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On Sober Second Thought …

Paul Stastny Gives Kyle Connor the stink-eye during pre-game celebrations on May 1 (Photo by Scott Stroh)

On Sober Second Thought …

Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has agreed to a new three-year contract and so this mess will be his until 2025.

On Sunday afternoon in front of about 13,500 fans at Canada Life Centre, the Jets came back from a 3-1 deficit after 40 minutes with three goals in the third period to beat the visiting Seattle Kraken 4-3 in the final game of the 2021-22 National Hockey League season.

With the victory, the Jets finished the 2021-22 schedule with a record of 39-32-11. With a better result in extra time this season, the Jets would have reached the playoffs. As it was, they had two major slumps, one in December and one in early April and as a result their season ended early.

The off-season has now arrived. The Jets organization will have a lot of soul-searching to do and now that Chevy has been given a three-contract extension, we know who has the responsibility for it all.

So the questions are: Which players stay and which players go? Does the team need a new coaching staff? How does this team go from disappointment to the playoffs with just four months to do it?

It’s going to be an interesting time.

In the meantime, we learned a lot from Sunday afternoon’s post-game interviews, especially the ones with Paul Stastny and Mark Scheifele.

Let’s start with Scheifele. When he’s on his game, Scheifele is the Jets most talented player. However, he missed the last nine games of the 2021-22 season with a shoulder injury and was gone when the Jets needed him most. Still, he finished second in team scoring with 29 goals and 70 points and at his best, there are few in the NHL who are better.

On Sunday, he sounded like a guy who wanted out of Winnipeg even though he has two years remaining on his current contract, a contract that carries an average annual value of $6.125 million.

“I’d love to be in Winnipeg,” he said, “but I also have to see where this is all going and what direction this team is going in and I guess we’ll see this summer. I’m in the prime of my career. I still have so much to improve on too and I like where my game is at. I like the physical nature that my body is at. I’m only improving, I’m only getting better and I’m only going to be a better player next year than I was this year.

“I just have to know where this team is going and what the direction is and what the changes are going to be, if any. I have to think about my career and what’s going to be best for me. There are going to be talks with my agents and everyone in my family and stuff like that and figure out what I really want. So, it will be a tough talk tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, Stastny suggested vaguely that there was one player who was not on the same page as everyone else in the Jets locker room. That player appeared to be Scheifele although based on the look he gave 47-goal scorer Kyle Connor during Sunday’s pre-game Jets Awards Celebrations, it might have been more than one person.

“We’ve got to be held accountable — whether it’s player on player — and we’ve got to have more respect for each other,” Stastny said.

“When you don’t have that, when you don’t care about the teammate next to you — potentially — and you just care about what you’re doing or certain individual things, that starts bleeding into the game.”

Now, it’s easy to say the Jets will move Scheifele because he sounds like a guy who wants to be moved but to get fair value in return for one of the best players in hockey won’t be easy.

After all, at the top of every good NHL player’s “No trade list,” are the words “No trade to Winnipeg.” Cheveldayoff has already faced this fact with other moves he wanted to make. Let’s face it, we’re a small market with lousy winters, pot-holed roads, mediocre mainstream media coverage and few sponsorship opportunities. The players who play here fit into three categories: 1) Those few who actually love the place, 2) Those on their first or second contracts and 3) those looking for work. Draft picks are probably more enticing to Chevy than current players so those who suggest that by trading Scheifele, the Jets will get something of immediate equal or greater value in return are dreaming.

Fact is, now that Stastny is 36 (he’ll be 37 in December), it’s more likely he’ll be gone by July 1, than Scheifele.

It’s going to be an interesting off-season for Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Jets brain trust. The first thing they need to do is move out the current coaching staff and hire an entirely new group. How about Brad Berry or  James Patrick as the new head coach?

After Chevy has made that decision, the rest should be easy.

Covered his first junior hockey game for the Sarnia Observer in 1968. Covered his first Jets game for the Winnipeg Free Press in 1980. Still thinks hockey is the bees knees.

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