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For GM, key move in plan to build long-term winner

by Patrick Williams
WINNIPEG -- General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff outlined his plan Tuesday afternoon to build the Winnipeg Jets into a long-term winning franchise in its return to the NHL. The key factor: emphasize character and install a teaching philosophy.

The first major action step of that process was signing 25-year-old left wing Andrew Ladd to a new five-year contract on Tuesday, Cheveldayoff said while meeting the media at MTS Centre. What's more, Cheveldayoff confirmed that Ladd, a two-time Stanley Cup-winner who posted 29 goals last season, will captain the Jets this coming season.

"It's something that we said at the onset was of utmost importance to us and the organization," Cheveldayoff said. "Getting to the agreement was a great feeling, and getting on the phone with Andrew and congratulating him and welcoming him to the new contract was great."

The Jets and Ladd's representative began negotiations in earnest last week following the Entry Draft in Minnesota.

Ladd was engaged in protracted negotiations with the club's former management team in Atlanta, but the Jets and Ladd were able to assemble a long-term deal in little more than a week.

"The negotiations were very good and very amicable," Cheveldayoff said. "From the time we started them until now, there was great dialogue. Deals happen at different rates at different times for different reasons. What is very, very sure is that Andrew is committed to being a Winnipeg Jet, committed to Winnipeg."

Cheveldayoff credited True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd. chairman Mark Chipman with being willing to provide the sort of financial flexibility and commitment needed to finalize the deal.

"Mark was very, very gracious and good about the opportunity of locking him up for a very long time," he said.

Ladd made his impression on Cheveldayoff early after making a trip into Winnipeg last month to visit the MTS Centre, the club's new home, and tour the city. After returning to his hotel that day, Ladd contacted his teammates to brief them on what the MTS Centre had to offer and to assuage any concerns that members of the club had about moving to a new home.

The Jets have stressed the importance of individual character since the club first announced its intent to relocate to the Manitoba capital. The concept has remained a steady thread as the club has begun to assemble management and a roster.

"We wanted to have Andrew for the long-term," Cheveldayoff said. "That was never a question from the moment he walked into the arena here. You could tell that he wanted to be a part of it. When you have two willing sides, there is always a way to get things done."

As for Ladd's fellow top-six forward, right wing Blake Wheeler, the negotiation process is ongoing, according to Cheveldayoff. Wheeler, a restricted free agent, filed for salary arbitration on Tuesday.

Despite the filing, Cheveldayoff does not foresee any snags in negotiations: "As of this morning, we had great conversations with Blake's representative. Those discussions will be ongoing today," he said.

Twenty-year-old defenseman Zach Bogosian is also a restricted free agent, but he does not have the right to salary arbitration. Cheveldayoff said the Jets and Bogosian have discussed the concepts and terms of a potential new contract.

"That one will take its own course," Cheveldayoff said of the Bogosian negotiations. Bogosian has experienced some growing pains as a key cog of a young roster, but Cheveldayoff remains optimistic.

"Zach is a tremendous kid," Cheveldayoff said. "He is a very young defenseman, and anyone who follows the game knows that defensemen mature at a different rate than other players. He is someone I hope to build our defense around."

Cheveldayoff sees new head coach Claude Noel as a key factor in the club's development going forward. With a young, talented but inexperienced roster, the development process is going to be a critical piece of the club's long-term plans. Noel, who earned a reputation for his teaching skills in the American Hockey League, will play a central role.

"The opportunity to have these players coached by Claude is going to be great, because Claude is a teacher," Cheveldayoff said. "What I've witnessed from Claude over the years is that he has been able to take many different types of teams and find ways to get them to play as a group and get them to play above some of their parts."
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