The Winnipeg Jets are giving general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff the same security they give their star players as he tries to turn the team into a playoff contender.
The club extended Cheveldayoff’s contract through the 2017-18 season on Wednesday, a much longer deal than head coach Claude Noel was given in the off-season. His contract will expire at the end of next season.
“We couldn’t have a more capable guy leading our team for the long-term so we’ve extended Kevin back to his original term of five years,” Jets co-owner Mark Chipman told a news conference. “I believe he and his family are deserving of that and I also believe the fans of our organization are deserving of knowing where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.”
Cheveldayoff was originally named to the position in June 2011 as the Jets relocated to Winnipeg from Atlanta. In his two seasons so far, the Jets have an overall record of 61-56-13 and missed the playoffs both years.
Cheveldayoff spent two seasons as assistant general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks before joining the Jets.
He also spent 12 seasons as general manager of the Chicago Wolves, guiding the American Hockey League club to four league championships during his tenure.
Chipman was effusive in his praise of his GM, whom he got to know pretty well when Chipman’s True North Sports and Entertainment operated the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.
“I’ve known him for many, many years prior to bringing him on board, as a general manager over the course of many, many board meetings with the American Hockey League.
“I think over the past couple of years I’ve learned that we probably underestimated his abilities.”
The two clearly share the philosophy that the Jets have to build by retaining a core of strong players and adding talented draft picks.
During the off-season they signed everyone they said they wanted to keep to multi-year agreements, This year, some of their draft picks look like they have matured enough to join the team.
The Jets have added a few players outside the draft but there have been no blockbuster deals that had the potential to turn around their fortunes in the short term.
“I think the real challenge is to resist the opportunity to try and accelerate this at a great cost,” said Cheveldayoff, a native of Blaine Lake, Sask. “We’re trying to create some stability, some foundation within this organization.”
Still, the pressure to make the playoffs has only increased this season. The Atlanta Thrashers made the playoffs only once, in 2007.
The excuse of outside influences also no longer seems to apply. In their first season there was the move from Atlanta and their second season was disrupted by the lockout.
Their travel schedule has improved but the Jets have moved from the Southeast into what looks like a much tougher division in the Central, where they must compete with Stanley Cup champion Chicago.
Other division rivals St. Louis and Minnesota also made the playoffs.
In the Southeast last season, only Washington made the playoffs, after the Capitals passed the Jets in the runoff for the spot during the stretch.
And, despite insisting Wednesday it is their expectation that they will make the playoffs, Chipman seemed in no rush to take action if that should not happen.
“This is going to be a difficult year and I think we’re all very aware of that,” he said.
“We’re going to be playing in a very difficult division and I think we all think our team is better. But I wouldn’t say that I could tell you 12 months from now that I’m any less convinced that we’re on the right path here.
“I think it will prove itself out over many years.”