Chevy to the leeve, was it dry? An analysis of Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets' general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff talks to media after practice at MTS Iceplex Friday morning. 210924 - Friday, September 24, 2021.

The Winnipeg Jets signed General Manager Kevin “Chevy” Cheveldayoff to a 3-year extension on May 1, 2022. The signing was understated and shrouded in doublespeak – much like the man himself.

Cheveldayoff is the third-longest-tenured General Manager in the NHL having joined the team back in September of 2011, putting him behind only Doug Armstrong (St. Louis) and David Poile (Nashville) in tenure.  He has been the only GM of the franchise since it relocated from Atlanta. Put frankly, Chevy is enjoying job security envied by most college professors.

In that time, the Jets regular season record has been a pedestrian 421-324-86. The team has made the playoffs 5 of those 11 seasons, the apex culminating in a trip to the Conference Finals in 2018. Decent? Yes. Sponge worthy? Absolutely not.

Since 2011, the Jets have had 3 head coaches (Noel, Maurice and Lowry); 2 captains (Ladd and Wheeler); and only one Byfuglien. In short, Winnipeg Jets 2.0 has operated under a very concentrated leadership group.

This begs the question…how good is Kevin Cheveldayoff at his job? In order to answer this question, we must determine the underlying criteria for evaluating a general manager in the NHL. I have somewhat arbitrarily and capriciously chosen the following:

  1. Draft prowess
  2. Free-agent signings and trades
  3. Coaching staff selection
  4. Team culture
  5. Salary cap management

1. How have the Winnipeg Jets drafted under Kevin Cheveldayoff?

A common refrain is that the Winnipeg Jets draft well. The steady drumbeat from the organization is the proliferation of the ‘draft and develop’ model. The paradigm is simple: draft deftly, and then develop that talent to its maximum potential. But is it true? Has Chevy put this model into practice? Let us look at Winnipeg Jets draft picks by year, with a heavy focus on first round picks.

2011

The first ever Jets 2.0 draft pick was none other than Mark Scheifele with the 7th overall selection. Current struggles aside (more on that later), Mark has been a productive player – behind only Kucherov, Huberdeau and Gaudreau in scoring from the 2011 vintage (Kucherov and Gaudreau were steals much later in the draft). Chevy also drafted Adam Lowry in the 3rd round who has become a foundational piece for the Jets, and even hired his Dad. So far, so good (except the Dad part).

2012

“With the 9th pick in the 2012 NHL draft, the Winnipeg Jets select Jacob Trouba”. Trouba entered the league with great anticipation, and although he had some good seasons with the Jets, an undercurrent of disappointment followed him for failing to reach those lofty expectations. He’s transformed his game in New York as more of a line-crossing Brad Marchand type (without any of the personality). That said, the talent pool in 2012 was sparse, so this was a decent pick.

The real coup d’état of this draft was selecting Connor Hellebuyck in the 5th round. One Vezina trophy and dozens of single-handed wins later, Connor was a tremendous pick.

2013

Josh Morrisey was taken 13th overall. While it looked dire for a few seasons, he has since regained his dominant form. The two defenseman selected after Morrissey (Pulock and Zadrov) have had solid but unspectacular careers, so this pick was a good one. The Airport Lounge are big fans of number 44 – a fact that I’m certain he couldn’t care less about.

Nabbing Andrew Copp in the 4th round was also savvy, even if it took a change in scenery for him to blossom.

2014

You can’t teach speed. Nikolaj Ehlers was taken 9th overall in 2014 and while we haven’t yet deployed him properly, he is arguably our best forward. Biases aside, Dylan Larkin went 15th overall and David Pastrnak fell to the 25th pick – both at tremendous value. Ehlers has failed to perform at their levels, however Chevy gets a bit of a pass here, for no other reason than I love Nik Ehlers.

2015

Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic were taken in the first round. Much like the chicken, KFC has been finger lickin’ good. Fresh off a Lady Byng win, Connor is one of the NHL’s premier scorers, although his attention to defense is heart attack inducing – again, much like the chicken.

Roslovic has blossomed in Columbus (detecting a theme here?), but never really did much in Winnipeg. The Jets could and should have used that pick to select Sebastian Aho – so we’ll consider that a missed opportunity.

