By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Kevin Cheveldayoff knows he has a long to-do list for the Winnipeg Jets, but he’s armed with a new contract extension and a desire to improve the team on the ice and in an unhappy and possibly fractured locker room.
The general manager confirmed his three-year extension in a Monday press conference in between exit meetings with players after the Jets missed the playoffs with a 39-32-11 record.
Cheveldayoff, 52, has been the team’s only GM since the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg in 2011.
He said he was “fortunate” to have the opportunity and confidence of ownership to get the team back on a successful flight path.
“There are lots of good things that we’ve been able to accomplish,” Cheveldayoff said of his long tenure with the club.
“We’ve been a team that has pushed and, unfortunately, we hit a road block right now. We’ll have to find a different way to overcome that.”
During his 11 years at the helm, the Jets have qualified for the post-season five times. They missed the playoffs this season after making it to the post-season in four straight years, finishing eight points behind Nashville for the final Western Conference wild-card spot.
One of the big tasks to strike off his list is making a coaching decision.
Dave Lowry was named interim head coach after Paul Maurice resigned on Dec. 17, 2021. Lowry, 56, went 26-22-6 in his first stint as an NHL head coach.
Cheveldayoff said Lowry can interview for the full-time position as the Jets conduct a search for Maurice’s permanent replacement. He has no timeline for making a decision, noting some possible candidates may be assistant coaches with teams in the playoffs.
He’ll also have to deal with discontent among players, which surfaced when they talked to media after being eliminated from playoff contention.
Veteran centre Mark Scheifele raised eyebrows when he said Sunday that he wanted to know the vision of the team before making some decisions about his hockey future, even though he’s under contract for two more years.
“I’m in the prime of my career,” Scheifele told reporters. “I still have so much to improve on, too, and I like where my game is at. I like the physical nature that my body is at. I’m only improving, I’m only getting better and I’m only going to be a better player next year than I was this year.
“I just have to know where this team is going and what the direction is and what the changes are going to be, if any. I have to think about my career and what’s going to be best for me.”
Cheveldayoff hadn’t yet spoken to Scheifele before he met with the media, but he said the team’s first draft pick in 2011 hadn’t asked to be traded and he’ll get more clarity once they talk.
“With respect to Mark, he is a talented player. He is in the prime of his career. He is all those things that he said he is,” Cheveldayoff said.
“He’s a Winnipeg Jet and he wants to win. As an organization we’re going to have to take a little bit of a reassessment here to see where some things are at, but our goal is to win the Stanley Cup.”
Players also revealed frustrations that implied there wasn’t a team-first mentality and the chemistry is off.
“We’ve got to be held accountable — whether it’s player on player — and we’ve got to have more respect for each other,” unrestricted free agent Paul Stastny said on Sunday.
“When you don’t have that, when you don’t care about the teammate next to you — potentially — and you just care about what you’re doing or certain individual things, that starts bleeding into the game.”
Cheveldayoff was asked about Stastny’s comments and the nature of players’ disappointment.
“This group here I think genuinely felt that there was supposed to be more,” he replied. “I think that’s why you get the valley of the valleys of lows that we have here right now.”
He was also questioned about the team’s leadership group, which includes captain Blake Wheeler and alternates Scheifele and Josh Morrissey.
“There’s going to be lots of conversations amongst whether it’s the leadership group, whether it’s the other players,” Cheveldayoff said. “There’s going to be lots of conversations internally.
“And just because I got an extension, there’s going to be lots of conversations between the ownership and myself, asking where things went. There’s lots of questions that everyone’s going to want answered.
“What the course of action moving forward is going to be? That’s what we need to take the time here to figure out and make those hard decisions in that regard.”