A playoff run that may never happen. An amateur draft on indefinite hold. A free-agent frenzy that will be frozen for the foreseeable future. A salary cap likely to take a nosedive. And all the typical league rules and protocols and timelines thrown into complete disarray.
No, it’s definitely not business as usual these days for Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, who spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday since the NHL hit pause last month due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
These are strange times for everyone, including the brain trust of a professional sports team. And while Cheveldayoff is in constant touch with the NHL, most of the major questions remain without answers right now.
That includes whether the 2019-20 season could eventually resume in some form, either by playing some or all of the remaining three weeks of the regular season and/or jumping right into a playoff format that might take on any number of shapes and sizes. Throw in the potential of competing in empty — possibly neutral-site — arenas and playing well into late summer, and there’s plenty of guesswork going on and no deadline set for a final decision.
“Like a lot of you, we get a chance to read about different ideas and different thought concepts. A lot of thought goes into those concepts. Are they being talked about at the league level? I would assume all these things… when we get our updates and we talk about it, we never get into specifics about all these different ideas that might be floated out there other than the league is very open to saying we’re thinking about everything and we’re open to everything,” Cheveldayoff said during the media conference call.
“For everyone, obviously, we’re in a time where there are bigger things to worry about right now. If I let my mind kind of fast-forward or transport to a later time when things are good, I’d be open to anything.”
Winnipeg was 37-28-6 when play screeched to a halt, occupying the first of two wild-card playoff spots in the Western Conference with 11 games remaining. The Jets had won four consecutive games and was icing the healthiest and deepest roster of the season.
Cheveldayoff speaks regularly with coach Paul Maurice, his scouting and training staff and players to ensure everyone is holding up well. No players or staff have reported any symptoms, and none have been tested for the coronavirus.
With no action on the ice, Cheveldayoff said work continues towards the all-important NHL draft, which was set for late June in Montreal but has been postponed. With all junior leagues cancelling the remainder of their seasons and no scouting combine taking place, preparation takes on a whole different look.
“You’re not going to be able to have the similar type of viewings that you would have… but everyone’s in that same situation, so it really comes down to the work that you did prior to the pause. We feel we’re in real good shape,” said Cheveldayoff, who will be holding upcoming scouting meetings on video rather than in person because of current travel restrictions.
“One thing we constantly do is we monitor our time… with respect to all the prospects throughout the course of the year. We have regular conference calls to make sure that our coverage is where it needs to be. You can never, ever foresee a situation like this happening, but it’s just more the preparedness of trying to make sure that you see the prospects in the early, kind of middle, kind of latter and then obviously late (stages). We won’t get to see the late version of it, and you’ll have to make your decisions accordingly, but it is something that all teams are in that boat,” he said.
At some point, Cheveldayoff will have to turn his attention to his own restricted free agents who need new contracts (Jack Roslovic, Mason Appleton, Jansen Harkins, Sami Niku), along with any unrestricted free agents he wants to retain. That list includes trade-deadline additions Dylan DeMelo and Cody Eakin, along with Laurent Brossoit, Dmitry Kulikov, Nathan Beaulieu, Luca Sbisa, Anthony Bitetto, Nick Shore, Gabriel Bourque and Logan Shaw.
Of course, July 1 free agency won’t happen as planned, and what exactly the salary cap looks like down the road will be a significant factor. There had been projections it was poised for a big jump from the current ceiling of $81.5 million but you can throw that out the window now. The final number will be impacted by how much revenue the NHL loses because of the shutdown.
Despite having so much currently up in the air, Cheveldayoff said all of it takes a back seat right now to real-life concerns.
“Outside the game, we all worry about each other. Because the health of everyone is the paramount thing. All the decisions that have been made and will be made moving forward are going to be based on the medical experts and medical opinions and what’s best for everyone involved,” he said.
“As far as the worry side of it, certainly when you’re in a situation like we are in, whether you run a restaurant or have a grocery store or whether you are part of a professional sports organization, there are realities that face you each and every day and you have to be looking at those challenges differently than maybe what you’d ever had to look at before. What the future holds in store certainly is obviously of paramount importance but the first and foremost things is the health of everybody involved.”
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
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