-- As Winnipeg Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff took to podium in the Matt Frost Media Centre for his post season press conference, he began by speaking like a delighted father.
“I’m really proud,” he said. “I’m really proud of that group for the point that they took it.”
Though full of pride, Cheveldayoff also spoke of the pain that comes with exiting the playoffs in the first round.
“Obviously there’s also a sense of emptiness,” said Cheveldayoff. “You fight so hard to get that opportunity to play in the playoffs, it just makes you that much more appreciative of how hard it is to get there.”
Getting there certainly involved hard work from the team, but also from Cheveldayoff.
One year ago he announced the team had extended coach Paul Maurice’s contract. That was only the first big step the team’s General Manager took in helping the team get as far as it did.
Throughout the season Cheveldayoff made key strategic trades and moves. Another big step he took in helping the team reach the post-season.
Now though, he said it’s time to work even harder and move this team to a place where it’s earning a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on an annual basis.
“[Losing in] four [games] was tough,” he said. “But there is going to be a point in time here when you sit and ask me: ‘What was it like to sweep?’ ‘What was it like to win in six?’ ‘What was it like to win in seven?’”
And Cheveldayoff thinks his team is headed in that direction.
“With what we have in place here, from our standpoint we’re going to want to earn it each and every year. And I think there’s a good possibility we can.”
Cheveldayoff’s summer will be busy if he plans to keep it all in place. Eight players on the roster will be unrestricted free agents as of July 1, and another three, restricted free agents.
Although Cheveldayoff wouldn’t say exactly whom he’s going to reach out to and make offers to, he did express how much he likes the current team.
“I like the group and I think the group likes each other,” he said. “Obviously we have to finish the meetings with players and coaching staff, but that being said I like those guys, and I think if we can keep as much of it together as possible that would be good.”
Cheveldayoff is realistic. He noted that he may not be able to keep everybody, and that he will have to do some shopping around. But in many respects, having had his team make the playoffs, Cheveldayoff’s job of selling the Jets to other free agents will be a bit easier.
“There is no better sales pitch than what we just went through with those two home playoff games,” he said. “The community came through in the best fashion possible.”
And Cheveldayoff hopes the guys he does bring into the organization, through signings and the draft, will only push this team to be better.
If you have a group that can establish a high level of expectation and accountability, he said, then those younger guys who come in will only push that level higher and higher as they compete for spots on the roster.
“It’s then that you become a team that has to be reckoned with each and every year, and I think we’re on our way there.”
-- Zach Peters, WinnipegJets.com