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Player Review: Patrik Laine

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Number one in your heart, number five on TSN’s off season NHL trade bait list!

Winnipeg Jets v Calgary Flames Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

Full credit to Frank Seravalli and the crew at TSN. They sure know how to generate some clicks and discussion among Canadian hockey fans with their trade bait list.

Almost immediately fans took to social media and hockey writers waded in with arguments for and against trading a 22 year old star who has scored 138 goals in only four seasons. Most media and fans agree that 2019-20 was Laine’s best season as a pro, even though he produced more points in his rookie and sophomore seasons.

In a shortened season Laine set a career high for assists, was much more effective at even strength, dramatically improved his plus/minus from last season, and developed in his defensive and physical game.

So, why the trade rumours? Supply and demand essentially. The Jets have an abundance of top six wingers, and significant deficits at second line center and top four defense. Teams try to trade from a position of strength to fill roster gaps. Trading one of Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers or Patrik Laine may be worth it if the return is a true 1C, 2C or top pair defenseman.

Two other reasons factor in as to why Laine is considered more likely to be traded than the other young Jets. First, Laine may not want to stay in Winnipeg long term. Despite his “Winnipeg is good” comments, we’ve had enough evidence to suggest that there may be some “ruffled feathers” with Laine. NHL head coaches don’t typically fly almost 7000 km in a summer off season to visit with players when they’re perfectly content (Paul Maurice did this last summer, visiting Laine in Finland).

The second reason is that old party pooper, salary cap management. Laine has one more season until he is an RFA again, and it certainly looks like he’s going to want to be paid. I would think that the starting point for negotiations would be north of Blake Wheeler’s $8.25 million per year. The Jets could be looking at $10 million per season to retain Laine in a post COVID NHL, where the cap will likely remain flat.

That’s a big cap hit for a player who was 27th in the NHL last season in scoring, and fourth on his own team. That might be the going rate for a 35 – 40 goal scorer in the NHL by then. However, does retaining Laine at that salary without addressing the roster gaps bring the Jets any closer to actually contending for a Stanley Cup? I’d say no. Does replacing Laine with an actual second line center or top pair defense bring us closer? I’d say yes.

Trading Laine would be a huge risk, and history has not been particularly kind to teams trading young offensive talents. However, when you combine Laine’s possible reluctance to be a Jet for life, with what will surely be the highest cap hit on the team, and maybe listening to trade offers is a smart strategy. I’m not suggesting a panic trade, but, let’s remember the Jacob Trouba situation. Sure, it’s worked out fine. But, I still believe that had Cheveldayoff acted sooner the return for Trouba would have been higher.