Hockey

Game #55 – Hawks vs Jets Spotlight: Ehlers Choice

We’ve perhaps, although maybe this is just our tendency to toot our own horn, led the charge on labeling Patrik Laine a passenger on the Jets. This will be the third straight season, likely, that he won’t live up to that 44-goal campaign he had. They’ve bent their team around him, they’ve given him a prove-it contract, and they’re mired in the muck. There are plenty of other factors, like Dustin Byfuglien fucking off to the ice fishing hut and Jacob Trouba escaping as soon as he could , which has stripped their blue line bare.

But perhaps they can find more answers in exchange for Laine, because they have a ready-made replacement on their top line in Nikolaj Ehlers.

The weird thing is, it seems like GM Kevin Chevyldayoff already likes Ehlers more than Laine, and has for a while. Whereas Laine went through a whole drama about his second contract, Ehlers was given one as soon as possible that will take him in unrestricted free agency in five years. There was no hesitation, as he was signed to it a full season before his entry level deal was up.

And there was little reason not to. Ehlers was coming off a 64-point season, which he would match in the first year of this contract. And while the Jets have always been a weird team in the sense they’ve usually been able to outshoot what their metrics say, Ehlers was the one player who had great underlying numbers. He has consistently been way in the black in Corsi and expected-goals, and this year his mark in the latter is a full six points above the team-rate. When he’s on the ice, the Jets have the puck more than they do when anyone else is out there.

Ehlers can’t manage the goals and points-total of late of Laine, but that might have a lot to do with getting less than half the power play time that Laine does. The first PP unit for the Jets has four forwards, the top line (Laine-Scheifele-Connor) plus Blake Wheeler. And they stay out there as long as they can. So Ehlers and the rest only get slightly more than a minute of time with the man-advantage.

You wonder what Ehlers might do with it, as he has the same amount of even-strength goals and points as Laine’s floating ass this year as he did last year. Other than his 20-PPG binge of ’17-’18, Laine hasn’t put numbers up on the power play that Ehlers would find impossible to reach.

Without the Finn, and a top line of Ehlers-Scheifele-Connor, the Jets would still have Wheeler, Copp, Roslovic, and a few forwards to make for one of the better bottom sixes in the league. The question is what Laine’s value is now. He only has one year on his second deal, though it’s only at $6.7M and he’ll still be restricted when it’s up. Can the Jets still get a top pairing d-man for him? It’s what they need desperately, as they lost both they had for this season and beyond.

Perhaps it’ll depend on how this season finishes for both. The Jets are in a scrap just to make the playoffs, and neither Ehlers or Laine have proven to be playoff dynamos yet. But if Ehlers comes to play these last 25 games or so, and Laine continues to wait for the game to come to him every night, the Jets’ roadmap should be obvious.

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