We are about to begin one of the most unpredictable NHL offseasons in recent memory.
A flat salary cap, combined with uncertainty on when the next season will even begin, as well teams looking to work within their own internal budgets could create chaos on the player movement front.
Players that would have otherwise been deemed untouchable could soon be finding new homes as teams look to shed salary to stay cap compliant or come in under budget.
One of the most intriguing names that has been mentioned in trade speculation so far is Winnipeg Jets sniper Patrik Laine.
Under normal circumstances this is not the type of player you discuss as a trade chip. He is still only 22 years old and is already one of the league’s elite goal scorers. You build around players like this, not listen to trade offers for them.
But these are not really normal circumstances. The pandemic, which caused the suspension of the 2019-20 season and kept fans out of the building for its return in late July, has put a significant dent in revenues and has kept the salary cap at $81.5 million.
Why consider trading him?
The Jets are already dealing with an under-the-radar salary cap crunch and enter the offseason with only $15 million in cap space and only 14 players under contract for next season. They also have significant holes that needed addressed down the middle of their lineup at center and on defense. Laine will also be a restricted free agent after the 2020-21 season and will be in line for a far bigger contract than the two-year, $13.5 million deal he signed before this season, and the Jets — for whatever reason — don’t seem to be in a hurry to pay him.
When Laine first appeared on TSN’s Trade Bait board in early September it was speculated that the Jets could put him in play “to explore avenues to fill holes on their blueline and down the middle.”
I hate — hate! –the idea of using one of your best players as a trade chip to try and fill other holes because it is probably not going to work out as planned.
The risks with trading him
For one, if you trade that player for a package of other players you are almost certainly giving up the best player in the deal. That means you are taking a quantity over quality return. Yeah, you might get a second-line center and a second-pairing defenseman to fill two positions of need, but neither player is going to be as good as the elite goal-scorer you traded away.
While you are addressing those two weaknesses you have gone and created a different — and potentially bigger and harder to fill — weakness by giving up the goal-scorer. Laine certainly has his flaws as a player (he scores a lot, but he also gives up a lot the other way), but it’s hell of a lot easier for a young player to become a better defensive player than it is to learn how to score 35-40 goals. When you have the guy that does the latter, it is usually a good idea to hang on them. Because you can’t easily replace them.
There’s also the one-for-one option which could bring back a comparable player at another position, but you’re again fixing one trouble spot by creating another. You also need to make sure you get that one-for-one trade right, because if you acquire the wrong player it’s really going to set you back. You want to make sure you’re making the Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones trade, and not the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade. Get it right, and it could work. Get it wrong, and it sets you back years and you become a laughing stock.
Let common sense win
The speculation makes some degree of sense when you put all the variables together.
The salary cap, the raise he will be due starting next season, and having so many other issues to fix on the roster.
But this is still one of those situations where the best solution really does seem to be the simplest solution. Keep the impact player that is just now entering the prime of his career, cut salary elsewhere on the roster, and don’t try to fix smaller problems by creating a bigger problem.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.