Over the offseason, Patrik Laine’s agent made it clear that the enigmatic forward would like a fresh start somewhere else. He had flourished as a goal-scorer with the Winnipeg Jets, but the relationship between team and player never seemed perfect. With Laine set to become a restricted free agent at the end of the year, it wasn’t clear if a long-term deal would ever really happen in Winnipeg.
Now that he’s in Columbus after a blockbuster deal saw the Jets’ sniper head south in exchange for Pierre-Luc Dubois (with Jack Roslovic tagging along), Laine is facing the challenge of building a new relationship with a new organization.
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen told reporters including Aaron Portzline of The Athletic today that he had already spoken with Laine about a potential extension and establishing a “long-term relationship,” though more serious negotiations are still to come. When Laine was asked if he’d be open to that, he told reporters including Alison Lukan of The Athletic that he would certainly be open to it and had heard only positive things about the city and organization. “Hopefully that’s a spot where I’m enjoying life and enjoying playing hockey,” said the always thoughtful Laine, while head coach John Tortorella explained that he already had a “really good conversation” with the sniper.
What exactly would a long-term extension for Laine look like? That part is entirely unclear at this point. Unlike his fellow 2016 draftee Auston Matthews, who signed a five-year deal in Toronto before his entry-level deal was even up, Laine is playing on a two-year bridge contract that carries a cap hit of $6.75MM and expires after this season. He’ll be eligible for arbitration, giving him a little leverage in negotiations and has been one of the most impressive goal scorers in the league through his first few seasons.
In fact, since he entered the league in 2016-17, only eight players have scored more than Laine’s 140 goals and five of those have played more games during that period. They all have averaged quite a bit more ice time than Laine’s career 17:40 mark, which points to a lack of polish in other areas but only makes his goal totals more impressive.
Because of those numbers, Laine will enter this negotiation without many direct comparables in the league. The Blue Jackets have plenty of cap space to work with, but they’ve also had a problem in the past actually retaining talent. If Kekalainen truly wants to retain Laine long-term and build a relationship with the star forward, he’ll have to be willing to hand out the biggest contract of his tenure in Columbus. That record is currently held by Cam Atkinson, who signed a seven-year, $41,125,000 contract in 2017. Atkinson’s $5.875MM cap hit comes in well below what Laine is already making and should be shattered by any new deal.