CHICAGO — When Nikolaj Ehlers lands in Winnipeg for the start of training camp he’ll be sporting a new, longer hairdo. Under normal circumstances, which member of the Jets would be the first to make a comment about it?
“It would probably be Patty Laine, but he probably won’t be there,” Ehlers told the 31 Thoughts podcast during NHL Media Day.
There are a number of RFAs still unsigned around the league, but the Jets could begin camp without two top-six forwards under contract. There’s Laine, who has 110 goals in his first 237 NHL games, and Kyle Connor, a regular on the top unit alongside Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler with back-to-back 30-goal seasons.
Has Ehlers talked to either of them recently, and does the topic of contracts come up?
“Everyone knows me and Patty have a good relationship,” Ehlers said. “You have one with every other guy on the team, but me and Patty were roommates for two full years and we’re really good friends. I’ve talked to both Patty and Kyle this summer, but nothing about that. It’s been like ‘hey how’s it going, are you enjoying summer?’ Me and Kyle were actually talking about the flow because I was letting it grow and he was like ‘oh ya looks good.’
“With Patty it’s been like ‘hey are you coming or what?’ and he’s like ‘I don’t know, I don’t know’ — you know Patty he doesn’t talk a lot so that’s been kind of it. But that’s between them. If there was anything I could do to make them both stay in Winnipeg I would. Anyone in Winnipeg would do it, right? But it’s up to them what happens now. It’s up to the team of course as well. There’s stuff that needs to happen and hopefully we see them both in Winnipeg very soon.”
But wait, there’s more.
It was a turbulent summer in Jets-land, which began early this year when they were eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the eventual champion St. Louis Blues. Before June was out, the team had traded top-pair defenceman Jacob Trouba to the Rangers when they couldn’t agree on a long-term extension, so rather than walk him right to unrestricted free agency GM Kevin Cheveldayoff picked up some assets — 24-year-old defenceman Neal Pionk and the 20th overall pick in the draft (Ville Heinola).
Even Ehlers had trade rumours swirling around him following a down year in which he managed just 21 goals and a career-low 37 points.
“Hearing my name didn’t touch me at all to be honest,” Ehlers said of the rumours. “I saw it and everyone around me in Denmark was like ‘hey man where are you going, what’s happening?’ And I was like ‘I have no idea what’s going on. I haven’t heard or seen or anything from anyone so I know as much as anyone else.’ And that’s what I told them and they’re like ‘What? How? How do you not know more than I do?’ and I’m like…’I don’t know.’
“It’s kind of funny. I’m walking around in Denmark and I don’t think about it. The only time I thought about that was when people came and asked me about it and I gave them the same answer every time. I have no idea.”
There’s obviously still a lot of great pieces in Winnipeg and Stanley Cup hopes will remain high in 2019-20. Wheeler and Scheifele are locked in. Dustin Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey will see a lot of minutes and younger players in Jack Roslovic, Mason Appleton and perhaps even Kristian Vesalainen are pushing for more opportunity.
It’s never easy losing players who bring as much as Trouba did for years or Kevin Hayes did after he was picked up at the trade deadline. But Ehlers noted it’s all part of the deal, and you just push on.
“We lost some great guys and players so…It’s guys that you spend so much time with they are like brothers to you so it kind of hurts, but it’s also a business. It is. That’s just how hockey is. You’re going to lose some players that you’ve played with for a couple years, but then you’re going to get new ones. And you try to create a bond with them and create something special on the ice with them. It’s positive and it sucks sometimes to be in this business during the summer especially.”