By Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming)
WINNIPEG — It’s that time of year, when NHL coaches and general managers of non-playoff teams begin the autopsy of their franchise’s season, dissect their rosters and lay out a plan of attack to play deeper into the month of April — and hopefully May and June — the next year.
Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff addressed the media Tuesday afternoon, and in over 40 minutes of availability, gave only a very quick peek into what he wants to accomplish this summer.
The debate rages on, in a town where every NHL hockey-starved Manitoban has the answer to what their new favourite team should do to get them into the playoffs. More offence. Tighter defence. High-priced free agent help. Blue chip prospect development and draft picks.
Cheveldayoff is keeping his cards close to his chest.
“There was a period of time where we struggled to score goals, and it became ‘these guys can’t score, we need to get a goal scorer.’ Then there was a period of time where we were scoring goals but pucks were going in and it’s like, ‘man oh man, they need to shore up the defence.’ You know, over an 82 game season I think you see lots of different areas.”
The Jets finished a respectable 12th in goals scored per game with 2.70, but were the NHL’s 5th-worst defensively at 2.95 goals allowed. With a 24-year-old budding superstar in Ondrej Pavelec handling the majority of the workload between the pipes this past season, the team will have to address team defence from a five skater standpoint.
“For us it’s about improvement in a lot of different areas,” added Cheveldayoff. “I’d love to get bigger. From a size perspective, there are areas we would like to address, be it short term or in the long term. That is an area I think we could certainly improve upon. To pinpoint one single place, it might not be the true evaluation and analysis of our team.”
With the NHL Draft Lottery going Tuesday night, the Jets have a chance at three different spots in the first round; their current pick at ninth, fifth overall if they win the lottery, or tenth if one of the five non-playoff teams behind them wins the lottery and moves ahead the maximum four spots.
When asked to delve deeper into comments made Monday night regarding his willingness to possibly trade Winnipeg’s first-rounder, Cheveldayoff said, “As far as what the asking price would be, it would be extremely high. We’re talking about the future of this franchise. My commitment to not mortgage the future, that will be unwavered. It’ll be a process. At times people may say, you need to accelerate. But at some point in time, if the right pieces are there to accelerate the process, then we will.”
“I have to make sure that I don’t ever let my heart get ahead of my head, and that anything that we’re going to do has to have meaning.”
When asked specifically what he is looking for beyond just signing the bevy of Winnipeg’s own free agents, Cheveldayoff offered this.
“If we had the opportunity to get more experience or get some young talent at forward that would fit into our core, that would be something. That would be very helpful in pushing the process along. But again, there’s tremendous opportunity on defence as well to improve. I want to keep myself, obviously, very open and flexible because if there’s a need or a move that needs to be made I’m not going to sit back and (wait).”
Truth be told, the Jets’ most valuable assets reside in their youth, organizational depth, and in the potential of prospects waiting for their chance to shine. Fans should hold faith in the names Kane, Wheeler, Burmistrov and Pavelec, but also in those of Paul Postma, Zach Redmond, Ivan Telegin, Mark Scheifele and Spencer Machacek.
As Cheveldayoff concluded his press conference, “I just can’t emphasize enough that it’s just the beginning.”