Just a season ago, the Winnipeg Jets were the toast of the Western Conference; a young team laden with budding stars and quality veterans who rocketed them out of the basement to a Western Conference Final. Fast forward to this year and they were an abject disaster from the new year all the way up to their elimination in the playoffs at the hands of the St. Louis Blues. While there’s no shame in losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, there is shame in the steep decline the team went through that has resulted in some head-scratching decisions of late.
There does not seem to be much positive news on the front of re-signing Patrik Laine. The Finnish sniper heads into contract discussions this summer. While his situation is very unique, the lack of real news on this is slightly concerning, especially given his struggles this year for long stretches. Normally this could be downplayed as normal, but tough contract talks between the two sides and recent Jets moves cast a long shadow over this situation.
Jacob Trouba was just traded to the New York Rangers for a 2019 first-round pick and bottom-pairing defenceman Neal Pionk. That’s it. Not only is it an underwhelming return for arguably the Jets’ most valuable asset, but according to Elliotte Friedman, other teams offered better deals, and this is what Kevin Cheveldayoff decided on.
To cap all of this off, according to The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun, the Jets are also listening to offers on star winger Nikolaj Ehlers. Quite frankly, if the Winnipeg Jets are hell-bent on trading all of their best young assets away, Marc Bergevin should put in a call and see if he can’t wrest the Danish speedster away from Manitoba.
Ehlers is one of the Jets’ best forwards, and one of the few who seemed to spark any life in the offence when he was in the lineup. A big part of Winnipeg’s slump came with the Danish winger on the IR after suffering an injury, and by the time he returned it seemed far too late to pull the ship back on course.
As you can see in the visual above, almost everyone (with the exception of Laine) was better with Ehlers than without. That is quite a feat on a team with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler playing big minutes.
Looking at Natural Stat Trick’s numbers on the year, Ehlers is one of four Jets forwards to have a positive Corsi differential at the end of the year, leading the team in fact, at 52.4%. Relative to his teammates, Ehlers also stood out, trailing only the underused Mathieu Perreault in relative Corsi-for percentage, and was just behind Andrew Copp in relative scoring-chances-for percentage. No matter which way you slice it, it’s clear that Ehlers was a driving force in the lineup, and the Jets seem quite content to give that away due to their cap issues.
With six NHL players headed for restricted free agency, including Laine, Copp, and Kyle Connor, the Jets’ cap situation isn’t looking overly rosy — especially when considering they have just five NHL defenders signed for next year, and one of them is Dmitry Kulikov. Beyond that, it seems that Cheveldayoff is intent on bringing back Tyler Myers, who has struggled mightily in Winnipeg as Paul Maurice continues to misuse him on the blue line.
Now it is time to figure how Montreal can fit into this little situation and capitalize on the Jets’ current fire sale.
It has been reported that Winnipeg has had interest at past trade deadlines in Andrew Shaw. While he has been the subject of trade rumours recently, with the Philadelphia Flyers being a potential suitor, Shaw has been on the Jets’ radar for over a year now. He seems to fit Maurice’s coaching style, and coming off a career year his value has never been higher, while his actual value of $2.1 million is cheaper than Ehlers’s.
Unless the Jets’ front office has entirely checked out, it’s improbable that this would be a one-for-one deal, and the Montreal Canadiens would need to sweeten the pot to get a trade done. A look at the Jets’ CapFriendly page yields some interesting details, namely that their only proven right-side defender under contract for next season is Dustin Byfuglien. Even if Tyler Myers comes back, the right side is still weak. Neal Pionk and Sami Niku are either bottom-pairing quality or not trusted by Maurice, respectively.
Luckily, high-quality defence prospects on the right side is something Montreal has in spades Whether it be Noah Juulsen, Cale Fleury or Josh Brook, all of them present a likely upgrade on the options laid out for Winnipeg right now.
Bergevin will be reluctant to part with Brook or Fleury given their current stage in development, but Juulsen could draw attention with NHL experience under his belt and a cheap contract that could help alleviate some of the Jets’ current issues. A mid- to late-round pick added to the deal may be a deciding factor for a Jets team with few tickets for the 2019 Draft.
Adding a player like Nikolaj Ehlers to the Canadiens’ lineup could push them well along in this on-the-fly rebuild they’re running. He’s a dynamic, skilled winger and could find a home on almost any line in Montreal. The cost to get him won’t be cheap, but given how the Jets are dealing from a hole they’ve dug for themselves, Montreal is in the perfect spot to offer them a way out — on their own terms.