Jets GM mum on potential off-season roster moves after early post-season exit
WINNIPEG — General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff answered questions from reporters for 42 minutes on Sunday but didn’t reveal his plans to help the under-achieving Winnipeg Jets.
“It’s one of those things where I have to process my own emotions as well and make sure if I am making the decisions, I’m making them rationally and not from a knee-jerk type of situation,” Cheveldayoff said.
“The business side takes care of itself, but from a perspective of concrete plans and stuff like that, it’s really not the time for me to get into.”
Cheveldayoff has been the franchise’s GM since its relocation to Winnipeg from Atlanta in 2011 but the Jets have only won three playoff series in that 12-season span. The deepest the club has gone was losing the Western Conference final in 2018 in five games to the Vegas Golden Knights.
The latest shortfall was a first-round exit in five games against Vegas on Thursday.
Cheveldayoff has to still meet with a few players, the coaches and then ownership to map out his priorities, but he viewed the season as partially successful.
“Standing here at training camp, everyone asked if we were going to be a playoff team,” said Cheveldayoff, who signed a three-year contract extension through the 2024-25 season last May.
“I firmly believed that we had what it took to be a playoff team and I’m proud of the group that they battled through that gauntlet and got to the point of making the playoffs.”
The Jets sat in first place in the conference in mid-January, but sputtered after the all-star break. They finished the regular season 46-33-3 and only grabbed the conference’s second wild-card spot in Game 81.
Forward Nikolaj Ehlers was hurt in the playoff-clinching game and missed the first four games of the series against Vegas. All-star defenceman Josh Morrissey was injured (lower body) in Game 3 and didn’t return. Top goal-scorer Mark Scheifele went out in Game 4 with an upper-body injury and never suited up again.
Cheveldayoff said he wants the team to continue moving forward under head coach Rick Bowness, who signed a two-year contract with an option last summer after Winnipeg missed the playoffs and is comfortable with his deal.
“The job that Rick did for us in coming in and taking on this task and giving him a shot at trying to win a Stanley Cup, I thought they did a great job. Not just Rick, but the coaching staff,” he said.
Some players told the media Saturday that they didn’t appreciate Bowness telling reporters he was “disgusted” after the elimination game.
Bowness admitted later on Saturday that disgust was probably too strong of a word to use, but he’ll always be honest and blunt when he has to be.
“One thing that came as advertised, and is as advertised, is (Bowness) held no punches to anybody,” Cheveldayoff said. “It didn't matter who you were, he was honest. Could he have chosen different words? I'm sure.”
Some of the items on Cheveldayoff’s to-do list will be the contract situations of key players such as centres Scheifele and Pierre-Luc Dubois, goalie Connor Hellebuyck and veteran forward Blake Wheeler.
Scheifele, Wheeler and Hellebuyck each have a year left on their current deals and could become unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2024. Dubois is a restricted free agent, coming off a one-year contract. He could ink another one-year deal and become a UFA.
“We had conversations, obviously, individually with all the players and certainly those players involved,” Cheveldayoff said. “I have not had any conversations with any of their representatives yet. All the guys, they wanted to talk about the year, they wanted to talk about the series.”
He was asked about the possibility of a rebuild and replied there’s “realities” the team has to deal with.
“There's contracts that we have to address. There's various different things that come from coaches' meetings, ownership meetings. And, again, we'll go through the process and we'll make those proper decisions."
His moves could impact the team’s coffers.
Just before the Jets began this year’s playoffs, the franchise launched a season-ticket drive with an aim to boost its base by 3,000. The announcement sparked demand from many fans on social media for changes before they dig into their wallets.
Only five regular-season games at the 15,325-seat Canada Life Centre were sellouts, plus a contest against the Edmonton Oilers that came up one ticket short. The two home playoff tilts against Vegas were full houses of fans clad in white for the traditional “whiteout.”
Cheveldayoff said he bumps into fans in the community and knows their opinions and passion.
“The fans want to make sure that whatever decisions are made, are made with a purpose,” Cheveldayoff said. “They’re not made just to have a knee-jerk reaction. “
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2023.
Judy Owen, The Canadian Press