Winnipeg eager for momentum after breakthrough season
The upcoming season is all about momentum for Winnipeg.
The Jets reached the playoffs last spring for the first time since relocating to Winnipeg prior to the 2011-12 season – and only the second time overall in franchise history. The Jets were swept in the first round by Anaheim, but the seed was planted.
”First and foremost, you get to appreciate just how difficult it is to get in,” general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. ”It’s something that you have to earn. It’s not given, and there are teams throughout the league that would echo those sentiments … it’s an experience that you have to gain through experience.”
And it’s something he knows his Jets will have to earn all over again.
”When you drop the puck for the start of this season, everybody’s on equal footing,” he said. ”What you’ve done in the past is something you feel good about, but it’s all about re-earning that opportunity in the future.”
Some things to watch for with Winnipeg this season:
MAURICE’S WAY: Cheveldayoff did not want to fire Claude Noel during the 2013-14 season, but the GM felt a change was needed wo Paul Maurice was brought in. The Jets have benefited from the change, compiling a 60-38-18 record in the 117 games under their new coach
”There’s a mutual respect,” Cheveldayoff said. ”The communication between the two sides is very open, very fluid and very honest. I don’t think there’s a lot of grey area in that dressing room (as to) what Paul expects from them and what their roles are as players, and vice versa.”
WHO’S IN NET?: It didn’t look good for Ondrej Pavelec a year ago, since he was coming off a 2013-14 season in which he had a .901 save percentage and 3.01 goals-against average. But Pavelec rebounded last season, compiling a 2.28 GAA and .920 save percentage in 50 regular-season games. His backup, 25-year old Michael Hutchinson, was solid, posting a 2.39 GAA and .914 save percentage in 38 games. Cheveldayoff didn’t indicate whether he favored one over the other as the season opener loomed.
MONSTROUS MYERS: It was merely the biggest trade in franchise history. On Feb. 11, Cheveldayoff traded Evander Kane to the Buffalo Sabres for Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, prospects and a first-round pick. The deal allowed Maurice to reconfigure his roster so Dustin Byfuglien was a full-time defenseman while adding NHL-caliber depth to the forward and defense positions, and adding talent. It was Myers who impressed once getting acclimated to Maurice’s system. Myers recorded 15 points in 24 games, giving the Jets another scoring threat from the back end.
THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT: Cheveldayoff’s philosophy has been to establish a pipeline of talented, cost-controlled prospects with an eye toward the future in the salary-cap era. ”Like any team, you’re always looking to inject the youth into the organization. To continue to grow,” he said.
CAP CASUALTIES?: Winnipeg has $12.5 million in cap room, but captain Andrew Ladd and Byfuglien are unrestricted free agents. It’s likely that both would command long term deals on the open market. Is Cheveldayoff concerned that the contract talks could become a season long saga?
”They’re ultra-professional when it comes to their approach with not letting business not get in the way of the game; they just go out and play,” he said. ”Whatever is happening in the background between ourselves and their agents, they’ll just let that happen.”