TSN’s Frank Seravalli suggests that two of the Jets’ biggest young guns might be trade bait.
“At some point this week, we’re going to be having our first TSN Trade Bait board of the offseason coming out, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see two players from the Winnipeg Jets on the list in both Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers,” Seravalli told TSN 1290’s Big Show on Monday.
“When you think about the Jets’ roster, it’s a logical deduction to me that those players would be on the list…” he continued, alluding to Laine’s contract situation and that the pair are two of the only players high-profile enough to get the Jets what they need.
As Seravalli said, the Winnipeg Jets have needs — specifically, for a top-four defenseman or two and a second-line centre. However, trading away #27 or #29 to fill those needs makes little sense.
Trading Evolving Laine Would Be Ill-Advised
The Jets have been patient with Patrik Laine. As exciting and game-changing as he was in his first three seasons — 110 goals scored, many of the highlight-reel variety — he was also a liability when he wasn’t lighting the lamp and, at times, was a tremendously frustrating player to watch.
Laine evolved exponentially into a complete player in 2019-20 and is now someone whose positive impact on the team goes beyond just his ability to score goals. He still popped in 28 of those in 2019-20 and added 35 assists for 63 points in 68 games, but was unfortunately injured in Game 1 of the Jets’ Stanley Cup Qualifying Round matchup with the Calgary Flames.
Why would they part with him now, when their patience is finally beginning to pay dividends? Trading away a potential 50-goal guy would be pure folly.
The only reason to trade the 22-year-old is if they believe he won’t re-sign upon the summation of the two-year bridge deal he signed last September. He’s not Jacob Trouba; there’s nothing to indicate he wants out of Winnipeg. He’s even penned an essay entitled “Winnipeg is Good.”
Laine should be ultra-engaged next season as his play will dictate how big he can to cash in after the season ends. There’s no way that engaged player should be playing for another team.
Laine putting pucks past Hellebuyck or Brossoit in some other squad’s colours? No thanks.
Parting With Ehlers Should Be A No-Go
The prolific and speedy Ehlers rebounded well in 2019-20 after a disappointing 2018-19, recording 25 goals and 33 assists for 58 points in 71 games before the COVID-19 season pause, and if the season had been 82 games, he likely would have established career highs in goals, assists, and points. The Dane also finally put his playoff goal drought to bed by scoring a pair of goals in the Qualifying Round and arguably the best Jet in the four-game series.
Ehlers, now 24-years-old, has evolved into a play driver and tallied an impressive point total despite the lack of continuity at second-line centre — with Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, Andrew Copp, and Cody Eakin all fulfilling the role at some point.
Now through five full seasons, Ehlers is just on the cusp of greatness and has the potential to be an even scarier player if he continues his hard work. He’s shown he’s willing to put that hard work in — last summer, he studied every single one of his 2018-19 shifts to figure out ways to improve.
That’s not the type player you trade, even if the return could be substantial. Ehlers is consistently underrated by the NHL in general, so it’s not clear the Jets would get a good return on investment, anyway.
Further compounding the case against trading Ehlers is his team-friendly contract that pays him $6 million per year through 2024-25. That’s about as good a deal as you can get for an elite talent who’s only getting better. With the NHL salary cap staying flat at $81.5 million for the next two seasons, it’s not one the Jets should give up.
Jets Can Accomplish Offseason Goals And Keep Their Young Stars
Even though the cap will be flat, Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is in good position to beef up his team’s weak areas without making a big trade.
Cheveldayoff should have enough money to add a top-four defenseman through free agency, sign a centre, and re-up his affordable RFAs without making a blockbuster deal. It would be especially pointless to trade for a second-line centre — whose primary role would be to play between Laine and Ehlers — if you had to trade Laine or Ehlers away to get that centre.
Dustin Byfuglien’s contract is off the books and so is Dmitry Kulikov’s. If Cheveldayoff needs a bit more cap space to accomplish his goals, he could always explore buying out Mathieu Perreault, whose $4.2 million cap hit has become a boat anchor. He may also realize further cap savings if Bryan Little, who suffered a serious head and ear injury last November, goes onto long-term injured reserve.
Cheveldayoff has been historically loathe to make big trades or to part with the homegrown players who comprise the Jets’ core. Unless he’s offered an absolute sweetheart of a deal, expect Laine and Ehlers
in Jets’ colours and raring to go come training camp.