Jets Need a Trade to Replace Injured Forwards

With the news and uncertainty that Nikolaj Ehlers could be out of the lineup for an extended period, Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff needs to address the void it has created. Ehlers is joined on the injured reserved list by Morgan Barron and Mason Appleton, who is out for 8-12 weeks following wrist surgery. They have been filling the void internally, but that may not be sustainable and pulling the trigger on a trade may be needed to upgrade the forward unit. 

Nikolaj Ehlers Winnipeg Jets
Nikolaj Ehlers’ injury may cause the Winnipeg Jets to trade for a forward. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The uncertainty in head coach Rick Bowness’ ominous report left a lot of unanswered questions about Ehlers’ injury and his return to the lineup. When asked if surgery was an option, Bowness replied, “Nothing’s off the table with Nikolaj right now. That’s a decision that other people will make. Right now, as we speak, we’re not there. I know I’m talking around the question but I can’t give you the definitive answer on that. I can’t.”

According to TSN Insider Darren Dreger, Ehlers’ immediate future is uncertain, making a trade something that could be in the works. What was originally a day-to-day injury has lingered for a month as he has missed 13 consecutive games.

“Well, Nicolaj Ehlers has had several consultations with a few different doctors and the reality is that they don’t know yet. Yes, surgery could be an option to get Ehlers healthy again but this has been a slow healing process for them but surgery has not yet been determined. Three of Winnipeg’s top nine forwards are out. You’re looking at Ehlers, [Mason] Appleton and [Morgan] Barron so in the short term they’re hoping someone internally can step up to fill the void but obviously they’re also considering some trade options as well.”

– Darren Dreger, TSN Insider Trading, 17/11/2022

With three of their top-nine forwards out of the lineup and not wanting to jeopardize the great start to the season, a trade seems to be the logical move, but not everyone agrees.

A Trade May Not Necessarily Be the Answer

The Jets have found some unexpected and much-needed help from forwards Saku Maenalanen, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and Sam Gagner. All three have stepped up and filled those roles better than most expected. Maenalanen and Jonsson-Fjallby were originally on the fourth line at the start of the season. When injuries forced them to move up the roster, these two have outdone themselves. Gagner has been moved up to the first line, while the other two have joined Adam Lowry on the Jets’ third line.

Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Washington Capitals
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby was picked up on waivers and has been a real find for the Jets. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Since they have played so well, the Jets have had the opportunity to recall some players from their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Manitoba Moose. Jansen Harkins, David Gustafsson and Mikey Eyssimont have shown they have been up to the task, but is it a sustainable model? Should the Jets get an impact player using their depth on offense?

Related: The Jets & Maple Leafs Can Help Each Other in a Trade

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Sean Reynolds of Sportsnet doesn’t think so. In his podcast, The Kenny & Renny Show, he argued with cohost Ken Wiebe that the Jets should not be looking to bolster their roster through trade but internally instead.

“I think what’s happened was that the depth on this team has been given a role and a responsibility it hasn’t had in year past, and they’ve risen to the challenge. And I think as a coach, as a general manager I think you have to reward the players for that challenge. And I think what the players have to do, is that they have to fail you before you can say, look we need to go and we need to replace this at this moment.”

– Sean Reynolds, The Kenny & Renny Podcast, 18/11/2022

In his article, “Jets Must Employ “Next-Man-Up” Mentality Through Injury Adversity,” Declan Schroeder of The Hockey Writers writes how the Jets’ forwards will have to step up and play a role in filling the voids created. The bottom-six forwards, lead by Lowry, Maenalanen, Gagner and Jonsson-Fjallby, have shown to be up to the task, and if the AHL callups can hold their own, the Jets could probably get by for a while. His article is spot on and reflects who the Jets have been this season, but now that Ehlers could be unexpectedly be absent long-term, I think a trade may be in the team’s future.

A Trade Does Makes Sense, Though

On the previously mentioned podcast, Sportsnet’s Wiebe disagreed with Reynolds and suggested a trade was the way to go for the Jets. “I think the depth is going to be tested over time. I’m not saying it’s not now, as in immediately right this second, but I do think it’s time that Kevin Cheveldayoff goes out and upgrades the forward group. Right now, it’s a seller’s market, the Jets have a surplus of defensemen. If they want to sustain this level of success, I think they’re going to need to move a defenseman in order to upgrade the forward group. If they want to compete in the Central Division, like they are right now and be near the top of it… I think they’re going have to to go out and get another forward.”

The Jets have several defensemen they could offer in a trade. Cheveldayoff has been busy stockpiling defensemen and has an abundance of them. The Montreal Canadiens know this too well. They claimed Johnny Kovacevic off waivers at the end of training camp and immediately installed him into their everyday, top-six defensive corp. 

Kevin Cheveldayoff Winnipeg Jets
Kevin Cheveldayoff, general manager of the Winnipeg Jets (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

I think a trade is going to be inevitable. Ehlers isn’t healing on his own, that much is evident. Surgery usually follows when the body can’t heal itself, and I think that’s where Ehlers could end up. I also think being out that long, the current model of calling up AHL players isn’t going to maintain success. The Jets have made it to the top of the Central Division by utilizing all four lines in every game. Without a trade, that model becomes flawed.

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