A year into the Columbus Blue Jackets’ “restart” as GM Jarmo Kekalainen put it, the organization has seen many promising developments from its stars, young players, and its prospects. One of those promising players is forward Patrik Laine, who took another step in his young, but already strong career. This season, for the first time, Laine was able to average a point per game, scoring 26 goals along with 30 assists for 56 points in as many games. The Finnish forward has scored as many as 44 goals in the past, the same year he recorded 70 points, both career-highs, but on a points-per-game basis, 2021-22 was his best. Now, having taken that next step, Laine finds himself once again as an RFA this offseason, a situation that could feel concerning for the Blue Jackets, given Laine’s previous holdout as a member of the Winnipeg Jets in 2019.
Still, there’s no need for concern, reports The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline, who spoke to Kekalainen on numerous topics, including the status of the star RFA. As Kekalainen told Portzline, “It’s just one of those things. It’s gonna take some time, most likely.” According to Portzline, multiple terms have been discussed on a potential deal, but Columbus’ main concern is placing the cap hit at a reasonable term. That is surely good news for the Blue Jackets and their fans, given Laine’s previous history. Though no contract is done, and it may be a while away, it appears the issues for both sides to discuss are merely term and value, the basic tenants of any contract negotiation in any sport, and not any other major issue.
The Laine news is also positive because it should give Kekalainen the flexibility to continue the “restart” and focus on all areas of the organization, as Portzline also details:
- Looking broadly at what the Blue Jackets are looking to build, Portzline wonders how Kekalainen approaches the teams core of promising, but young defensemen. With a likely starting six of Zach Werenski, Vladislav Gavrikov, Jake Bean, Adam Boqvist, Nick Blankenburg, and Andrew Peeke, hopefuls consisting of Jake Christiansen, Gabriel Carlsson, and Gavin Bayreuther, and a strong mix of prospects, Columbus seems fairly set on the back end. But, as Portzline mentions, the team has more than its share of forwards and may look to move some of that depth out for a more established piece on the blueline. With Kekalainen maybe operating on a quicker timeline, given the term “restart” rather than “rebuild,” he may choose to establish the backend quicker than the young core they have now can establish itself. Having $21MM in cap space and Patrik Laine as the only major extension this offseason, the Blue Jackets certainly seemed poised to make an addition on defense via free agency or trade this offseason if they so choose.
- A couple of days ago, the Blue Jackets announced a two-year deal for young forward Liam Foudy, which begins as a two-way contract, but becomes a one-way contract in the second season. In his brief NHL career, Foudy has struggled to produce, which raised questions about why the team would give him a one-way contract, even if it didn’t begin until 2023-24. As Kekalainen told Portzline, he believes Foudy will become an NHL regular very soon, raving about the 22-year-old’s game at the AHL level, which saw him put up 19 points in 29 games in 2021-22 for the Cleveland Monsters before being sidelined for the remainder of the year with a shoulder injury. Kekalainen also mentioned that had Foudy not missed such significant time, it’s likely he would have been up and playing regularly with Columbus. The comments from Kekalainen do shed light on why exactly Columbus chose to pursue this type of contract structure with Foudy and serve as a boost to Foudy himself, who has yet to make an impact four years removed from being drafted, but is clearly still seen as a promising young prospect by his organization. Also worth noting is that the one-way contract may not be an issue for Columbus either; if Foudy struggles again this season, he wouldn’t necessarily be a lock to be claimed on waivers anyways, and if he is able to break-out, chances are he will stay with the NHL club in 2023-24. To date, Foudy has five points, all assists, in 27 career NHL games.