There's No Magic in Major Makeover

Winnipeg Free Press, March 14, 2014 | Go to article overview

There's No Magic in Major Makeover


But three years of hard work has Jets organizational chart looking better poised for perennial success

Draft and develop. Draft and develop. Draft and develop. Boy, does it get old when the results aren't readily visible at the NHL level.

The Winnipeg Jets will miss the post-season for the third straight year and the easy but inaccurate conclusion is to write them and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff's work off as tired and ineffective.

Or one can take a close look at where the Jets as an organization are now situated from top to bottom and see the remarkable change since Cheveldayoff began turning the soil of this franchise.

The Jets are far closer to perennial success today even if the first taste has yet to arrive.

Organizational depth was the first step in Cheveldayoff's plan and is finally beginning to show results below the surface. It's like filling a glass of water. The drops have to hit the bottom of the tumbler before they can get to the brim.

To say Cheveldayoff has ignored the franchise's NHL roster would be incorrect as he's gone about signing what he views as his best players to long-term deals. And through the draft, he's inserted two players, Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba, who are now the most important on their team and will soon be NHL elite.

But the real work, under the mandate and plan established by owner Mark Chipman and Cheveldayoff, has been at the AHL and prospect level. And the returns are undeniably strong.

On Wednesday night, the affiliate St. John's IceCaps won their ninth straight game with rookies J.C. Lipon, Adam Lowry and Brenden Kitchton leading the way. This isn't a team built on castoff veterans but has 12 players on the active roster that can still be considered prospects. They're winning but developing, too.

On newsstands today, The Hockey News' Future Watch issue rates the Jets as having the NHL's eighth-best crop of prospects, down from fifth a year ago due to the fact Scheifele and Trouba moved straight from junior and college, respectively, to the NHL.

Depth eventually becomes a red herring if it doesn't equate to wins and playoff success but the Jets and Winnipeg, with their unique situation as both a franchise and a market, can't have one without the other and they have to come in sequence.

When one looks at the Jets as a hockey entity from the bottom up and not just at the surface level, Cheveldayoff is getting it done and the organization is markedly better off than when he took over.

To best understand what Cheveldayoff has been up to and what he's accomplished, it's necessary to look back with cold eyes on what he inherited and the conditions under which he must work.

The short answer to what Cheveldayoff was handed when he became GM of the Jets is: very little. An NHL roster with no elite players, some kids rushed up to the bigs too quickly and a mix of veterans ranging from dead-weight contracts to middle-of-the-lineup players.

Dustin Byfuglien was an all-star defenceman and Blake Wheeler had a top-end package of skills but still hadn't figured out how to squeeze the most from his assets. Andrew Ladd was the team's leading scorer with 59 points and the club finished out of the playoffs for the fourth straight year with a 34-36-12 record.

Nothing new here. The Thrashers were a bad hockey team in Atlanta and moving to Winnipeg as the Jets didn't spark some magical change.

Long before Chipman purchased an NHL franchise, he knew he was getting one of two teams and he put his people on the case so he'd know exactly what he was buying when the time arrived. …

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