Where Should Nikolaj Ehlers End Up This Off-Season?

The Winnipeg Jets have a decision to make on their aging winger who hasn’t been deployed properly, especially over the last few years. The 28-year-old Nikolaj Ehlers is in the final year of his seven-year, $6,000,000 annual average value contract and reportedly wants out.

Ehlers’ contract has a 10-team modified no-trade clause, meaning he can somewhat control where his next home in the NHL will be. The unrestricted free agent (UFA) in 2025 should be a highly sought-after player this summer as his cap hit is low and he’s got quick feet.

Ehlers scored a career-high 39 assists and 64 points in 2016-17, his career-high in goals came in the 2017-18 season when he scored 29 goals. He posted an impressive stat line for his limited usage in the 2023-24 season with 61 points (15G, 36A) in 82 games. Ehlers also posted a plus-minus of plus 27 this past season which is a career-high.

In 605 career NHL games, the Aalborg, Denmark-born Jets forward has scored 201 goals and 256 assists for 457 points. In Ehlers’ nine seasons with the Jets, he’s recorded a plus-minus of plus 92 and 205 career penalty minutes.

Buffalo Sabres

Elliotte Friedman on the 32 Thoughts podcast mentioned a while ago that the Buffalo Sabres’ 11th overall pick in the 2024 NHL Entry Draft is available for trade. Buffalo traded down to the 14th and 42nd overall pick just around 24 hours before the first round in the NHL Entry Draft. San Jose moves up and Buffalo gets another second-round pick to weaponize.

One has to wonder if the Sabres will dangle these two newly acquired picks to try and pry Ehlers out of Winnipeg should the Sabres present an offer that is what the Jets will look for in return.

The Sabres are a young, upcoming team ready to make a significant step over the next few years. With Lindy Ruff returning behind the bench for the Sabres, the experience and leadership that Ehlers can bring to the Ruff-led team might help them take a positive development step next season.

The 2024 off-season has kicked into full swing as the Florida Panthers won the Stanley Cup and we’re preparing for the awards, draft and free agency now. Trades will start happening even more than they already were.

Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars have a nice mix of veterans and young talent on their roster. Nikolaj Ehlers is a veteran but isn’t in the 32+ club that the Stars’ roster has accumulated. If the Stars bring in Ehlers, he would add to an already deep team and his playstyle would fit right into their current system.

It isn’t quite certain what a return would look like for Nikolaj Ehlers to Dallas, but a trade within the Central Division between two clear-cut rivals with Stanley Cup Aspirations makes it a little less likely.

However, there’s limited cap space this off-season and a lucrative contract like Ehlers would likely cost the divisional rival a premium, but it isn’t something to be ruled out entirely if the Stars want to press for a Stanley Cup Final.

Florida Panthers

Florida has many pending UFAs like Nick Cousins, Ryan Lomberg, Sam Reinhart, Vladimir Tarasenko, Brandon Montour, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and more. Bringing in Ehlers to be a 2024-25 season fix might be the best course of action.

Ehlers and Maurice have many years of familiarity with each other dating back to Maurice’s tenure as the bench boss in Winnipeg. Maurice might push for an Ehlers acquisition as Maurice knows what the player is like and the fit that needs to be made with the team.

However, the only issue is the many UFAs the Panthers need to sign in front of them and it’s a matter of when and not if they will start to sign certain players now that the Stanley Cup Final has wrapped up.

New Jersey Devils

This is another team that is going to be dangling their first-round pick in this year’s upcoming NHL Entry Draft. The New Jersey Devils are selecting 10th overall this year. However, with an already deep team with a new goaltender in Jacob Markstrom and a new head coach in Sheldon Keefe, they may opt to bring in a player like Ehlers with this pick.

However, it would have to be more than just Ehlers going to the Devils if both the Jets and Devils want a hockey deal to happen. I would speculate that the Jets would rather receive a later draft pick and pick up John Marino instead.

Both teams need to fit certain needs and a pure hockey trade might be the best course of action in the long run.

NHL Utah Hockey Club

NHL Utah is loaded with draft capital they inherited from the former Arizona Coyotes. They also have some really good players that they could potentially make a pure hockey trade with.

The value of having a veteran player like Nikolaj Ehlers with untapped potential should intrigue everyone from top to bottom in Utah. Ehlers has shown year after year in Winnipeg exactly what he can and will do if given a top position.

Utah has some interesting players on their roster that I would inquire about if I was Kevin Cheveldayoff. Both Nick Schmaltz and Sean Durzi should be top candidates that the Jets should be looking at if Utah wants Ehlers.

Additionally, Utah is looking for a top defenseman and Winnipeg is looking to clear cap space. If the Jets are set on buying out the final year of Nate Schmidt, Cheveldayoff should see if Utah would want to take on the final year of Neal Pionk.

This would clear up significant cap room for the Jets and provide veteran leadership to Utah who will be looking for that leadership. This has to be a pure hockey deal should Ehlers and Pionk be sent to Utah, but again, it is purely speculation as the off-season brings many surprises.

Honorable Mentions

Carolina Hurricanes: the Carolina Hurricanes have a decision to make with Martin Necas as they are likely letting Teuvo Teravainen walk to UFA on July 1st. Additionally, the future of Jake Guentzel is up in the air, but Eric Tulsky and the Hurricanes will likely make a massive last-minute push to re-sign Guentzel who fits like a glove with them. Bringing in Ehlers at either full salary or half salary retention would bolster the Hurricanes and a potential deep 2025 Stanley Cup Playoffs push.

Ottawa Senators: I’ll give this more thought in a fully written and comprehensive article, but I truly think the Ottawa Senators will move a big piece this off-season to shake things up. They just acquired a Vezina-winning goaltender in Linus Ullmark, why not acquire a forward who can play incredibly in your top six given the opportunity?

Final Thoughts

Many teams are likely inquiring about Nikolaj Ehlers, but it’s a matter of figuring out who is potentially acquiring. Ehlers can be a key piece to any team that is on the verge of a breakout or on the cusp of a Stanley Cup. I truly think Cheveldayoff will take his time with this trade and make sure he gets it right.

Conrad Jack

Conrad Jack is a lifelong hockey fan who is now actively writing for Inside The Rink covering primarily the Winnipeg Jets and the entire NHL second. He also covers the latest NHL News & Rumors, the NHL Entry Draft, and so much more for Inside The Rink.

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