2016

Patrick Laine went 2nd overall to the Jets and became an immediate fan favourite. The pick was a no-brainer however, as Laine and Matthews were consensus top 2 ranked prospects at the time.

Logan Stanley was then selected 18th overall and was celebrated by tall people everywhere.

2017-2018

The Jets didn’t have a first round pick in 2018, and squandered their 24th overall pick in 2017 on Kristian Vesalainen who is now no longer in the NHL.

2019-2021

The results here are inconclusive. Evaluating drafts in hindsight can be tricky at the best of times, so let’s give these kids some time to develop. Cole Perfetti has shown promise, and Ville Heinola has flashed (but again, has not been given the opportunity to prove himself).

Verdict: The Jets have drafted well, and Chevy deserves credit for that. The inability to rebuild the defensive core through the draft is concerning, and misses on Roslovic, Stanley and Vesalainen hurt – but drafting is not an exact science in any professional sport.

2. How has Chevy done in free agency and in the trade market?

Quickly, without googling…name the best Winnipeg Jets free agent signing in the last 11 years? If your knee-jerk reaction was Paul Stastny, congratulations, you are incorrect. It was objectively Matthieu Perreault. The Tasmanian Devil was plucked in 2014, and became a mainstay throughout the lineup. He was notably the best Jet forward in Corsi during his time in Winnipeg.

The point however is that there has not been a bevy of talent acquired through free agency. We’ve typically used free agency to fill bottom 6 and 4th line roles. Such luminaries include Matt Hendricks (the redux), Derek Forbort, and most recently, Adam Brooks. These signings are a zero-sum proposition as they fill roles typically used for young players – antithetical to the ‘draft and develop’ model. As such, Chevy takes an “L” with free agency.

How about trades? Any Faustian bargains out there? I’ve ranked the notable trades Chevy has made since 2011 from best to worst transactions:

DateTradeAnalysis
1.June 17, 2019Jacob Trouba FOR Neil Pionk and a 2019 1st round pickWhatever you think about Pionk, this was a solid return for Trouba.
2.February 26, 2017Paul Stastny FOR 2017 1st and 3rd round picksStastny was picked up for a playoff push and bolstered the Jets top 6 forward group.
3.June 30, 2013Michael Frolik FOR 2013 3rd and 5th round picksFrolik was a good 2-way player, and we acquired him on the cheap.
4.February 18, 2020Dylan Demelo FOR 2020 3rd round pickDylan DeMelo is criminally underrated and well worth the price here.
5.January 22, 2021Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic FOR Pierre Luc-Dubois and a 2021 3rd round pickThis is mostly TBD, as both marquee players struggled with their new teams in the first year. Giving up a generation scorer is tough, even for PLD who is now beloved.
6.February 11, 2015Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, Jason Kasdorf FOR Brendan Lemieux, Joel Armia, Drew Stafford, Tyler Myers and a 2015 1st round pickIt’s ironic that Kane’s terrible behavior necessitated this trade, and yet he is the only remaining player of any real consequence from this swap meet.
7.February 25, 2016Andrew Ladd, Jay Harrison, and Matt Fraser FOR Marko Dano, a 2016 1st, and a 2018 conditional 3rdThe 2016 1st turned into Logan Stanley so let’s just move on.
8.February 25, 2019Kevin Hayes FOR Brendan Lemieux, a 2019 1st, and a conditional 2022 4thDoes anyone remember Kevin Hayes? We gave the Rangers a 1st round pick for him (for the playoff run) and swapped him the next year for a 5th. Ouch.
9.July 26th and 27th, 2021Brendan Dillon and Nate Schmidt FOR Two 2021 2nd round picks and a 3rd.Yes, I know these were separate trades, but I am lumping them together because they are part of the same philosophical push to acquire defensive help that did not work.

Verdict: The Dillon and Schmidt trades veer Chevy’s trading record into the ‘below average’ category. Most of the action was borne out of necessity, or for a playoff push, but overall, a lackluster long-term success rate here.

