Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets have been having relationship problems for a little while now. He wants top-line minutes. There’s rumors he won’t show up at training camp if not traded, which have been denied by his agents. The Jets have looked at trading him but still say he’s a big part of things there. There’s a lot of meat on this bone.
Winnipeg already has great chemistry on its top line of Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. Laine plays the right side like Wheeler. Wheeler’s deal is for an AAV of $8.25M, Laine’s $6.75M – not that salary is everything, but it matters. Laine figures to see an improvement in his circumstances with former Golden Knights center Peter Stastny returning to Winnipeg, but will it be enough to placate him?
Reality vs. Perception
If the perception of being a top-line center is really what bothers Laine most, Winnipeg does not appear to be the place for him. Odds of him getting his shot ahead of Wheeler when that line gels so well are slim and none. If it’s more a question of production perhaps Stastny’s return helps. But if he’s still banging the bars of his cell and wanting out, could the Golden Knights make room on the roster for him?
First thing’s first – are you willing to move Mark Stone to the second line and make Reilly Smith your third line right wing? Smith moving down potentially could work if Nicholas Roy ends up at center on the fourth line instead of Tomas Nosek. There’s also the unlikely possibility Roy or Nosek become the odd men out at training camp. But let’s stretch our necks out here and say the lines look like this:
Marchessault – Karlsson – Laine
Pacioretty – Glass – Stone
Tuch – Stephenson – Smith
Carrier – Nosek – Reaves
Looks great right? That’s a really loaded top six, even top nine. If I’m a VGK opponent I have a nervous breakdown trying to gameplan against that. You can’t defend three solid scoring lines all game long. So right now, we’re getting excited because in terms of manpower we can make this work.
Now the other massive question – how in the cap world do you fit him on the roster?
To start the season, you could potentially move Robin Lehner to LTIR because of his shoulder surgery. Even though VGK GM Kelly McCrimmon said he expects Lehner ready for camp whenever that might be, it doesn’t mean he might not end up on that list.
So if that happens, you save $5M against the cap. Now the Golden Knights need to find another chunk of change, and this is where I’m going to ask you to follow me.
In return to the Jets, I send one of Alex Tuch, Reilly Smith or Jonathan Marchessault. Hey, if we’re going to make this work, sacrifices must be made.
It might be easiest to look at Tuch and his down year last year and say “that guy” out of those three. But I might say Marchessault is the piece I dangle and here’s why.
Since his 30-goal peak with Florida in 2016-17, Marchessault’s goal totals have quietly descended each year. His first year in Vegas he potted 27 (and a career-high 75 points), then 25 in 18-19 and 22 last year albeit in just 66 games. Plus at 29, there figures to be some age-related decline in a player as well. He is now entering year three of a six-year deal with a $5M AAV and will be 33 when the deal ends in 2024.
If you package him with a prospect, or perhaps a draft pick the Jets might make a move. There’s also potential to swap other minor pieces that help Vegas salary-wise towards the bottom end of things. So it could happen if you’re willing to shake up the roster.
Does It Make Sense?
Laine is a streaky scorer, one capable of incredible runs but also of disappearing for chunks of time. Is his mercurial performance based on his unhappiness in Winnipeg? Would a move to Vegas – the proverbial “change of scenery” – help? Could the anticipation of being on a team geared up for several more deep runs into the playoffs fix a lot of the problems?
All good questions. All hard to answer. Laine is young (22) and certainly has some maturing to do. He’s cleared the 50-point barrier in all four of his NHL seasons including an impressive 63 points in 68 games last year. His minus-24 from the 18-19 season was gone last year, replaced by his typical high single-digit plus rating. And he’s a deadly power play producer as well.
Then there’s the matter of his contract. This is the final year of a two-year bridge deal but at the end of it he will still be RFA in 2021. So there’s some team control there. He’ll also be due something around his current $6.75M AAV unless things drastically change cap-wise or in his performance. Finally, you’re trading a player with term for the uncertainty of an expiring RFA deal.
I wait on Laine, but keep him on my radar. There’s every possibility that if he’s unhappy and has a rough start to next season his price might decline a bit. And if the Golden Knights could potentially bring him in with only part of his remaining cap hit instead of the whole thing, that allows a bit more flexibility as the inevitable player movement and injuries of the season take hold. I could see him in Vegas Gold, but perhaps not until real games are being played again.
What do you think? Would you make the move now? Wait? Or not do it at all? Let us know in the comments.