Cheveldayoff named Winnipeg NHL team's GM

Kevin Cheveldayoff was officially introduced as general manager for Winnipeg's new NHL team on Wednesday.
Kevin Cheveldayoff speaks at a news conference as he is introduced as general manager of the returning NHL team in Winnipeg. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Kevin Cheveldayoff was officially introduced as general manager for Winnipeg's new NHL team on Wednesday.

Mark Chipman, the chairman of team owner True North Sports and Entertainment, made the move official six days after it was announced that NHL hockey would return to Winnipeg 15 years after the Jets relocated to Phoenix.

Cheveldayoff is now charged with guiding a franchise that never won a playoff game while in Atlanta, with just one postseason appearance in 12 seasons of play.

"It was a natural fit for me, and it was almost too good to be true" said Cheveldayoff, who once played junior hockey in Brandon.

Cheveldayoff was part of four championships in the minor leagues during a 12-year tenure as general manager of the Chicago Wolves, who played in the International Hockey League and then the American Hockey League.

The Wolves have most recently been the AHL affiliate of the Thrashers, giving the new hire familiarity with several players who'll compete for spots with Winnipeg.

In addition, the Manitoba team will feature Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, who played with the Chicago Blackhawks. Cheveldayoff joined the Blackhawks in time for their Stanley Cup run, being named assistant general manager to Stan Bowman in September 2010, and the club's senior director of hockey operations.

Bowman thanked the departing employee for his dedication in a statement issued Wednesday..

"He was a significant part of our front office and he played an integral role in the success of the Blackhawks throughout the last two years," Bowman said.

Despite the challenges ahead,  Cheveldayoff said he wants the team to be an ideal destination for NHL players.

"We're going to set the bar very, very high, and we're going to push people very hard, because that's the sign of a true champion — being able to go that little extra," he said.

Cheveldayoff  was selected 16th overall in 1988 by the New York Islanders as a junior defenceman, but injuries cut short the Saskatoon native's playing career before he made it to the NHL.

The 41-year-old becomes the third GM in franchise history, following Don Waddell and Rick Dudley. Dudley was let go just a few days after the the relocation deal was finalized.

Longtime Manitoba Moose executive Craig Heisinger is the Winnipeg team's assistant GM and senior vice president, director of hockey operations.

Heisinger had trouble holding his emotions in check while expressing his gratitude to his family and the fans who've loyally supported the Moose in Winnipeg since the disappointing departure of NHL hockey in 1996.

Cheveldayoff and Heisinger have known each other for 25 years, and were friendly rivals for several years in the AHL.

"I really firmly believe that communication is the key to keeping our relationship the way it was over the years, and certainly, moving forward," said Cheveldayoff.

The subject of who will coach was deftly sidestepped, with no timeline on a decision given.

Most expect the franchise will feature its third coach in as many years. Craig Ramsay got the Thrashers off to an impressive start last season, but the team faded badly and missed the playoffs.

"We're going have some conversations, talk about it internally. We're going to meet a few people, talk to them and see where things go," the new GM said.

True North promised more announcements soon for the new team, which does not yet have a nickname.