This isn’t the first time a new Chevy has rolled into Winnipeg but this time it’s not a goaltender named Tim Cheveldae with fan favorite Bob Essensa being shipped to the Motor City. And it’s not a ’78 Corvette being driven down Portage Avenue on a Sunday night cruise night. No this Chevy comes with big expectations and the hope of a city riding on him.
TNSE announced at a press confrence held earlier today that Kevin Cheveldayoff will be the teams first GM after buying out Rick Dudley’s contract after purchasing the franchise from Atlanta. Chevy was the Assistant GM of the Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhawks for the past two seasons and before that was GM of the Chicago Wolves a team Manitobans know all too well from their days in the IHL and AHL. It almost seems fitting that TNSE would bring the man they couldn’t beat over to be their first GM as while he doesn’t have any experience in the NHL both True North and Chevy have a proven track record at running a successful and competetive team in the AHL and Chevy hasn’t just competed he’s won.
Chevy’s first and most daunting task will be who to select with the 7th overall pick in the NHL entray draft coming up on June 23 and 24th in Minnesota. As if that won’t be enough pressure he also has three key restricted free agents to try and sign to long term deals. Normally this would just be another task in a line of long tasks for a GM but not when you’re franchise has just moved from sunny Atlanta to the often frozen praries of Winnipeg. The contract of current team captain Andrew Ladd is perhaps the most important negotiation he will have with any player this season as being able to lock up their leading scorer long term will send a message to the rest of the players in the league. It won’t just say that players will play here because Ladd could very well sit out negotiations, go to arbitration where he’ll have a strong case and take the one year contract then be an unrestricted free agent next year. It will be a clear cut statement that this franchise wants to build a team around their stars and reward good play. It makes a league wide statement that TNSE doesn’t just say the right things to the press they put their money where there mouths are.
If Chevy can sign Ladd to a 4+ year deal it will also send a message to players like Kane and Pavlec that will become restrcited free agents themselves next season. If your leader makes a commitment long term to a franchise it will resonate thru the ranks and will help this Winnipeg team not only retain their own players when it comes to free agent time but also lure in players that want to be part of a team that will compete to win the Stanley Cup.
Cheveldayoff doesn’t get the benefit of a year or two before he has is first big tests, they are right in front of him and his next moves will shape this franchise not just under his reign but potentially far longer as once you can establish yourself as a team that will make smart moves, develop players and retain them. When you can get a reputation like Detroit, luring free agents becomes a whole lot easier because you don’t have to convince them that you are trying to build a winner, they already know you are one.
Chevy brings that potential, but like so many prospects potential only gets you so far. The good thing is we may find out just how bright his potential is before we even find out the name of our team, because in a couple of months we’ll know if his current players have bought into his culture and the potential that this Winnipeg franchise has to be a consistent cup challenger.