The Winnipeg Jets have been accused of many things over the years, but never of disloyalty.
Winnipeg has long been a franchise that prefers to keep things “in-house” from their draft-and-develop approach to hiring coaches with connections to the former Manitoba Moose. They continued that pattern on September 6 with extensions to their head coach and GM.
Some may consider the timing of the extensions odd or downright inappropriate. Many Jets fans were irate that the team was extending executives who have yet to achieve any tangible results.
Others saw the move as an attempt at injecting some stability ahead of what promises to be the most pressure filled season yet for the franchise. The Jets have never had such high expectations ahead of a season and the team clearly felt speculation about the future of the coach and GM was speculation better avoided in such a pivotal year.
The timing does seem off in that Maurice and Cheveldayoff have yet to lead this team anywhere of note. However, the Jets have maintained winning is a process, and the heightened expectations around the team indicate the process is working on some level.
The Jets aren’t deaf to the voices of their fans, who clearly want more after so many seasons devoid of playoffs. They can’t ignore their own players, either, who are all towing a “no more excuses” line.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) August 31, 2017
So, did the Jets do the right thing at the right time here? Or have they jumped the gun on a couple of extensions for people who have yet to truly earn them?
Results Oriented Business
Shortly after the extensions announcement, Blake Wheeler called Paul Maurice the best coach he’s ever had, and other players echoed the sentiment. There’s something to be said for a coach who can command so much respect from a player in Wheeler who commands so much respect himself.
That said, hockey is a business where winning forgives all and losing makes flaws unforgivable. The Winnipeg Jets have one playoff appearance in Maurice’s tenure, and no wins in that appearance.
With that in mind, some Jets fans could be forgiven for being skeptical or even outright hostile toward the Maurice extension. This is, after all, a results-oriented business. For the Jets, the results have been poor.
Dive a little deeper into the results, however, and you see why Maurice still has the trust of Jets senior management. Maurice’s first year behind the bench was a marked improvement from his predecessor, and he earned some goodwill there. In his first full season, the team made the playoffs for the first time, so he wasn’t going to be fired for that.
By the Jets own admission, they knew from the start 2015-16 was going to be a transitional year, and so it was. Again, that year wasn’t likely to cost Maurice his job. It’s only last year that Maurice has really put himself in position to earn the ire of certain Jets fans and, fickle as the fan base is, he could lose it again just as quickly.
Even last year can’t be fully laid at Maurice’s feet. Would he make all the same lineup decisions over again? Probably not, but there was nothing he could do about the absurd rash of injuries or the goaltending crisis.
So what about Cheveldayoff? Is he off the hook? After all, he is the longest tenured member of the Jets front office (aside from Mark Chipman of course) and has yet to bring the team to glory. Does he get a pass?
Apparently so, as it’s been indicated that he has a longer-term extension than Maurice does, though the Jets won’t disclose the full details.
The biggest issue many Jets fans seem to have with Cheveldayoff is the moves he doesn’t make. Inaction on the part of a GM can be a flaw, but who’s to say Cheveldayoff hasn’t been trying to make moves only to be stymied by no-trade clauses or unreasonable asking prices on the part of his trade partners?
What can be said for certain is that the moves Cheveldayoff has made have panned out nicely. Giving up two months of Andrew Ladd and getting Marko Dano and a first round pick in return was a master stroke.
As for the Evander Kane trade, the winner of that deal is still to be determined, but given that Chevledayoff was backed into a corner by the broken relationship between Kane and the team, his return on that trade was remarkable.
The scouting staff the Jets employ deserves full credit for their draft successes, but some of that credit must go to Cheveldayoff as well. In the drafts we can reasonably assess (2011-2015) the Jets only real mistake was using a second rounder on Lukas Sutter.
There have been times when Cheveldayoff has been accused of sitting on his hands, but it’s hard to know what moves he’s attempted to make and backed off on knowing the asking price would hurt his team in the long run. The results of that long run are almost in sight and, looking at the Jets roster, they look pretty good.
There’s a sense of urgency about the Jets this offseason. Not only did they spend more in free agency than they ever have, the players are all saying the same thing: we expect more of ourselves this year.
Those expectations, buoyed by a seven-game winning streak to cap off last season, may or may not be fair, but if the Jets are going to meet them, they need to play as free of distractions as possible. Maurice and Cheveldayoff being fired would be a distraction.
Incidentally, it’s not out of the realm of possibility this could happen despite the extension. After all, Claude Noel was under contract when he got fired. It does make it less likely, however.
The Jets and Maurice can now focus solely on the season. As can Cheveldayoff. After a busy offseason in which he was a buyer for the first time, Cheveldayoff might have to be a buyer at the trade deadline again as well, as he was in 2014-15.
It will be all the easier for he and Maurice to do what must be done if they can focus on the season and nothing else. And if the season ends with a playoff berth, and maybe some wins, the extensions will seem like a great idea. If not, it may be that heads roll anyway.