Winnipeg Jets fans present quite the dichotomy when it comes to supporting their team. Jets fans represent one of the fiercest, loyal fan bases in the NHL. They stick behind this team, certainly in thick, and even in the thinnest of moments. But during those thin moments, they are excruciatingly brutal about its coaches and players. This is particularly interesting because they seem to give Jets’ management almost a complete pass on retribution.
So, what’s my point? I think Kevin Chevyldayoff should be released of his duties.
Here is why.
The General Manager position has the ultimate responsibility for putting together a high-quality team for the paying public. By the way, the paying public does not only include those who pay among the highest ticket prices in the NHL, but also those at home who pay for cable and watch all those Safeway ads during the Jets games. That is a real cost. So, almost all Jets fans pay a little bit or a lot of bit one way or another. Yeah, and us jersey buyers.
The GM must balance the finances of the team, the salary cap, the rise and fall of players, overall team management, and, of course, the draft. This certainly isn’t done on an island, but the GM has the final word.
Professional hockey teams are built around the draft. But the draft is relatively easy, regardless of what you hear. Once the scouting has been done, the first three rounds of the draft are relatively pro forma. That is, they write themselves with small variations between a few draft spots. The draft experts have these slots down to a science well before the draft, and the combine settles it in. For all those that thought Toronto would pick Patrik Laine over Austin Matthews—there was NO way that was going to happen, and Mike Babcock had basically said that all along. They knew what they had in Matthews and fit their structure. And he has produced, as Laine has for Winnipeg.
People want to believe that things are up for grabs in the draft. For the most part, they are not.
So I don’t give the GM much credit for the draft. The Winnipeg Jets got Patrik Laine because we won a lottery to move from sixth to second place. Otherwise, we likely would have ended up with Matthew Tkachuk who is doing nice things with Calgary. I say likely, because if his dad had any say so, young Matthew wouldn’t have skated anywhere near Winnipeg.
Below is a table of current Winnipeg players and their draft round. The players who stick are mostly in the first and second round. In fact, of all players that are drafted in the NHL, only 20 percent make the big leagues. Of that group, the first rounders represent 33 percent of keepers. The big Jets players who will be here for a while come from the first round. Toby Enstrom came from the eighth round because he was European and unknown. Henrik Lundqvist, for instance, was drafted in the seventh round. Paul Postma is a seventh rounder and won’t be with this team in the long run. Hellebuyck is from the fifth round, but the draft is trickier with goalies. Copp is a good fourth rounder and Lowry a good third rounder. Petan was a second due to his size and shows great promise. For comparison, Johnny Gaudreau of the Flames was drafted 104th overall in the fourth round.
So, the draft is what it is. There are not many surprises. The GM gets little credit in my books. What the GM does do is write secondary contracts and make key trades. That is the hard work of an NHL GM. If you think Chevy’s job is hard, give it 2-3 more years when he has to come up with $9M/year for Patrik Laine and $8M/year for Nik Ehlers. The Jets are going to have significant horrors with both salary cap issues and the Jets’ management penchant with spending under the salary cap.
So are the three reasons why I think Chevy should be released.
Going back a bit, he hired Claude Noel when he wasn’t NHL tested and then held on to him too long after it was clear he lost the room. I’m sure Jets’ upper management put pressure to put Noel on the contract, because this team is very loyal to its employees. But coming from Chicago, Chevy should have said no. Winnipeg lost considerable development time with a solid core of players. Fans need to be constantly reminded that this was NOT an expansion team. It had potential right there and then to make leaps toward the playoffs.
Second, I don’t think Chevy did enough to make certain trades and signings on time to move the team forward. I give him complete credit for the Kane and Ladd trades, which have been huge pluses for the team. So some might say that negates my comment. I just think there was more opportunity to do more. I find his signing of Dustin Byfuglien to a five-year, $7.6M annual (average) contract asinine. Jets fan may love Buff beyond belief, but that contract sinks this team. No other team would have paid Buff more than $6M, which is the sum that I thought was reasonable. Given his play this year, he is massively overcompensated. There was talk yesterday on NHL.com whether Buff would be a rental player or a trade. But as long as the Jets are in the hunt, they won’t be trading anyone. As well, there isn’t a team in the NHL that want that contract. Buff is here through the end of hist contract, which will be 2021.
But the third and most powerful reason I would release Chevy of his duties is the decision to place Ondrej Pavelec with the Manitoba Moose and start two unproven goalies as their starters back in September. I wrote it was a a bad decision at the time and everyone (almost) argued with me that Pavelec is a “joke” and is a “terrible” goalie. Well, we found out what terrible is with two goalies that couldn’t make a big save or have decent stats. That decision, alone, may have cost the Jets the playoffs this year. Hellebuyck may be the starter next year, although he has a long way to go, and Hutchinson will be trade bait. Eric Comrie’s stock has risen markedly this year due to the unexpected play from his colleagues. As Paul Maurice said the other night, it isn’t all stats. It is about making key saves at the right time. If one looks at last night’s game versus the Dallas Stars, Pavelec made several key saves and he has in each of the games he has played since his return. Last night, of the three that went in, he didn’t have a chance on two of them and probably saved another three that could have gone in on any other night.
I do think it is interesting that Maurice is paying huge compliments to Pavelec. Sending him to the AHL clearly was not his decision.