Cheveldayoff right man for Winnipeg job

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:18 AM ET

Winnipeg’s new NHL entry will sink or swim under the tutelage of a rookie general manager.

But other than his lack of experience in the big chair, it’s hard to find a reason to dislike the hiring of Kevin Cheveldayoff, to be made official at a news conference at 2 p.m., today.

Sources say the 41-year-old from Blaine Lake, Sask., will sign a five-year contract with True North Sports and Entertainment, completing the most important hire for Winnipeg’s fledgling franchise.

Cheveldayoff will team up with holdover Manitoba Moose GM Craig Heisinger, a Winnipeg native, to create a one-two prairie punch overseeing personnel matters.

Former Winnipeg Jets forward Kris King, currently with the NHL as vice-president of hockey operations, is a likely candidate to join the front office, as well.

True North set its sights on Cheveldayoff from the moment it purchased the Atlanta Thrashers, even though well-respected Thrashers incumbent GM Rick Dudley had recently inked a four-year contract extension.

True North had to buy out Dudley’s estimated $800,000 per year deal — one source pegs the buyout at $1 million, but it could have been more — before signing Cheveldayoff, who’s expected to earn a similar salary.

It’s a bit of a gamble for a franchise that’ll be finding its way for the first little while. The easy way out would have been to hire a GM who’s been around the block a time or two, knows the personalities in the neighbourhood and has forged relationships.

But it’s a bold move, too, with plenty of upside.

In Cheveldayoff, Winnipeg gets one of the league’s up-and-coming executives, a man who spent the last two years as GM Stan Bowman’s assistant in Chicago.

The former Brandon Wheat Kings junior may not have had a large hand in the Blackhawks Stanley Cup triumph a year ago, but word is he was instrumental in the multiplayer trade that sent Dustin Byfuglien from the Blackhawks to Atlanta, a deal forced by salary restrictions.

Byfuglien figures to be one of the key players for Winnipeg.

Cheveldayoff should know the Thrashers personnel as well as anyone. Before joining the Hawks he was the GM of the AHL/IHL Chicago Wolves, Atlanta’s farm team.

It was with the Wolves that Cheveldayoff first garnered the attention of Heisinger and True North boss Mark Chipman.

This is a case of, ‘If you can’t beat him, hire him,’ as Cheveldayoff’s teams were the nemesis of the Moose, beating them every time they met in the playoffs en route to two AHL and two IHL titles.

Yet, it took 12 seasons with the Wolves for Cheveldayoff to finally make the jump to the NHL.

“He got passed over a couple times when he should have been picked up,” longtime Wolves head coach John Anderson said of his former boss. “Winnipeg’s found a diamond in the rough. They found a real good man.”

As far back as his playing days — a knee injury limited his pro career to four-plus years in the minors — Cheveldayoff was a leader.

And a fighter.

NHL referee Rob Martell, a Winnipegger who used to officiate in the WHL and AHL, recalls a few tilts involving Cheveldayoff, including one where he and Mike Keane went toe-to-toe, served their five minutes in the sin bin, then came out for a rematch, leaving their gloves and sticks in the box.

Martell says as a team captain Cheveldayoff was as respectful as he was rugged.

“He’s a good leader,” Martell said. “He would let you say your piece, he would digest it, and whether he liked it or not he gave you the courtesy to move on.”

A respectful prairie boy who works hard and hates to lose.

Kevin Cheveldayoff should fit right in.


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