3. Does Chevy have a loyalty problem with coaching?

It is the job of the GM to hire, cultivate and ultimately fire head coaches. Let’s examine Chevy’s choices:

Claude Noel: No sugarcoating this – Noel was a loyalty hire. Claude was given the inaugural position based almost solely on the fact that he was the head coach of the Manitoba Moose at the time. If there is another reason to hire a first-time head coach to usher in a group of young interlopers – I’d like to hear it. The skepticism on this isn’t retrospective. This decision was highly scrutinized in at the time.

Paul Maurice: The Airport Lounge’s position on Paul Maurice is quite clear: https://thefhn.net/some-people-call-me-maurice

It was obvious to Jets fans, pundits and anyone who was not drinking the Kool-Aid, that Maurice was no longer an effective head coach. Chevy however was busy setting up a Kool-Aid stand.

It took Maurice quitting for a change to occur. Maurice intimated that he had lost the room, and his passion for coaching. This wasn’t readily evident to the General Manager? Did they not talk? It is difficult to extrapolate any rational explanation as to why Maurice was kept (and extended) for as long as he was.

Dave Lowry: Poor Dave Lowry. That is all.

Verdict: Not good, Bob. I didn’t even mention the fact that Charlie Huddy continues to be employed despite woeful special teams and defensive play. Chevy has gone 0-3 in coaching hires.

4. What ‘culture’ has the GM cultivated?

Hockey culture is a nebulous concept rife with subjectivity. What was not subjective however was how Chevy navigated the Kyle Beach scandal.

Deking his way through carefully vetted press releases, Chevy ultimately took zero responsibility for what happened while he was the Assistant General Manager of the Chicago Blackhawks. To recapitulate, a predator infiltrated the organization; caused irreparable harm, and those in charge at the time (including Cheveldayoff) remained largely silent. At the risk of editorializing, this is unacceptable. Culture and accountability are set from the top down, and I can’t help but prophesize that the moral high ground has been lost here.

Also, in recent weeks, it has become clear that the Jets have some ‘Trouble at the Henhouse’. Seemingly, the team has too many roosters, and as a result – too many cocks. Avian puns aside, the Jets locker room is in disarray.

The end-of-season press conferences were a finger pointing masterpiece, with the Leonardo DiVinci amongst them being Mark Scheifele. Multiple reports have surfaced that he has not been ‘happy’ for years, and in turn, his teammates are not happy with him. Factions, and lack of identity have plagued this team for years. Is that on the GM? It’s more on the coach, but please see above on who controls the coaching aspect of an organization.

The genesis of Scheifele’s angst is not public knowledge, but the smart money is that it originates from his contract. Mark is underpaid, and his former agent (whom he fired shortly after signing) can attest to that fact. Did we not cater enough to 55, or did we cater too much? Regardless, this is a largely unhappy team and the GM bears some of the responsibility for that.

Verdict: Although tone is set primarily through coaching, the GM should have a pulse on the Katra of the dressing room, and definitively should be setting some moral standards. This has largely been a failure.

5. Cap Management

This criterion is somewhat irrelevant, as for most of Winnipeg Jets 2.0 history the team has operated well below the salary cap. Of note, there has been a failure to rebuild our defensive unit, and Wheeler was signed to an expensive extension at the age of 33. Logan Stanley was protected over Dylan DeMelo in the 2021 Expansion Draft which in hindsight (and to some in real time), was 6 foot 7 inches of bad decision making.

In fairness, Scheifele, Ehlers, Morrissey and Connor have all signed long-term team friendly deals. Chevy was also able to finagle Little’s contract off the books.

Verdict: We’ll call this one a win. I do believe team building is not easy in a small market, and Chevy has navigated adequately – buoyed by the long-term signings of his core. That said, if one or both of Mark Scheifele and/or Pierre-Luc Dubois leave the organization, that too will be a failure.

Where does that leave us? Kevin Cheveldayoff has drafted well and has signed a number of these assets to team friendly deals. Everything else is subpar to downright negligent. Some may weight the Draft heavily and are not concerned with the other criteria presented. I am not one of those people. It’s contrite to say that the next 3 years are crucial given the length of rope afforded to Chevy, but to borrow from Mark Scheifele, “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.”


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