bold moves, the Jets could have been a Stanley Cup contender. But, I believe they are to the point where 1-2 major deals and/or free agent signings would put them into the upper echelon of the league.
When Carolina dumped Eric Staal last trade deadline, I felt the Jets needed to take a look at him to see what was left in the tank. Being from Thunder Bay, it’s not all that outlandish to suggest the Jets could get him. They opted not to and then Minnesota signed him for $6-million over 2-years and he’s their leading scorer. You don’t think Eric Staal would have helped this team while Bryan Little was injured? How good of a third line would the Jets have if Staal was centering it today? Opportunity missed.
Fast forward through the summer and into training camp when Jacob Trouba announced he was going to be holding out for a trade. This wasn’t a shock to me, so it, surely, didn’t surprise Cheveldayoff. He knew he had a defenseman who was unhappy. Meanwhile, Kris Russell and Dennis Seidenberg are on the sidelines looking for NHL contracts and not many teams have room under the cap to ink them. The Jets are one of the few that can accommodate. Well, Russell goes to Edmonton after they clear some space and Seidenberg goes to the Islanders. Both went for very reasonable dollar amounts. Jets lose out again. I could go into the opportunities on defense missed during the regular season where Andrei Marchenko, Nikita Nesterov, and Michael Stone moved for nothing or minimal compensation; while the Jets decided to promote Julian Melchiori instead; but I’ll leave that be.
Now, let’s look at training camp and the decision to send Ondrej Pavelec to the minors and go with Connor Hellebuyck (an essential rookie) and Michael Hutchinson (another inexperienced goalie, who isn’t highly regarded, but has had a small amount of success in limited action). I can never defend playing Russian Roulette with the most important decision on the team, but let’s pretend this is a smart choice. By the end of November, it was clear Hellebuyck was the better goalie but there were chinks in the armour of both kids. In fact, it was clear Maurice didn’t want to use Hutchinson at all. Any confidence he had him was gone. It was at this point, the Jets should have brought Pavelec back or looked to make a move with another team. In Brooklyn, Jaroslav Halak was playing his way off the Islanders. He was the best goalie at the World Cup just weeks earlier, but now can’t stop a beach ball. Many Winnipeg media suggest the 31-year-old is washed up. If he’s not finished as a player, he’s definitely too expensive as any team looking to add Halak is on the hook for his $4.5-million for the remainder of this year and into next. It’s a lot of money if you think he can’t play. If you think he can, it’s nothing for an experience goalie who can stop the bleeding. Taking into account how unhappy he is with the three-goalie system and looking at his full body of work over the last half a dozen years, there’s nothing there that says Halak can’t get the job done on a 50-50 basis with someone like Hellebuyck, who has shown this year to be an exceptional goalie when asked to play 2-3 in a row, but not 4-5-6 (or 14 like recently). To make matters easier, Winnipeg is the only team desperate for help between the pipes. This looks like a no brainer. Yet, nothing happens and Halak hits waivers over Christmas. Now, it’s really a no brainer because you can scoop him for nothing other than pay him is $4.5-million next year. Again, no action from Chevy. Halak goes down to Bridgeport and wins ten straight to set a franchise record and is now 16-5-1, 2.17, .926, 2-shutouts. Turns out he’s not finished. And, before you scoff at AHL numbers, your precious Eric Comrie has a GAA of over half a goal worse than Halak.
Instead, the Jets wait until mid-January (too late at this point, but let’s play along anyway) and they decide to promote Pavelec after Hellebucyk and Hutchinson both go through spells where neither would help a Midget AAA team. Pavelec comes up and plays like the Pavelec of old (which is to say he was average) and fans are giddy. Yes, it was that bad. But, then Pavelec gets hurt and Hellebuyck goes back and he hasn’t left the net since (other than when he’s pulled due to poor play, which has been 2-3 times in the last 14 games). For the most part, I admire what Hellebuyck has done in these 14 games. The guy isn’t ready for this kind of pressure and workload down the stretch. Not many are. You don’t see Carey Price, Braden Holtby, and Deven Dubnyk playing 14 straight do you? Assuming the Jets felt they were in the playoff race (I didn’t) at the end of February and Ben Bishop gets sent to Los Angeles for next to nothing because Steve Yzerman said he had only one place to send Bishop as nobody else was interested and you are left scratching your head. To me, even if the Jets knew their goose was cooked for this year, would it be so bad to bring Bishop in anyway since the price is so low? He could do a couple of things: help you win games, which is never a bad thing when you have a young team that is trying to learn how to win. He takes a load and pressure off Hellebuyck so you can develop him properly. And, it’s a chance for the Jets to evaluate whether Bishop is the type of guy they may want to keep beyond this year and give him some free agent money. But, again, Cheveldayoff fails on all accounts. No Halak. No Bishop. Not even a dart at a dart board like what Dubnyk was once upon a time for Minnesota. Heck, the mighty Blackhawks rolled the dice on 31-year-old Jeff Glass a few weeks ago. The Jets? Complete indifference on the most important position on your hockey team.
A General Manager who is consumed by winning may even have enough pieces in place to make a couple of significant deals to put this team into Stanley Cup contention by this time next year. I’m betting that if you dangled Nic Petan, Kyle Connor, and Jack Roslovic that there would be more than a few teams willing to pony up a top defenseman or goaltender. Heck, if you offered one of those three and Tobias Enstrom as a salary dump, I think you could still get a real good player to help your team. But, as long as Cheveldayoff is the boss, that’s just not even on the radar.
The team doesn’t need improvement over Scheifele, Laine, Ehlers, Little, and Wheeler. They could use another winger to round out their top six, but I’m okay with what they have if they did nothing and left Mathieu Perreault there or went with Marko Dano, Andrew Copp or whoever. Joel Armia and Adam Lowry would be amazing fourth liners. Petan doesn’t help you if he’s not in the top six. He’s expendable. I suspect the same holds true with Connor and unless Roslovic can be an effective 2-way third line centre, he’s blocked just like Petan is. They need better depth players up front and they need to figure out if Trouba is staying here long term or not. If he’s not, they have work to do because he looks like the number one defenseman they lack. Byfuglien is overpaid, but the Jets had no choice here. Morrissey has been a pleasant surprise and Ben Chiarot is a real nice player who should be one of the better 5-6 guys in the league. Get Tucker Poolman signed and hope he’s ready immediately to contribute. It’s not blockbusters that are needed. It’s a lot of tinkering. And, for god sakes….get a goalie. I just don’t have any faith that Cheveldayoff can do that. The guy believes the draft is the only way to build a team. He’s wrong.