By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Kevin Cheveldayoff knows he didn’t make big changes to the Winnipeg Jets roster in the off-season, but the general manager believes hiring Rick Bowness as head coach was a “seismic” move that should pay off.
“I think we had a seismic change on July 4 when we changed the coaching staff here, the philosophy,” Cheveldayoff told media Thursday after watching the former Dallas Stars head coach run Day 1 of training camp.
“I think if you just watched even the drills today and … watched the practice today, there’s lots of teaching, there’s lots of different systems, there’s lots of different ways that things are going to be approached, so that’s a seismic change.”
Bowness laughed when asked how he felt about being called a “seismic change.”
“I’ve been called worse,” he said with a smile. “I don’t know. Listen, I’m a coach, that’s all I know how, so whatever I’m called, I’m coming out and I’m just going to do my thing.”
The Jets (39-32-11) missed the playoffs last season after making it to the post-season in four straight years, finishing eight points behind Nashville for the final NHL Western Conference wild-card spot.
It was a campaign that included head coach Paul Maurice resigning in mid-December and Dave Lowry taking over on an interim basis. After the season, players expressed frustration and pointed to problems with accountability.
Veteran defenceman Josh Morrissey viewed a lack of big roster moves as a vote of confidence.
“It’s nice to see the faith from the management and ownership to not make a lot of changes of players,” Morrissey said.
“I think last year, we talked about it until we were blue in the face, really, about being frustrated, disappointed in last season, feeling like we underachieved and we could have achieved more, so now it’s kind of on us.
“We have a new staff that’s excited, we’re excited and we get another shot to show that we are a good team and we’re a team that can make the playoffs in our minds. As a player, that’s the confidence you want from your organization.
“Now it’s time for us to buy into the systems, buy into our coaching staff and go to another level that we think we can have and get to.”
The Jets didn’t have a sellout last season and fans have expressed frustration about the team on social media.
Cheveldayoff was asked how fans can get excited about a squad that’s basically remained the same.
“I think it comes down to the style of play that we’re going to have,” he replied. “I think it’s going to come down to the emotion that I believe we’ll play with under (Bowness). And I think that excitement level is there.
“It wasn’t long ago that the fan base here would get excited for young players that do come into the lineup, like a Cole Perfetti, like a Morgan Barron. Those are things an organization grows with.
“It’s not always about signing the big-name free agent that you might have to buy out two or three years down the road, it’s about growth. I think we’re well positioned with a strong core of veteran players and some good youth that’s knocking at the door here that’s really going to push those players.”
Last season, the Jets were expected to make the playoffs and take a serious run at claiming the Stanley Cup.
Veteran goaltender Connor Hellebuyck seemed glad that’s not the case this time around.
“In my experience, expectations are what kill teams,” he said. “You come in with expectations of great things and it’s hard to live up to it. It’s a mental grind.
“If you come in and you expect yourself to battle every single day and give yourself a chance at great things, that’s when they happen. So, that’s kind of my mindset coming in.”
One happy player Thursday was centre Mark Scheifele, who talked at the end of last season about wanting to know the direction the team was heading and whether it was a good fit for him.
“It’s definitely a nice fresh start for me going into this year,” he said. “I’m sure you guys can tell I’m pretty excited right now.
“I think I’m exuding positivity right now because I’m excited. It’s been an awesome start to the year, talking to the new coaches and talking to the guys and seeing the excitement on guys’ faces going into this year.”