Sunday, 14 September 2014

Not The Best Answers

TSN's Bob McKenzie sat down with Winnipeg Jets' general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to discuss his team as the Jets enter Season Four in Winnipeg. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that I already believe the Jets are mathematically-eliminated from the 2014-15 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but I thought it may be important to read the GM's comments to see where this ship is going as they bail water this season.

I'll publish a number of comments made by Cheveldayoff, and follow those up with my thoughts. I'll give Chevy credit: he has a vision that he continues to cling to in the face of this looming season but I'm not sure if he'll be here to see it through, though. For example, in his first question Bob McKenzie asked Kevin Cheveldayoff what the Jets need to do to make the playoff for the first time in Winnipeg.
"We need to take a step in a lot of different areas. I think the draft-and-develop model that we have said we are going to employ, we've got Trouba and Scheifele that are products of that. Both had good starts last year to their pro careers and obviously we're looking to them to continue to take steps.

"We were the third-youngest team, I think, in the National Hockey League last year and we're probably roughly going to be around that again. When you are that young collectively you're looking to take steps in a lot of areas. We've made a commitment to a very young leadership core and we believe that as those guys can grow and keep moving together that that is ultimately going to be our strength down the line."
So, um, where does Cheveldayoff actually answer the question about what the Jets need to do with respect to making the playoffs?

Essentially, this answer could be used for about twenty NHL teams. Every single NHL team wants to see their youth improve to the point where they are perennial playoff contenders. With the exception of having Trouba and Scheifele on other rosters, there was nothing that Cheveldayoff identified that will help the Jets make the playoffs this season. He never actually answered the question, and I'd be very worried as a Jets fan for both the outcome of this season and the long-term success of this franchise led by Kevin Cheveldayoff.

He tossed in the following piece at the end of the second question after Bob McKenzie identified the challenges that lay before his team in the coming season with respect to the other teams in his division that not only made the playoffs, but significantly improved themselves in becoming Stanley Cup favorites with their off-season moves.
"We've made obviously a substantial change in the philosophy of the organization when we hired Paul Maurice. And we're really looking forward to having him at the helm from training camp right at the beginning of the season. We think we've seen a lot of players that played very well under Paul and we're looking forward to having him at the helm right from the start."
EXCUSE ME? Your answer was a philosophical change that removed a coach that went 80-79-18 with a guy that went 18-12-5 to close out his first season, and you call that a "significant change"? While a five-game improvement between the two coaches is indeed improvement, it's not the improvement that Chevy needs over a season to make the playoffs. This change comes from changing the core of the team, and the GM has yet to do that. They have paid the core players handsomely, but there is no doubt that the Jets have yet to see the desired results in the standings. So while the Jets can talk about all the experience that Maurice brings behind the bench, there is still a significant drop-off in the results they receive on the ice from their players and in the standings.

Bob McKenzie goes on to ask about the goaltending the Jets have seen, and how it would be fair to say that the goaltendng "needs to be a lot better" over the course of the season.
"We have to earn the opportunity to get to the playoffs. Certainly with Ondrej, he knows that he's a year older, he's a year more experienced, and he's going to have to look at those challenges that he faced last year and grows from them and grow with them."
So rather than just saying yes to a question to which the world know the answer, Chevy protects his highly-paid starter who consistently turns in back-up numbers. Rather than saying yes and challenging his starter to be better, he protects his incumbent by softening the blow by including him in talk about how the whole team needs to be better.

While that's nice to say, the reality is that perhaps Ondrej Pavelec's best simply isn't good enough. That's not say that he can't improve, but it could be why his statistical performances have trended downwards rather than upwards since team moved to Winnipeg three years ago. Perhaps Pavelec has lost a step in his game which is why his statistics have declined. That's not to say that he can't improve to be a good goaltender one more, but rather that he isn't now what he once was. Why is that a negative? Why can't a GM motivate a player by calling him out when they NEED his to play better?

Cheveldayoff also tip-toed around Blake Wheeler's comments where he seemingly called out the team and singled out Evander Kane.
"From what I understand those comments certainly came in the context of... we all have to. 'We' meaning the players. I think we all have to, and I think... there's a level where they can be better. I don't look at those things as any one individual thing. It's a matter of there being a lot of players on this team that do care, and they're going to put their hearts on the line."
Really? Does this GM even watch his team play? There were more than a few players who appeared to sleepwalk through games in the last three seasons. It appeared that this team was a collection of individuals most nights as opposed to being one team moving in the same direction. The guys he brought in - Devin Setoguchi, Alexei Ponikarovsky - have visibly been somewhere else mentally when they wore Jets' colors, and the same could be said for guys like Evander Kane, Nikolai Antropov, and Dustin Byfuglien most nights.

Paul Maurice has a big job to do during training camp to get all 22 players on the same page when this season starts. If some players don't buy in, it's up to Kevin Cheveldayoff to pull the trigger on acquiring someone who will buy in so that this team becomes bigger than its individual parts. And Chevy's trade track record is one where he won't do that.

Bob McKenzie asked about the free agent signing of Mathieu Perreault and what he will mean to the Jets this season.
"He's a real good complementary player to a lot of different things. He's good on faceoffs, he's got some good quickness in his short game, and (age-wise) we think there's still room for growth in his game, so we're excited about having a bit of a different look down the middle with Bryan Little, Mark Scheifele, him, and a healthy Jim Slater... we think we'll be a much deeper team there."
Deeper? Perreault replaces the departed Olli Jokinen. I'm not sure how they get deeper down the middle, especially when Slater has been hurt for the majority of the two seasons. Who is ready to step up if any of those four get hurt? Nic Petan would be a nice fit. Eric O'Dell would be a candidate for a promotion. But the Jets have the same problem as last season: zero NHL depth. Maybe Chevy sees something I don't, but I don't see any additional depth whatsoever.

McKenzie asked Cheveldayoff about the potential to make a trade if needed.
"We have certainly explored that avenue on several different occasions and I think it's not a matter of if you want to or don't want to, it depends if the timing is right and you have a willing partner that makes sense. Certainly it is not something that we are averse to. When the time is right something will happen."
WHAT?!? The only thing that Cheveldayoff has successfully traded for have been draft picks. Even in saying that, he has dealt away more draft picks than he has acquired. His track record of inactivity with regards to acquiring NHL talent is the defining role he has thus far as a GM. So what the hell is he talking about?

Look, the interview was done with a very innocent tone on Mr. McKenzie's part, and I respect the fact that he can't go ripping into a GM. I know that Mr. McKenzie is extremely knowledgeable regarding all facets of the game, though, so I'm not sure how he sat there without breaking into laughter as he bit his tongue. Mr. Cheveldayoff's answers to Mr. McKenzie's answers were, at some points, nearly delusional.

I hope the Jets prove me wrong and have a monster season that results in a playoff spot, but I'm not sharing in the delusion. I can't understand how Mr. Cheveldayoff sees this team as a playoff team unless he still believes he's managing an AHL team. Currently, they are not even close to being an NHL playoff team.

If you believe they are, you might be qualified to be an NHL GM.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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