WINNIPEG - Hockey is on the mind of everyone in the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto, but before Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff got too deep into that topic on Tuesday, he wanted to touch on something more important.
"Dale is going through a tough time right now. We as an organization are here to support him. We wish him all the best in his fight," Cheveldayoff said on Hawerchuk, who had a resurgence of the cancer that forced him to take a leave of absence from coaching the Barrie Colts of the OHL in September of 2019.
Hawerchuk's fingerprints are all over the Jets organization. He played nine seasons in a Jets jersey after Winnipeg drafted him first overall in the 1981 NHL Draft. The Canadian forward won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year in 1981-82 and finished the Jets portion of his career with 379 goals and 929 points.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame during the 2001-2002 season and also had his number 10 added to the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame in November of 2017.
It's also impossible to watch Mark Scheifele play and not think of Hawerchuk, who coached Winnipeg's top centre in Barrie.
"Dale Hawerchuk was a very big supporter of Mark Scheifele when we went through the Draft process and had lots of conversations," said Cheveldayoff. "He's one of our family. We're with you Dale."
Inside the Bubble
Cheveldayoff didn't see much of his players in person during the Phase 3 training camp at Bell MTS Iceplex.
He was still getting tested everyday so he would be eligible to travel to Edmonton, but during camp it was important to him that the staff around the players could do their job efficiently.
"You're only allowed to have 20 staff members around the team, so we felt it was more important that we had the support staff and the medical staff around so the guys could be comfortable," Cheveldayoff said. "This is really the first time for me to see our group back. Seeing them at practice yesterday, seeing the fun they had on the ice at the end of practice just playing games, it really underscores how much everyone missed being together."
Two days into life inside the bubble and Cheveldayoff is already impressed. He saw the work that went into getting the dressing rooms and facilities ready in Winnipeg to host training camp and now he's seeing Rogers Place and the hotel area in Edmonton, all while realizing the magnitude of the project.
"My hat goes off to the people that did a lot of the heavy lifting on the planning side of it," said Cheveldayoff, who over the last 48 hours, saw some of the in-arena game presentation dry runs.
"I was excited," he said. "For no fans in the building, to see the energy that they were able to generate just in their dry runs, I'm looking forward to see how it unfolds during the game."
And he'll see a lot of games. This set-up in Edmonton will provide Cheveldayoff and other team executives the chance to see a lot of hockey.
"There are going to be two or three games a day that we can watch live. There isn't really ever an opportunity for management or scouts to see that number of games live," he said.
"It's a huge opportunity to be able to scout, an opportunity to see players first hand. You do get to see them, but when you're watching your own team play, it's a little different. When you get the chance to just be a scout in the stands, so to speak, I think it's huge for a general manager."
The regular season and the drive through the playoffs is usually described as a marathon, but Cheveldayoff - like his players - realizes the Qualifying Round and Stanley Cup Playoffs will feel like much more of a sprint.
"You're hitting the ice, you're in full-fledged playoffs," he said. "The fact that the disruptions that have happened within our organization this year - none of which were planned - and the way the players were so resilient, the way they chose never to use it as an excuse or use anything that we were faced with as an excuse and stayed in the fight, did the things they needed to do, I really believe that's going to help us right now."
Wheeler nominated for King Clancy
One day after Jets captain Blake Wheeler was named as the team's nominee for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy - awarded to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community - Cheveldayoff had a chance to peel back the curtain on what made Wheeler a worthy candidate.
"His leadership is something that is talked about quite a bit. Being around him, you see him and you see how he carries himself and what he means to the players in the room and the team in general," said Cheveldayoff.
"It's his off-ice commitment to being the father he is, being the person he is. Just some of the initiatives that he and his wife, Sam, have taken upon themselves - Wheeling with the Wheelers - in the community. There are lots of little things that go on that a lot of people don't see. Blake is a driver of a lot of those things. It's a real worthy nomination."