Two days after his players fielded questions at their end-of-season availability, Winnipeg Jets’ general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff spoke to scribes to close out the season.
Holding virtual court for 40 minutes, Cheveldayoff gave detailed and insightful answers on a number of topics. Here are some of the highlights.
Cheveldayoff Satisfied with Coaching Staff’s Body of Work, Views Season as Success
Cheveldayoff praised head coach Paul Maurice and the coaching staff for getting the team into the playoffs and for sweeping the heavily-favoured Edmonton Oilers in the first round. He pointed to their goals for/goals against ratio and special teams as areas where the team improved. He said the coaching staff came up with a plan everyone bought in to.
While he deemed the shortened season a success, he acknowledged that the ultimate goal was unfulfilled.
“When you’re not sitting here with the silver trophy beside you, everyone is certainly critical in the end, and probably no people more critical than the coaches themselves,” he said, continuing to say that he’s sure they will do some soul-searching over the summer.
“We’ve got to get better, there’s no question about it,” Cheveldayoff said. “You’re never really truly satisfied or truly successful in your own mind unless you win the Cup.” Cheveldayoff was the assistant GM of the Chicago Blackhawks when they won the Stanley Cup in 2010.
The GM also noted they all had “160-some straight days where we had a swab shoved up our nose,” and said their handling of the psychological aspects and considerations of going through a season in the COVID-era was “exemplary.”
Judging by his words, it doesn’t look like a regime change is likely. That will be much to the chagrin of a large part of the fanbase who believe Maurice — the second-longest tenured coach in the NHL — is past his expiration date and that a fresh brain behind the bench is needed.
Cheveldayoff Happy with Heinola’s Season
Cheveldayoff expressed satisfaction with Ville Heinola’s season, even though he only played five NHL games on a team with a subpar defence. The 2019 20th-overall pick ended up playing 50 games between SM Liiga squad Lukko Rauma (19 games), Finland at the 2021 World Juniors (seven games), The Manitoba Moose (19 games) and the Jets.
“He did have a really good opportunity this year, I think, to develop much more than most players,” Cheveldayoff said. “This was a challenging year not just for Ville Heinola but for everybody from a development standpoint.”
The GM said Heinola’s entry-level slide did not factor at all into the decision to play him so infrequently. Heinola played fewer than eight NHL games, so he will still have three years left on his entry-level contract next season.
Many writers would have liked to see him play more in the NHL, considering him to have more upside than other defenders who logged regular time. It remains to be seen how fair of a shot he’ll be given in 2021-22 given Maurice’s love for veterans.
Cheveldayoff Non-Committal to Bold Move to Bolster Blue Line
Cheveldayoff said he will spend all summer and training camp looking for ways to improve the team. One of his top priorities should be adding another top-four defenseman, which he failed to do at the Trade Deadline.
The Jets’ defence has been their weakness for two seasons now, and quite patchwork since Ben Chiarot, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, and Dustin Byfuglien all departed in 2019. Systemic problems on the back end were laid bare throughout the season and especially in the second-round sweep at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens.
Nonetheless, Cheveldayoff insisted the defenders utilized the this season complemented each other well, but admitted the team needs to find a way to grow from where they are. “It doesn’t just happen overnight, whether it’s a young player that matures into that role, or whether it’s a trade, or whether it’s free agency, you’re always looking at different ways to continue to improve,” he said.
Cheveldayoff has generally been loathe to tender big contracts to free agents, but does have Dylan Samberg and Logan Stanley in addition to Heinola champing at the bit for bigger roles on the blue line.
He didn’t promise to be “aggressive” as one scribe asked and also said the flat salary cap, internal contracts that need to be taken care of, and the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft complicate acquisitions as well.
“Will you have to replace a hole that’s created because of the player that you lose? That remains to be seen,” he said.
Cheveldayoff Defends Scheifele’s Hit
When asked to weigh in on the harsh four-game suspension Mark Scheifele was assessed for charging Jake Evans in Game 1 of the second-round series.
Cheveldayoff sat in on Schiefele’s hearing with the Department of Player Safety and spent a lot of time analyzing videos of the play, drawing a number of conclusions.
“If you look at the player and puck tracking and you listen to Mark Scheifele’s explanation of what was going through his mind at that time, Mark Scheifele at the top of the circles decreased his speed by 20 per cent coming in,” so he could potentially stop an attempt at both sides of the empty net, Cheveldayoff said.
“If you look at the play itself, I think that it’s 0.8 seconds from the time that the player picks up the puck behind the net to the point of impact, 0.8 seconds in a game that a played has to make a decision,” Cheveldayoff continued. He stressed that Scheifele did not leave his feet, the point of impact was only 0.2 seconds after the puck crossed the goal line, and the first point of impact was not Evans’ head.
The NHL DoPS came down hard on Scheifele — despite him never being suspended before in a near-600 game NHL career — calling his hit “high and predatory.”
Scheifele disagreed with that assessment, saying he was simply trying to hustle and prevent a goal. In his own media availability Wednesday, he was still sore about the suspension.
“I still believe it was excessive,” he said. “They knocked me out of the series. I don’t even a the chance to play with my teammates and battle with my teammates in the series… I’m going to stop talking before I get fined or something like that, so I’ll leave it as it is.” He went on to call it “crushing” that his season was ended by supplemental discipline.
“I thought I was going to be tried to be shut down by Phillip Danault,” he continued. “And it was Department of Player Safety that shut me down. That definitely sucks.”
Cheveldayoff Has No News On Little
Not surprisingly, Bryan Little remains unavailable to the Jets. Cheveldayoff said he wasn’t sure if Little considers himself “retired,” but that “there are no medical opinions that say that he should play.”
The veteran centre hasn’t played since taking a Nikolaj Ehlers slap shot to the head on Nov. 5, 2019 and suffering a severe brain and ear injury. At this point, it doesn’t seem likely he will ever play professional hockey again.
Cheveldayoff Mum on Mathieu Perreault, Other UFAs
“As far as who we’re going to pursue and not pursue, obviously we’ll keep that internally and we’ll see how things progress,” he said, in response to a question on whether long-time Jet Mathieu Perreault would be tendered a new deal.
Perreault— who has spent seven seasons with the team — recorded nine goals and 10 assists this season and one goal and one assist in the playoffs, on the final year of a four-year, $16.5 million contract that was too rich for his role.
The Jets have eight other pending unrestricted free agents in addition to Perreault. Back in April, we took at look at the odds each of them get a new contract.
Did Cheveldayoff say anything at his media availability that surprised you? Agree or disagree with his assessment of the season? What do you think he should focus on this summer? Comment below.
Declan Schroeder is a 27-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.