Dating back to late last season, all signs pointed to the Winnipeg Jets handing GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and coach Paul Maurice extensions ahead of the coming campaign, and after reports began to swirl that new contracts were imminent, Winnipeg made both deals official Thursday morning.
The exact terms of the contracts were not released, but the Jets indicated both extensions are multi-year agreements.
Giving Cheveldayoff an extension is a decision that won’t draw even the slightest raising of an eyebrow. Yes, the Jets haven’t exactly been the picture of consistency or competitiveness over the past two seasons with Cheveldayoff at the helm, but that hasn’t exactly done justice to the Winnipeg GM’s roster-building skills. Cheveldayoff has, on paper, built a club that has all the makings of a perennial playoff contender. The attack is deep, the defense is led by a mix of youthful and veteran talent and Winnipeg should be much stronger than they have been between the pipes.
Cheveldayoff’s draft resume is incredibly impressive, too. Since taking over in 2011, Cheveldayoff has utilized the Jets’ selections to bring aboard the likes of Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Patrik Laine, Jacob Trouba, Adam Lowry, Josh Morrissey and Andrew Copp, as well as goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. Beyond that, 38.6 percent of Cheveldayoff’s picks have played in the NHL, according to the Jets. That’s the second-best mark in the league.
Add in Cheveldayoff’s trade record, which has seen him flip the likes of Andrew Ladd, Zach Bogosian and Evander Kane for Tyler Myers, Marko Dano, Joel Armia and two first-round picks, and he really hasn’t made many, if any, major missteps in his dealings with other GMs. Some will argue that’s because it took so long for Cheveldayoff to make a player-for-player swap in the first place, but his patience on the trade front came with almost entirely positive results.
That’s Cheveldayoff, though.
When it comes to Maurice’s extension, there’s sure to be some uneasiness. The hesitation will be warranted, too, as there’s no question the Jets have underperformed and failed to meet expectations over the past two seasons.
The 2015-16 campaign, even if it delivered Laine to the Jets by way of the draft lottery, was nothing short of disastrous. Winnipeg declined by 21 points from the year prior, was abysmal on special teams and the defensive play left much to be desired. It also didn’t help that the crease, manned by the trio of Ondrej Pavelec, Michael Hutchinson and Hellebuyck, struggled to the tune of the league’s fourth-worst save percentage. As for 2016-17, while it had its memorable moments, it wasn’t much better as a whole. Maurice’s Jets started to find their legs on the power play, finishing in the middle of the pack, but many of the other issues persisted. The penalty kill remained near the bottom of the table, defensive lapses were far too common and the goaltending was shakier than ever. Led by Hellebuyck and Hutchinson, Winnipeg's netminders combined for a .900 save percentage. Only the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars were worse.
But despite the shortcomings of the past two campaigns, expectations remain high — maybe higher than ever — for these Jets. Those expectations are coming from within the dressing room, too. Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler asserted that “it just has to be” this year that the Jets finally take the long-awaited step into the NHL’s playoff spotlight and Bryan Little said there “are no excuses” for the team this season.
It’s pretty hard to argue with those assertions. Undoubtedly, this is the best roster the Jets have assembled. From top to bottom, the team is loaded with skill. Offensively, the team is among the league’s strongest clubs, scoring 246 goals last season, the seventh-most in the NHL. From Wheeler and Scheifele to Laine and Ehlers, Winnipeg's attack has teeth on every line, and that also includes the blueline, which boasts offensive contributors in Trouba, Morrissey and Dustin Byfuglien. Even the goaltending issues have been addressed — or so the Jets hope — with the summer acquisition of Steve Mason.
So, given a roster with this much talent, this much outright offensive firepower, the Jets should be in the running for a playoff spot or a shot at a wild-card entry in the Western Conference at the very least. No one will deny the Jets have to do so while competing in arguably the most difficult division in hockey — the Central Division really does stand to be as hard-fought as any in 2017-18 — but the fact of the matter is the clock is ticking on the Jets and the window will only be open so long. Come next summer, nine players will become restricted free agents and five will hit unrestricted free agency. That could change the makeup of the franchise in a hurry, and while it’s almost strange to suggest a team that hasn’t won anything, not even a single playoff game, could be set to see their window start to creep shut, that seems to be the case in Winnipeg.
And that could be why this is a show-me deal for Maurice regardless of how many years he was given on his extension. Cheveldayoff has given him the team and made it clear why he's worthy of his new deal. Now it’s time for Maurice to do the same and guide this team to success.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.