Chevy wants to build from within

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:02 AM ET

WINNIPEG - The last time somebody hired a good friend around here without doing any other interviews, we got Mike Kelly.

I bring this up as Winnipeg’s new NHL franchise introduces Kevin Cheveldayoff as its first general manager.

Chevy, as he’s already known, has long been friends with Craig Heisinger, who, along with his good friend, Mark Chipman, made the decision to target Cheveldayoff, and nobody else, for the most critical position in the organization.

Chevy said yes, and, like that, the process was over.

I get the feeling, though, this’ll work out better than Lyle Bauer’s botched hiring of the most controversial coach in Winnipeg Blue Bomber history.

Whether or not it ever produces the ultimate celebration at Portage and Main is another thing. But that’s the plan.

The five-year plan.

“My expectation is to methodically try and build this franchise,” Cheveldayoff said. “There’s no quick fix. If you try to look for shortcuts, you’re only fooling yourself. There’s no go out and sign five, six, seven guys and all of a sudden put the Stanley Cup rings on your fingers. It doesn’t work that way.”

Cheveldayoff saw exactly how it works his first year with the Chicago Blackhawks, where he’ll forever be remembered as the assistant GM of last year’s Stanley Cup champs.

As high-priced as that team quickly became, it was built largely through the draft.

“The majority of those players grew up together,” Cheveldayoff said. “They went to Norfolk together, they went to Rockford together, they graduated to the NHL together. I’ve lived it. I’ve seen it. It may not be the 100% way, but that’s the way we’re going to do it.”

It’ll be a little different in Winnipeg, though.

Cheveldayoff has always been with organizations that aren’t afraid to spend, whether it was the Blackhawks or the Wolves, also known around here as the Evil Empire of minor-league hockey because of the way they tossed their money around en route to two AHL and two IHL titles.

Chipman, head of True North Sports, has already said this will be a low-to-middle spender, meaning they’ll have to work harder and smarter than some of their NHL brethren.

Apparently, that’s music to Cheveldayoff’s ears.

“It was exhilarating to know he wants an opportunity to do it the way I believe is the right way — to grow from within,” the GM said. “Just because you give a guy more money doesn’t necessarily equate to bigger and better things. We’re not going to just throw money at people and say, ‘Come on to Winnipeg.’ We’ll do things that are rational.”

And they’ll have some fun doing it.

You get the impression the Chipman-Cheveldayoff-Heisinger triumvirate has some chemistry going.

Asked about Cheveldayoff’s reputation as a salary cap specialist, Heisinger, the old equipment manager for Chevy’s Brandon Wheat Kings, had this comeback: “Kevin is passionate with numbers — just look at his penalty minutes.”

At the core, this is more than friendship. It’s a passion for the game and this city and province: Chipman’s unrelenting desire to bring us the top level of hockey possible, Heisinger’s refusal to leave with the Jets for Phoenix, 15 years ago — and now Cheveldayoff’s dream, born in small-town Saskatchewan.

“This is obviously a very, very exciting opportunity for me,” he said. “Being part of bringing the NHL back to the Prairies, back to Winnipeg. This is a story across the hockey nation. You’re witnessing history. When we all look back at it, we’re going to remember this day.

“I hope the next level of excitement can be reached when the fans can be parading with that Stanley Cup.”

A certain ex-football coach couldn’t have said it any better.

And that’s about the only thing he and the new hockey boss seem to have in common.

Name game almost over

There’s still no word on the name of Winnipeg’s new NHL team.

Mark Chipman of True North Sports says that’ll come “soon.”

Name or no name the new GM says it’s not too soon to start talking about playoff whiteouts.

“That’s certainly the goal,” Kevin Cheveldayoff said. “If you want a chance at the big prize, you’ve got to get into the playoffs. It’s unrealistic right now to sit here and talk about guarantees, but... playoffs are something you have to expect.”

Chevy bleeds green

Brace yourselves, local sports fans: the new GM of our NHL team is, wait for it, a melon-head.

Asked if he’s a Riders or Bombers fan, Kevin Cheveldayoff admitted he couldn’t shake his Saskatchewan roots.

“Ohhhh,” he began, as if the question caused extreme pain. “Some things are just going to be tough to change. Green’s going to be the colour for me.”

Cheveldayoff, 41, was born in Saskatoon and raised in Blaine Lake, Sask.


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