Kevin Cheveldayoff will return for a twelfth season, and beyond, as General Manager of the Winnipeg Jets after agreeing to a three-year contract extension that he says was offered “actually a little while ago.”
But Cheveldayoff did not extend that same kind of job security to three of the four members of the team’s coaching staff when he spoke to them several hours after the Jets’ season-ending 4-3 win over the Seattle Kraken at Canada Life Centre on Sunday afternoon.
“I informed them that we’re going to be conducting a full-scale interview process for a new head coach. So I met with each of them individually,” said Cheveldayoff during a nearly 30-minute end-of-season media availability session in between player exit interviews Monday afternoon.
“I met with Dave (Lowry) and told him that as well, and said if he wanted to be part of that formal search that he had earned that opportunity. We will grant him a formal interview process in that regard. I met with all the assistant coaches as well and told them that we’re going to go through this process and that there’s a chance that they’re part of that process moving forward when we finally select a head coach, but there’s also a chance that they might not be there.”
And while associate coach Jamie Kompon and longtime assistant coach Charlie Huddy have for all intents and purposes been made free agents, Cheveldayoff did confirm goaltending coach Wade Flaherty has been offered a new contract.
Like Huddy, Flaherty has been part of the Jets coaching staff since the franchise relocated from Atlanta prior to the 2011-12 season. Kompon just completed his sixth year in Winnipeg while Lowry was hired as an assistant coach in November of 2020 and was named Interim Head Coach on Dec. 17, 2021, following the sudden and unexpected resignation of Paul Maurice just 28 games into the season after the team stumbled to a 13-10-1 record.
There was only marginal improvement under Lowry, who guided Winnipeg to a 26-22-6 mark over the final 54 games. The Jets missed the playoffs for the first time in five years, and there were some rather pointed comments made by several players during the final week of the schedule.
Star goaltender Connor Hellebuyck described it as a wasted season. Team Captain Blake Wheeler said the organization is pretty much back to square one. And defenseman Neal Pionk assessed the under achievement as “an embarrassment.”
“I think when you go through an emotional time like these players have, the emotional commitment that they have given or that they were gearing up for, and then the emotional letdown that we have right now when we didn’t achieve it. That’s why we hear a lot of those words,” was Cheveldayoff’s response when he was asked about the extreme level of disappointment coming from the players.
“I think you’ve heard come out of guys’ mouths that they’re disappointed, they wanted more, they feel let down, they feel they let themselves down and they may feel like others let them down. That’s the raw emotion that’s in there. That’s the type of emotion that is in a dressing room.”
Cheveldayoff says he hadn’t met with Mark Scheifele prior to his end-of-season news conference. But he was well aware of Scheifele’s eyebrow raising, exit interview with the media after Sunday’s game. Scheifele, when asked about his future in Winnipeg, told reporters he needed to know the direction of the team and that he had to do what was best now that he’s in the prime of his career.
“He is a talented player. He is in the prime of his career, he is all those things that he said he is,” said Cheveldayoff of Scheifele who has two years remaining on his current contract, and according to the GM has not requested a trade. “He’s a Winnipeg Jet and he wants to win. As an organization we’re going to have to take a little bit of a re-assessment here to see where some things are at, but our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. We’ve been a cap team, we’ve been committed to that, we’ve signed guys long-term. That vision hasn’t changed, from a standpoint of wanting to win a Stanley Cup. We’re just going to have to come at it and look at it from a bit of a different perspective after a setback year like this.”
Part of that future direction includes who will be eventually calling the shots behind the bench. Cheveldayoff said he didn’t have a time frame for when that head coaching search will be completed, but he indicated there will be some input from the players.
“I think we will be opened minded but we will also have different conversations with the players here,” said Cheveldayoff. “As far as standing up here today and proclaiming what type of coach or anything like that, I want the guys to speak to me, I want my staff to speak to me, and I want to take some time to reflect and take a look at who is out there.”