By Scott Billeck – @scottbilleck
Patience. It is commonly referred to as a virtue. However, when it comes to hockey in Winnipeg, the fans patience is wearing thin.
Winnipeg Jets fans are anything but patient, and it’s too damn bad.
Don’t get me wrong; Winnipeg probably has the most passionate fans in all of hockey. They pay big bucks to attend a game and buy merchandise. Winnipeg fans have every right to vent, and vent they do. They soar with the team at its heights and wallow with the team in its lows.
And low is where we find the Jets these days. The team isn’t doing very well. With a sub .500 record, losses to two of the worst teams in the National Hockey League in Buffalo and Edmonton, and with grim playoff hopes, Winnipeg’s mood is as grey as the skies on a cold, winter’s day.
Patience, then, isn’t at a premium. The noise of the impatient mob is palpable these days.
On the radio fans cry out for change: “fire the coach,” they say. “Trade this guy or that one,” others plead. “What the hell is Chevy doing?” they scream. On the forums, Jets fans are even harsher. If you just listened to some of the Jets’ loyal fan base, you would think Kevin Cheveldayoff’s job is in more jeopardy than Rob Ford’s.
But the fact is, Chevy — as most refer to him these days — is doing fine, even if the fans can’t or are unwilling to see it.
This team is apparently on a five-year schedule after re-upping Chevy back in September. Change is going to be slow and painful at times, but in the end, like most change, it is going to be good for fans and the club alike.
Chevy is no slouch. The guy has a pretty good resume and has studied under the tutelage of Stan Bowman, the man who built the Chicago Blackhawks into a perennial Stanley Cup contender.
Rebuilding a struggling Atlanta franchise is a daunting task. There was little choice in signing guys like Ondrej Pavelec and Blake Wheeler. After all, there was nothing better on the market.
Sometimes your hands are just tied.
The free agent market is rarely littered with exceptional talent. Some argue that players such as Mason Raymond and Mikhail Grobovski should have been signed immediately. It doesn’t work like that. The salary cap, a player’s desire to play in a certain market, and how these players would fit into a team’s chemistry all have to be considered.
Where Cheveldayoff has shined, however, is in the one place he has the most control. The draft. Cheveldayoff inherited Atlanta and you can’t trade everyone away. But the draft is where Chevy can and has been the most successful.
Jacob Trouba was genius. Mark Scheifele is looking more and more like the man Chevy envisioned and the pool of prospects in the organization is now impressive. Two of them in Josh Morrissey and Nic Petan are leading the charge for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships.
Chevy took some risks, if you want to call them that. They seem, in hindsight now, that those risks were well calculated. Couple the teams two youngest stars and add in another one in Evander Kane and you have a pretty good start.
Sprinkle in some leadership, some heart, some grit and these young stars have a foundation to stand on.
This start actually began two years ago, when the team made its return. But like anything, it takes time, patience if you will, and like crops on a field, it needs time to nurture and grow.
Chevy knows what he is doing, despite fans thinking quite the opposite. Everyone can be an armchair general manager, but few have what it takes to actually be one.
The team is still in good hands and will continue to be. Like it or not Winnipeg, there are no winds of change in the forecast.