WINNIPEG – Goalposts are moving in terms of expectations, that window to grapple reopens and it’s up to the Winnipeg Jets organization to ensure that off-season actions match the end-of-year zoom conference words.
General manager of the Jets, Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice, presented a united front on Friday against, stressing that a trip to the eight finalists for bubble team represents progress after early dismissals consecutive Playoff Stanley Cup, while acknowledging that more steps are required for this group. to finally get where they want to go.
The roadmap to achieving that goal is sure to include a number of bumps to navigate, including the Seattle Kraken expansion draft and restricted free-agent deals to complete the Neal Pionk and Andrew Copp centerpieces, but some breadcrumbs were provided that they could lead people to discover the least part of how it might look that way.
But first, how does Cheveldayoff evaluate last season?
Well, if you are looking for a black or white type of situation, success or failure, I consider this to be a success. But if you look at it from an end goal, we have to improve, without a doubt, ”said Cheveldayoff. “We have to find ways. It’s something you challenge yourself with all the time. You’re never really satisfied or really successful in your own mind unless you win the Cup, and I’ve been fortunate to be on that side where you can say, ‘Hey, we made it.’
“But most of the time, there are times when you say, ‘We have to improve,’ and we will have to go through the summer and approach training camp in the same way. As a group, as an organization, it is always striving for it. “
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At the top of that wish list is an improvement in the defensive body, and both Cheveldayoff and Maurice spoke openly about the need to improve at that position, which the head coach described as “thin.”
It will be fascinating to see which direction the Jets are going trying to achieve that goal.
Is it throwing away a ton of money at a top-notch pending UFA like Dougie Hamilton or is it putting together a package to try and strike a successful deal to bring back a top player to play with Josh Morrissey?
Will the Jets have two holes to fill in the rear or just one after the expansion draft passes?
Naturally, the subject of internal improvements was discussed, with Maurice suggesting that Ville Heinola and Dylan Samberg face a “stacked” left side as they seek to become NHL regulars in the fall.
Stacked is a relative term and while it is possible for one of Heinola or Samberg to move to the right side, the revealing part of the discussion revolves around the question of whether or not Maurice would be comfortable with those two rookies and Logan. Stanley in the top six. next season.
“That’s a challenge, but not negative. I can’t put three left-handed defenders in their best position to be successful at the same time, ”Maurice said, noting that integrating two young players at the same time is manageable. “I’m not sure you see that, where you play with all your kids and win. So we developed them here very, very well. And we will bring them in and we have to find the right combination to maximize their skill set.
“Fortunately, we have three defenders really good lefties that none of them was in our lineup at the beginning of the year, and eventually open way”.
If the Jets aren’t willing to use all of Stanley, Heinola (whose entry-level contract will slide into next season because he only dressed in five NHL games) and Samberg early on next fall, provided they do enough. to win. the jobs – then it’s up to Cheveldayoff to use one of those players as currency to acquire an experienced D-man with a deadline to help bridge the gap between depth at the beginning and end.
Of course, Stanley must remain on the list and not claimed by Seattle – if not protected by the Jets instead of Dylan DeMelo, whose loss in the series of Montreal Canadiens to strengthen its value after he was limited to 29 seconds of action in Game 1 before departing with a groin injury.
The Jets have made a significant investment in the development of Stanley, the 18th overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and his move up the depth list this season is a testament to the work he put in.
On the flip side, the Jets signed DeMelo to a four-year, $ 12 million deal last October and, along with his significant commitment, he was the partner Morrissey played his best hockey with, even if it didn’t take long. together this season through the inaugural round series with the Edmonton Oilers.
If there is some indecision by the time July rolls around, wouldn’t the Jets just make a side deal with the Kraken to make sure both DeMelo and Stanley stay in the fold?
That’s still a possibility, but Cheveldayoff was asked directly about what he learned from the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft in 2017 and hinted that moving pieces to protect others could be problematic.
“Overall, as management, now is not a surprise. The rules are the same as those in Las Vegas. They’ve known for a while, ”Cheveldayoff said, noting that veteran center Bryan Little’s status is still up for grabs, but has not yet received medical clearance. to return from the head injury he suffered in November 2019. “There are probably greater acceptance by coaches know that going to lose a good player. It is what it is, so will there be the volume of parallel trades and trades and not trades that occurred in the past? I guess it remains to be seen, but each situation will be different.
“Each organization is going to approach things differently, depending on their cycle and what they have coming from their system to increase or develop a player to fill that gap. It will be an interesting moment. It is an important piece and we are going to spend a lot of time looking at our situation, as well as others, and see what may or may not happen there. “
There is plenty of time to discuss what the protected list will look like next month.
Meanwhile, what does Maurice have in mind for a core group whose internal belief remains high?
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Maurice used a golf analogy in the summer of 2019 to describe the St. Louis Blues’ first-round outing, equating the experience with hitting a ball in water, something that could be corrected and not require systems or personnel. revision.
Feel like it’s time to change your grip now?
“There have to be adjustments in the way we see the game. That changes with your group, ”Maurice said. “I’m not sitting here saying that where we ended up, we were the No. 1 contender and we were there. Somehow we managed to bypass certain areas of our game.
“I do not know how to change your grip, but we have to keep moving forward. I thought, I do not mean that we lost traction last year, but with all the changes we faced last year, made a lateral movement and thought we went back to move forward again this year. “
Much of that momentum starts with having an elite goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who is under contract for three more seasons before he can become unrestricted free agent.
Maurice did not apologize for leaning on his goalkeeper, but reiterated that the plan is to make his life a little easier next season.
“Connor Hellebuyck is on our team, we selected him. He doesn’t mask many of the challenges we’ve had, especially in the last two years, for sure, ”Maurice said. “And we are going to try to address that and fix it in the way we play. We are looking for that improvement on our back end, but we all know it. This is not stalking us and we know that our goalkeeper can stop a lot of records, we must give the opportunity to make a difference in the game.
“The front group is maturing into a really good front group. Our back-end has to catch up with our goal. But not everyone has all the pieces all the time, so we are in that process of construction. “
Improving the staff against Hellebuyck is an essential part of achieving this.
“We have a good, strong, from the core of age. There’s still work to be done, for sure, ”Maurice said. “This is the first group of boys who have had that they were fully committed to Winnipeg, with the Jets. That is an important step. The next step is interesting. The next step takes you to the middle of the playoffs. You get to eight. That is where we are now with the group that we had, the situation that we faced, that is where we arrived. They had to happen many really good things for us to get there.
“The next stage is, I guess, feeling like it would be if you’re Colorado and you’re one of those teams that the media selects. The general idea is ‘these guys are in their prime right now’. I do not think they were quite there this year. I don’t think that was the point. But you will become a little stronger in all areas, a little more mature in all areas. Then you start to be considered one of those teams. We’re pretty darn close to that. Maybe closer to him now than we’ve been at any time. “
How much closer will the Jets be after the offseason?
That’s the question Cheveldayoff and his staff will seek to answer before boot camp arrives.
In terms of what role dealing with the extraordinary circumstances and challenges created by participating in a pandemic could play in the decision-making process, Cheveldayoff provided a thoughtful answer.
“I don’t think you want to underestimate the different things that could have happened due to COVID-19, but you have to look critically at a lot of different things,” Cheveldayoff said. “There will be changes in this team. There are some young people who are potentially going to be knocking on the door. There are some veteran players who may or may not return.
“There are many different areas where you’re going to spend time evaluating and giving some weight to the unusual circumstances in which we were. But I think you can not overlook things about it. “