While Winnipeg ended their season on a high note today with a victory over Seattle, it was a disappointing season overall for the Jets as they finished in sixth place in the Central Division while missing the playoffs by eight points. However, despite the tough year, Sportsnet’s Ken Wiebe reports that the team has signed GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to a three-year contract extension.
Cheveldayoff is the third-longest-tenured general manager in the NHL having joined the team back in September of 2011, putting him only behind Doug Armstrong (St. Louis) and David Poile (Nashville). He has been the only GM the franchise has had since it relocated from Atlanta.
Over that time, Winnipeg has only reached the playoffs in five of eleven seasons, although most of those appearances have come in recent years; their streak of four consecutive postseasons came to an end this year. Along the way, Cheveldayoff has built a strong core, anchored by goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, center Mark Scheifele, wingers Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers, and defenseman Josh Morrissey, among others. But despite that core, they’ve only reached the Western Conference Final once and made it out of the first round twice.
The Jets underwent a big change midseason when head coach Paul Maurice surprisingly resigned, prompting Cheveldayoff to elevate Dave Lowry to the interim role. It didn’t result in any improvement as the points percentage for both coaches were nearly identical, .534 for Maurice and .528 for Lowry. Deciding Lowry’s future, as well as that of the rest of the coaching staff, figures to be at the top of the priority list over the coming days and weeks.
But determining whether or not the core needs another shakeup will also have to be on Cheveldayoff’s list. He made one significant move last season when he moved Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic to Columbus for Pierre-Luc Dubois in an effort to shore up their depth down the middle. Dubois, a pending RFA, had a nice season but it didn’t result in any extra team success.
Center Mark Scheifele has been a fixture in Winnipeg’s lineup since he was their first-ever draft pick (after moving) but his comments following the game suggested that his future with the team could be in question as well:
I’d love to be in Winnipeg, but I also have to see where this is all going and what direction this team is going in and I guess we’ll see this summer. I’m in the prime of my career. 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. Those are going to be…talks with my agents and everyone in my family and stuff like that and figure out what I really want. So, it will be a tough talk tomorrow.
If Cheveldayoff was to move the 29-year-old, there would be no shortage of interested teams although moving their top center would also open up a big hole down the middle. He has two more years left on his deal with a team-friendly $6.125MM AAV.
The GM will also need to navigate a tight salary cap situation as the team already has around $16MM in cap room this summer, per CapFriendly, about half of which will need to be spent on a new deal for Dubois while they will need to sign several players to round out their roster. There isn’t enough room to bring in another core player to bolster the team without moving one out so Cheveldayoff will have to think long and hard as to whether this group is good enough to contend in the West. If not, some changes will need to come.
Cheveldayoff has done well enough in his tenure in Winnipeg to get this vote of confidence. However, some big decisions lie ahead for him and the Jets.