Kevin Cheveldayoff and his Jets. There is an all-star replacement in this bunch somewhere.
Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is a cool dude. He was cool when he played for the Brandon Wheat Kings and he was cool when he worked in the American Hockey League.
That’s why it wasn’t surprising when he appeared on TSN Jets TV with Dennis Beyak earlier this week and was extremely cool when it came to the NHL and the All-Star Game and a replacement for Dustin Byfuglien.
Now, on the one hand, you can say Cheveldayoff would never criticize the NHL in public. He is indeed, very careful about what he says when other people are listening. However, the Jets GM didn’t even hint that he was upset by the fact that the NHL refused to replace the injured Byfuglien on the all-star roster with another Jets player.
Not surprisingly, just about everyone else went nuts. And for good reason. To suggest that there wasn’t another Jets player who could have replaced Byfuglien is crazy. Zach Bogosian, Blake Wheeler and Tobias Enstrom were all worthy of a spot in the all-star game. Hey, Alexander Edler, Jason Pominville and Brian Elliott are there. The NHL is missing a very warm, cuddly positive story.
Cheveldayoff, meanwhile, was quite gracious. He said that the organization was thrilled for Byfuglien, but that the big defenseman was injured and couldn’t take part and while "we’re sure there could have been other players represent the Jets, Dustin is our all-star and we’re proud of him and while he won’t be there physically, he will be there in spirit."
It was a nice answer to a question that has even angered radio announcers in Edmonton. My friends Nielson and Chase on Edmonton’s The TEAM 1260, said to me on Wednesday, "What’s this about no Jets in the all-star game? That’s not right."
From Jets broadcasters to Jets fans, people feel the city and the franchise are both getting screwed because a player such as Bogosian or Wheeler wasn’t named ahead of Kris Letang or Scott Hartnell, as a replacement for Byfuglien.
Well, that suggests another reason why Cheveldayoff was so gracious. For most NHL GMs, negotiating contracts is a difficult and often unpleasant job. You’re dealing with agents who are looking to suck every nickel out of a team’s bank account because every dollar is a fraction of a percentage point in the agent’s pocket.
And as we all know by now, agents make a big deal out of All-Star game appearances. Cheveldayoff could hear the words in his ear: "C’mon Kevin, you gotta give us another $300,000 on the front end of this deal because Zach (or Blake or Toby or Evander), played in the all-star game. The kid’s an all-star. We need to be compensated for that."
When the day comes, Cheveldayoff will have to deal with the two all-star selections (at least) for Byfuglien, and that will be tough enough, but to start listening to other agents regale the GM about their young all-stars? Well, who needs that aggravation?
OK, so I’m being just a little bit facetious. Cheveldayoff said all the right things because he knows he didn’t have anything to do with the NHL’s decision. And be certain, the NHL dropped the ball on this one.
Frankly, the Jets should have had a whole line at the all-star game in Ottawa. The Return of the Jets to Canada was the feel-good sports story of the year in this country and if the NHL wanted to milk a feel-good story, it should have had some Jets for the international media to talk to at the mid-winter classic.
Now they can just talk to Alex Ovechkin, Teemu Selanne, Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby. Oh yeah, they aren’t there either.
Like always, the NHL missed a great PR opportunity so all the Jets GM can do is shrug and praise Dustin Byfuglien.
Because, as happens far too often, the NHL still doesn’t know a really good story when one steps on its throat.