Being a General Manager of a professional sports team is a unique profession.
First off, it’s a job not many people in the world get to do in the grand scheme of things.
And just like the players, you are constantly being evaluated by the fans.
You are constantly being second guessed by the “web warriors.” You make any kind of player move and it’s dissected like a feral pig in high school science.
But that’s what comes with the gig.
GM’s are hired to guide a team into the future as well as monitoring the present. They draft players and sign free agents who they believe share their personal vision of what their team should be. In other words, they develop a culture in an organization they feel is based upon winning.
They rely heavily on the advice of the scouts they hire. So they can watch players from all levels from all over the world that they think would be a fit for the future of the team.
Then the GM hires a head coach who will carry out that vision among the players and help develop and foster an environment of winning.
At least that’s the plan.
So where does the Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff fit into that role?
“Chevy” was known to be a tough as nails amateur player. He was never able to grind out a professional career though.
He chose to get into the management end of the hockey business. And he ended up lying under the learning tree of the Chicago Blackhawks and Stan Bowman.
Bowman of course is the son of Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman, who was also working in the Blackhawks organization at the time as an advisor and sometimes scout.
So Chevy had some of the best minds in the NHL to help groom him.
And the Hawks won Stanley Cups. So not only did Chevy learn how to be a GM, he learned what it was like to win.
When True North purchased the Atlanta Thrashers in May of 2011 and moved them to Winnipeg, it didn’t take owner Mark Chipman long to hire Cheveldayoff.
Chipman’s AHL team, the Manitoba Moose had competed with Chevy’s Chicago Wolves on many an occasion. Chevy had cut his teeth in the AHL learning how to run a team before joining the Blackhawks, and won two Calder Cup championships. Chipman felt Chevy was the right fit to guide his newly rebranded Winnipeg Jets franchise.
Six years into the job, where has Chevy brought the Jets franchise?
Chevy inherited a head coach in Claude Noel, a carryover from the Moose. Noel lasted a couple of seasons until it was obvious the Jets weren’t progressing under him.
So Noel tied his horse to Paul Maurice’s cart. Maurice was a veteran NHL coach who had been to a Stanley Cup final with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2002, losing to the Detroit Red Wings in five games.
Maurice would bounce around the league over the next decade and was working as a commentator for TSN when Chevy plucked him from their panel to replace Noel.
2015 would see the Jets make their first, (and only so far), playoff appearance, being swept by the Anaheim Ducks.
In his six years at the helm of the Jets, Chevy has proven his acumen at drafting.
2011 saw the Jets select Mark Scheifele, (with a lot of encouragement from Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk, Scheifele’s Barrie Colts to draft him). Scheifele has since developed into one of the league’s top forwards. Another current Jet, Adam Lowry, was their third round pick from that draft.
Then Chevy would go onto draft more players over the next number of years who developed into regulars on the Jets in Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Connor Hellebuyck, Andrew Copp,
Nikolaj Ehlers, Kyle Connor, and Patrik Laine.
Then there’s players such as Jack Roslovic, Tucker Poolman, Logan Stanley and Eric Comrie who are awaiting to get their chance to join the big club and contribute.
But there are always the misses too. The Zachary Yuen’s, the Lukas Sutter’s, or the Ryan Olsen’s.
Drafting is never an exact science.
Cheveldayoff’s dipping into the free agent market has been less splashy. All said, the biggest free agent signing he’s ever made is Mathieu Perreault in 2014.
Chevy has also made a dent in the trade market, contrary to what some Jet fans think sometimes.
He make his mark though with the Evander Kane/Zach Bogosian deal to the Buffalo Sabres in return for Drew Stafford, Tyler Meyers, Joel Armia, and of course the pick payoff that brought Jack Roslovic and Brendan Lemieux.
Then came the trade of captain Andrew Ladd to the Chicago Blackhawks for Marko Dano and the Hawks first round 2016 draft pick, (which turned out to be Logan Stanley). The Jets also hold a 2018 conditional pick from Chicago.
But, primarily, the Jets are a draft and develop team. Chipman and Cheveldayoff made that clear from day one and they’ve never wavered from it. And the results of that patience are starting to show.
The 2017/2018 edition of the Jets have seen early success of the likes the city of Winnipeg has ever seen before in it’s hockey history.
Chevy has managed to bring some depth to the team that it’s lacked up to this point.
Toby Enstrom out for a couple of months? No problem. Slide in Ben Chairot with Tucker Poolman warming up in the bullpen.
Kyle Connor injured? Fine. Move up Mathieu Perreault to the top line to play with Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.
The Jets even rolled the dice a little when Steve Mason suffered a concussion. Rather than bringing up veteran Michael Hutchinson, (who’s having a massive year in the AHL with the Moose), the Jets instead brought in Eric Comrie to get a game in.
So organizational depth has never been better and the Jets are among the top teams in the NHL.
What’s the next move?
Winnipeg finds itself in a position it’s never been in before. They have assets.
By the truckload.
They’re now poised to make a serious run next spring. And there really is no such thing as too much depth. So is Chevy ready to go all in on his team?
They’re in a position where they can make a trade from a position of strength. They can pick and choose a deal that works for them. Right now, there is no need to sacrifice anything.
But they can certainly afford to lose a little bit of those future considerations to buy some added depth.
While Hutch toils away in the A, a team like the Edmonton Oilers need goaltending help.
The Moose wouldn’t lose a beat with Comrie still holding down the fort.
So the question becomes, is Chevy overvaluing his personnel? Is there too much loyalty being shown to some veterans?
Has he become so enamored at his own work that he doesn’t want to rock the apple cart and move some bodies to make a statement to the league the Jets are in it to win it now?
There’s a number of moves that present themselves at this time.
What is the long term plan for Jacob Trouba?
Is Eric Comrie the long term solution as the Jets 1-2 goaltending punch?
How much longer do the Jets hold onto to Dustin Byfuglien, (goal less so far this season), with a heavy contract and still valued by other teams?
With the salary cap going up next season, can the Jets have a season where potential free agents next summer might actually consider Winnipeg becoming the “sexy” team to play for?
Welcome to the crossroads Chevy. You have led the Jets to this point.
Now let’s see where you take them from here.