For almost a year now it seemed to be a matter of when, and not if the Winnipeg Jets were going to part ways with star winger Patrik Laine. It just had the look of relationship that was fading, and that a fresh start was going to be the end result for both sides.
That always seemed like a questionable decision given Laine’s ability and potential as a finisher. There are not many players like him in the NHL, and trading one of the few that exists to fill another weakness (center, defense) never seemed like the best outcome. Yeah, you might get a good player back in return, but you also lose a potential superstar.
That is pretty much the outcome that we saw on Saturday when the Jets traded Laine (and Jack Roslovic) to the Columbus Blue Jackets for center Pierre-Luc Dubois.
So what exactly does this do for the Jets?
Let’s start with the main takeaway here that Dubois is a pretty signifiant addition at a premium position. When the Laine trade speculation first began it was hard to imagine them getting a return as significant as Dubois. It always seemed like a scenario that was destined to end with a “quantity over quality” package going to Winnipeg.
[Trade: Blue Jackets send Dubois to Jets for Laine, Roslovic]
Instead, the Jets ended up getting a bonafide top-line center that is just now entering the prime of his career. A lot of the focus on Dubois right now will be on his exit from Columbus. His desire for a trade, the benching, his apparent lack of effort on that last shift that ultimately set the trade wheels in motion will all be talking points. But focussing on that would be missing the big picture. It was clearly a bad situation where no one was happy, and if you allow one 24 second shift to overshadow three years of quality play, well, that is on you. His exit from Columbus does not define him as a player.
As difficult as it is to part with a player like Laine, there is still a lot to like about this addition for the Jets.
Dubois has been a more productive 5-on-5 player, he can drive possession, and as a center he gives the Jets what might be some of the best depth down the middle in the league as he slots in between Mark Scheifele, Paul Stastny, and Adam Lowry.
Let’s focus on the even strength aspect for a second. Here is a quick look at their production over the past three full seasons in terms of shot attempts, goal differential, and individual goals, assists, and points per 60 minutes. Outside of Laine having a slight edge as a finisher, Dubois has been the better 5-on-5 player across the board.
Where the Jets are going to lose here is on the power play where Laine is one of the most dangerous finishers in the league. Among the 200 skaters that logged at least 400 power play minutes over that same three-year stretch, Laine’s 3.43 goals per 60 minutes on the power play were the fourth highest mark in the league. He trailed only Davis Pastrnak, Mika Zibanejad, and Steven Stamkos.
Dubois was 147th out of that group at 1.01 goals per 60 minutes.
[Related: Laine, Blue Jackets create a lot of questions together]
That is where the Jets are going to lose out big time. The gamble is that Dubois’ even-strength advantage (especially as a two-way center) can help mitigate that.
The other thing the trade does is give them some short-term cost certainty against the salary cap as Dubois is signed for one more season beyond this one at $5 million per year. Laine would have been a restricted free agent again after this season and almost certianly far more costly next season. The Jets will still have to work out a new deal with Dubois in the near future, but in the very short term it gives them some flexibility.
If they were going to move Laine, they at least managed to get another potential long-term piece back. And one that could make a significant impact.
It is also hard to ignore the Roslovic aspect of this trade because he is hardly a throwaway player. He can play and has the potential to be a really good third-line center in the NHL. But it also became clear that he did not want to be in Winnipeg any longer with a trade being inevitable. On his own his value would not have been enough to land a player like Dubois.
Still, that has to be considered as part of the trade cost and the Jets gave up two significant pieces to bring in Dubois. The only question that matters now is whether or not makes them better. That answer might come down to whether or not you believe Laine was long for Winnipeg, as well as what you value more in a player. Do you want a top-line center that excels at even-strength and can drive play? Or a goal-scoring finisher that excels on the power play?
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.