Locking up a player of Nikolaj Ehlers’ caliber for seven years would be a victory in and of itself. Locking him up for just $6 million annually is downright theft.
Ehlers has gone on a steady upward trajectory since joining the NHL in 2015-16. He started off hot, slowed down mid-season as rookies often do, then shot up and showed off the skills that made him such a highly-touted draft pick and prospect. Last year he continued that offensive uptick.
Ehlers put up 25 goals and 65 points last year, finishing third on the Jets in points and seventh among left wingers in the entire NHL. Wingers he outscored include Jeff Skinner, Mike Hoffman, Filip Forsberg, Johnny Gaudreau and Taylor Hall.
So $6 million a year for seven years? Yeah, the Jets can count that up as a win.
This is not the first time the Jets have wrapped up a key piece of the puzzle for an unexpectedly great price, with Mark Scheifele having signed last year. They still have work to do (see: Trouba, Jacob) but it’s still another big win for Kevin Cheveldayoff.
Scheifele represents the future of the Jets up the middle, so signing him long-term was an absolute must. Ehlers and Patrik Laine represent the future of the team on the wings, and now part of that future is secured.
As for the other part of that future, Laine will be due for a hefty raise after next season, and the Jets’ cap situation is going to get a thorough going-over by pundits everywhere between now and then, each trying to see if the Jets have room for their answer to Alexander Ovechkin.
Incidentally, nobody is happier about Ehlers’ extension than Laine, who is both a frequent linemate and good friend of Ehlers. He joked (or maybe didn’t) that room service was going to be on Ehlers for the next little while.
Keeping Laine, their budding young superstar, happy is going to be a big part of the work for the Jets over the next couple of years. Winning and keeping his good friends on board will go a long way to accomplishing that, and retaining Ehlers accomplishes both.
There was some speculation at times that Ehlers might find himself the odd man out in the Jets’ cap situation. There was even some talk that he might be trade bait for a left-shooting defender. This talk became so prevalent that it resulted in a discussion on the Jets’ radio broadcast partner, TSN 1290.
For now, at least, that talk (which horrified many Jets fans) can be put to bed. The sublimely skilled Ehlers is back in Jets colors for seven years, which includes a limited no-movement clause.
This means Jets fans can look forward to watching this for many years to come.
Ehlers has a blend of speed and skill that’s been evident since his junior days. He’s the kind of smart, shifty player that can thrive in today’s NHL, especially with the crackdown on slashing that allows him to skate without fear of a chop on the hands.
As many NHL teams have learned in the past (most recently the Colorado Avalanche), speculation about your star players isn’t healthy. Now the Jets can put some speculation regarding one of their star players to bed.
A Steal of a Contract
Trying to gauge Ehlers’ actual dollar value in today’s NHL is tricky after just two seasons, but the trajectory of those two seasons is what has Jets fans and observers so excited about him. He’s an electrifying player. Every time he has the puck, you can almost hear the creaking sound as 15,000 Jets fans sit further forward in their seats.
Consider the above list of players Ehlers has outscored. Look at some of the names on that list. Skinner’s career high in points is 63. He and his injury history still earned an extension worth annually just a quarter million less than Ehlers in 2012, and that was a much larger deal back then.
Then consider Forsberg, who signed a six-by-six deal ($36 million over six years) back in 2016. Forsberg may put up more goals than Ehlers, but Ehlers has proven to be the better setup man, despite Forsberg’s maturity (he’s two years older than Ehlers).
Comparing Ehlers to unrestricted free agent contracts seems unfair, as July 1 is always a crazy day, but the Jets were spared some of that craziness as Ehlers’ contract eats up three years of his UFA eligibility as well.
All told, Ehlers’ new contract is a big off-ice win for the Jets. They locked up a huge piece of their attack, got a reasonable price and term, and drove another nail into the coffin of the “players don’t want to play in Winnipeg” narrative.
What’s more, the Jets also secured a player who has a close friendship with someone who they’ll be trying to sign long-term before too long. On the morning of the opening day of play, it was huge news for Winnipeg.
Now, if they can just get some success on the ice, they’ll be laughing. But their on-ice struggles are a topic for an entirely separate article.