WINNIPEG — Jets co-owner Mark Chipman had no doubt general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice deserved their multi-year contract extensions that were announced Thursday.
The team has only made the playoffs once since relocating to Winnipeg in 2011 with Cheveldayoff as a rookie NHL GM. Maurice, who replaced Claude Noel in January 2014, was behind the bench for the first-round sweep at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks in 2015.
“I’m just very happy that we can give Kevin and Paul the opportunity to move this group forward,” Chipman said at a news conference. “They deserve that and I’m excited to watch it move on from here.”
Chipman wouldn’t reveal the length of the contracts, but described Maurice’s as “medium” term and Cheveldayoff’s as longer. Both were entering the final year of their contracts.
“(Cheveldayoff) is exactly what we thought we were hiring six years ago,” Chipman said. “He has that rare combination of a high degree of competence and a very high degree of character.
“We landed that in Kevin on Day 1 and he hasn’t disappointed since the day we hired him.”
Maurice, meanwhile, has compiled a 136-112-33 record with the Jets. When asked if extending his contract was rewarding mediocre results, Chipman said it depends on how results are quantified.
“I don’t think he’s been mediocre at all,” Chipman said. “I think he’s done a fine job with a team that’s been growing. He’s had the ability to embrace young players, which isn’t easy.”
The Jets’ mantra since the team moved from Atlanta has been to draft and develop players.
Last season, they scored 249 goals (tied for sixth in the NHL) but their 256 goals against was 27th of the 30 teams. They also got hit by 355 man games lost to injuries. The end result was a ninth-place finish (40-35-7) in the Western Conference, seven points behind the Nashville Predators for the final wild-card spot.
But there were bright spots such as rookie forward Patrik Laine. He had 36 goals and 64 points in 73 games and was a Calder Trophy finalist.
Three of his teammates also went over the 60-point mark: Mark Scheifele (82), captain Blake Wheeler (74) and Nikolai Ehlers (64). Veteran defenceman Dustin Byfuglien contributed 52 points.
The club is also stocked with youngsters such as 22-year-old Josh Morrissey, a first-pair defenceman last season, and 23-year-old defenceman Jacob Trouba, who will soon need a new contract.
“I like the strides that we’ve made,” Maurice said. “I like the hope and optimism you feel coming into the rink when you put the names on the board.
“We’ve got work to do, there’s no doubt about that, but we’re on a real good path to it.”
Consistency and improved defensive play will be areas to focus on this season, he added.
Cheveldayoff signed former Philadelphia Flyer and Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason to a two-year contract this summer, hoping the 29-year-old goaltender’s experience will stabilize the crease.
Veteran defenceman DmitryKulikov also joined the club, while big blue-liner Tyler Myers should be back after his injury-shortened season.
Both Maurice, 50, and Cheveldayoff, 47, talked about appreciating the “faith” ownership gave them with the new deals.
“Fortunately for me, I’ve had the faith and confidence and commitment (from ownership) to make decisions that are in the best short-, medium- and long-term interest of this franchise,” Cheveldayoff said.
But when that work might pay off with a contending team remains to be seen.
“We’re going to say sooner rather than later,” Maurice said. “We’re going to be better than we were last year.”
Wheeler, who was part of a veteran group at an informal skate Thursday, was glad Maurice’s contract was done before the season began.
“I think that’s important because this is the last conversation we’re going to have about it,” Wheeler said. “Otherwise, it would be one of those things that goes on all year. You know, ‘What do you think about the coach? When’s the coach getting fired.’ All these different things. So that’s just one less thing to worry about.
“It’s ultimately on the players now for the performance we put forth. We have high hopes for this season so that’s going to rest on our shoulders.”