When Patrik Laine signed a two-year deal with the Jets in September 2019, it felt like a “prove it” contract. All it really proved is that Laine’s future wasn’t with Winnipeg. By reportedly accepting a qualifying offer with the Blue Jackets, Patrik Laine gets another chance to prove himself. The hockey world really only gets a small glimpse of an “answer” about his larger future, though.
(Both Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and the Athletic’s Aaron Portzline report that Laine accepted the qualifying offer, translating to a one-year, $7.5 million deal. Portzline notes that Laine will need to wait until 2021 NHL Free Agency opens on Wednesday to make it official.)
Laine qualifying offer with Blue Jackets only gives so many answers
In the most direct way, this one-year, $7.5M qualifying offer provides some immediate answers for Laine. The questions still stack as high as his goal totals from his better years, though.
What might Laine’s contract(s) look like in the future?
In a league where teams lock up young, big-name players, Laine’s instead signed shorter and shorter contracts. First, there was the typical three-year rookie deal with Winnipeg. Then, the Jets signed him for that two-year “bridge” deal. Now it’s just a single year with the Blue Jackets, once Laine’s one-year, $7.5M qualifying offer is accepted.
Will we see yet another short contract for Laine even after 2022-23? It depends. Puck Pedia pointed out some windows for Laine, who’s not that far from a potential UFA situation.
After accepting his $7.5M Qualifying Offer, Laine will be an RFA next year and 1 year from UFA eligibility (2023).
His qualifying offer next year will again be $7.5M. https://t.co/tpcqXGvr6G
— PuckPedia (@PuckPedia) July 27, 2021
How good is Laine, really?
It’s not just difficult to figure out what Laine will get paid, both in the short and long-term. It’s often been tricky to gauge how valuable he really is as a player.
After a red-hot scoring start (36 goals as a rookie, 44 goals in 2017-18), Laine’s sniping touch started to cool off. Then it fell off a cliff last season, as he was limited to 12 goals and 24 points in 26 games.
Still, it’s not outrageous to pencil Laine in for a bunch of goals going forward. The 23-year-old should probably figure that part of the game out.
The overriding question is whether he’s enough of a “net-positive” overall. Simply put, Laine often takes as much away from the table as he brings to it, and “double-edged sword” may sometimes be too kind. Just consider his three-year player card from Evolving Hockey:
If Laine was someone whose market value dropped, like say, Mike Hoffman, it wouldn’t be so tough to take the good with the bad. Instead, Laine commands big money, and another middling season might leave him to follow a larger trend for NHL RFAs:
84 pending RFAs were not qualified this year.
Here's the full list of those players 👇 pic.twitter.com/Ijc3RzsKe0
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) July 27, 2021
Not necessarily a clean slate, post-Torts
Once you move past the riddle of what Laine’s worth in a vacuum, it’s also tricky in the more specific context of the Blue Jackets.
Most immediately, Laine’s first partial season with Columbus was pretty much an unmitigated disaster. He couldn’t score, and found himself warming the bench during the dimmest lows of John Tortorella’s reign.
Unfortunately, it’s no slam-dunk that there will be a “blank slate” with Torts out of town. After all, Brad Larsen was reportedly the coach who Laine slammed to get benched in the first place.
To Larsen’s credit, he’s said all of the right things about surrounding Laine with talent.
There’s a situation where the Blue Jackets feature Laine, and he enjoys a great resurgence. That would be the dream, even if such a situation might just prime things for a “pump-and-dump” trade.
Blue Jackets rebuild is another factor for Laine’s future
Really, there’s no guarantee the Blue Jackets won’t trade Laine in the near future. That one-year qualifying deal is a stopgap for 2021-22, but a Laine departure is possible even sooner.
Either way, it will be fascinating to see how all of this plays out amid the Blue Jackets’ rebuild.
Theoretically, Laine could be a foundational piece of such a rebuild. At 23, he’s young enough to — conceivably — still be a contributor once Columbus tries to contend.
The Blue Jackets might simply view a future Laine trade as a better route to accelerating their rebuild. Considering the early headaches, that wouldn’t be surprising.
Even if they keep Laine for a while, the Blue Jackets are clearly in that rebuild mode — for now. They landed a nice deal for Seth Jones. During the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline, the Blue Jackets maximized value for Nick Foligno and David Savard.
To get the most out of Laine, the Blue Jackets might need to wait until he (ideally) rebounds in 2021-22. By then, they might just want to keep him around, instead. Maybe they’ll even take off sooner than expected, changing a rebuild to instead a “reload?”
There are plenty of possibilities, and for all we know, maybe the Blue Jackets have some free-agent tricks up their sleeves. As of now, though, the Laine situation seems mysterious, and might remain that way for some time.