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Jets sign GM Cheveldayoff to contract extension

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- The man who spent this summer hammering out contracts for the Winnipeg Jets received one of his own Wednesday.

The Jets extended general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff's five-year contract by two additional years, taking him through the 2017-18 season.

Cheveldayoff, who assumed his role in June 2011 after the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg, is beginning his third season with the organization. Cheveldayoff's stewardship has produced a 61-56-13 record since he took the position following two seasons as the Chicago Blackhawks' assistant general manager.

Cheveldayoff has signed Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom, Evander Kane, Bryan Little, Ondrej Pavelec and Blake Wheeler to long-term deals as the organization continues its rebuilding process. The Jets have also added center Mark Scheifele and defenseman Jacob Trouba as first-round selections via the NHL Draft, and both players appear to be nearly NHL-ready.

Jets fans have discussed and dissected the "organizational plan" that Jets chairman Mark Chipman unveiled after the club's arrival in Winnipeg, and Chipman considers his general manager to be essential to his original vision.

"One of the biggest parts of our plan is having its future in the hands of Kevin Cheveldayoff," Chipman told the Winnipeg media. "I also believe that the fans of our organization are deserving of knowing where we're going and how we're going to get there. They invest considerably in what we're about."

For Chipman, providing job security for Cheveldayoff was a natural step in the evolution of a long-term plan that the Jets undertook more than two years ago after their arrival in the city. Chipman and Cheveldayoff first began discussions on an extension this past spring, continued talks during the summer and reached an agreement as the club began training camp.

Cheveldayoff's work over the past three drafts impressed Chipman, particularly in 2011 when the organization took to the draft floor only three weeks after relocating.

"It's been very deliberate," Chipman said of his general manager's execution. "It's been thought out. It has just been a very thoughtful, deliberate process that continues to give me confidence."

Cheveldayoff inherited a club that had not qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2007, and the club's personnel faced an adjustment period off the ice after relocating from Atlanta. Chipman said that the organization used the time before the abbreviated 2012-13 season to re-examine its plan.

"As challenging as it was," Chipman said of the past two years, "there were some benefits to it in that it allowed our organization to pause and look back and challenge the assumptions that we made the decision to enter the NHL on and to look forward."

"Today you're seeing another example of it. Our plan is very simple. It is about reinvestment in our organization from top to bottom, from facilities to player personnel to key management."

Chipman and Cheveldayoff knew each other from when both worked in the American Hockey League, but Chipman acknowledged after working closely together with the Jets that he probably had "underestimated" Cheveldayoff prior to hiring him.

"I cannot tell you how much confidence I have in Kevin's abilities," Chipman said. "He fit in seamlessly with our entire organization. I feel like we've been working together for far more than the last couple of years. It feels like he has been a part of what we've been doing here forever.

"I learned a long time ago that it doesn't matter how badly you want to achieve something -- in this case, winning hockey games," said Chipman, a successful businessman who later moved into the hockey business and built the AHL's Manitoba Moose into a model franchise.

"You're only as good as the people that you surround yourself with. I've learned that the hard way in some examples, but in this case I think I've learned that I couldn't have a more capable guy leading our hockey team for the long term."

Now that the Jets' honeymoon has subsided slightly, the pressure is firmly on Cheveldayoff to steer the club into a playoff berth. Since entering the NHL as the Thrashers in 1999, the franchise has reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs once, a 2007 series with the New York Rangers that ended in a four-game sweep.

"[Reaching the playoffs] absolutely is 100 percent is our expectation, and nobody feels more strongly about that than [me] and Kevin, I can assure you," Chipman said.

Regardless of whether the Jets are playing playoff hockey next spring, Chipman is convinced they are adhering to what is a correct plan.

"It'll prove itself out over many years," Chipman said. "All I can tell you is that I'm very, very comfortable with the way that things have progressed since Kevin has been on board."

Building organizational depth has been Cheveldayoff's most significant undertaking since he took the job. The Jets have made drafting a top priority, something Cheveldayoff believes will build depth, create competition and breed the sort of winning attitude and culture that years of playoff absences have denied the organization.

"For me, I'm embracing this opportunity of helping build this franchise into something great for many years to come," Cheveldayoff said. "We always have to continue to push the bar higher. As an organization, it doesn't matter what kind of success you have had. You have to push the bar higher."

Chipman believes there is no reason the Jets can't become a model franchise capable of contending for and winning the Stanley Cup. The Winnipeg native dismisses any talk that the small-market city's winter climate will deter players and points to Cheveldayoff's work in retaining the club's key free agents.

"I think we've answered that question," Chipman said. "Not only was [retaining players] not an issue, they wanted to come back. I think they like the direction. I think that they sense that [there is an opportunity] to win and they want to be a part of it. I think they absolutely love the atmosphere and the ethos of our hockey world in Winnipeg. What's not to love about it?"

"We will have success, I'm convinced of that. We're moving in the right direction. We will have success."

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